There’s a dangerous rumor that’s been circulated in the days since Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson was announced as Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson cares about climate change.
Don’t be fooled by this political spin.
Rex Tillerson cares about one thing: making money. He said so himself on national television in 2013: “My philosophy is to make money. And so if I can drill and make money, then that’s what I want to do.”
And yet, it’s understandable that the rumor of Rex Tillerson as “climate moderate” might exist. After all, unlike his predecessor at ExxonMobil, Lee Raymond – who spent decades denying that climate change was real – Rex Tillerson has made public statements suggesting he accepts that humans are causing climate change. Under Rex’s leadership, Exxon has even put out supportive statements on a carbon tax and the Paris Agreement.
But any review of Rex Tillerson’s words and actions as CEO of Exxon that goes beyond the surface shows that either Tillerson does not actually accept the full implications of climate science, or even worse, that he simply doesn’t care about what it will mean for society. Rex Tillerson’s efforts to paint a picture of moderation amount to nothing more than a ruthless public relations campaign to curry favor in the media. Meanwhile he has pursued a reckless path of continued oil and gas development in order to continue making as much money as possible for himself and his company, regardless of the consequences.
When it comes to science one does not get to pick and choose which parts to believe. A sign at a recent rally organized in defense of climate science in the wake of the election helpfully lays out five key elements of “Climate Science 101”:
- It’s warming.
- It’s us.
- We’re sure.
- It’s bad.
- We can fix it.
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) December 13, 2016
So far, however, Rex has only ever conceded two out of those five essential points. Yes, he admits the world is warming and yes, he admits that humans are playing a role (sort of). But that’s where it ends for Rex Tillerson. In recent years, Rex has expressed doubts about the remaining three points critical to accepting the full ramifications of the climate crisis before us.
Rex doesn’t believe we’re sure.
Climate scientists have reached consensus about the role of humans in causing climate change, as well as the fact that if left unchecked, climate change will cause incredible human suffering. And yet Rex continues to sow doubt in the confidence of climate models.
“I’m going to take exception to something you said — the competency of the models to predict the future. We’ve been working with a very good team at MIT now for more than 20 years on this area of modeling the climate, which, since obviously it’s an area of great interest to you, you know and have to know the competencies of the models are not particularly good.” (Council on Foreign Relations CEO Speaker Series, June 2012)
What’s more, under his leadership, ExxonMobil has continued to sow public doubt about climate science through its funding of climate-denying organizations and politicians. Even today, ExxonMobil is pursuing legal action against public interest groups seeking to unearth the truth behind ExxonMobil’s climate change coverup.
Rex doesn’t believe it’s bad.
Climate models predict a vast array of impacts that go from damaging to catastrophic. Yet Rex Tillerson does not actually think climate change will be all that bad. You need only listen to what he says about the impacts of climate change to understand this:
“We have spent our entire existence adapting, OK? So we will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around – we’ll adapt to that. It’s an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions.
“I think there are much more pressing priorities that we as a – as a human being race and society need to deal with.” (Council on Foreign Relations CEO Speaker Series, June 2012)
First things first, science shows that unchecked global warming will literally mean the breakdown of civilization as we know it. There is no engineering solution that will allow civilization to continue in a world of 6?C of global warming. From the New York Times:
“Longer term, if emissions continue to rise unchecked, the risks are profound. Scientists fear climate effects so severe that they might destabilize governments, produce waves of refugees, precipitate the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in Earth’s history, and melt the polar ice caps, causing the seas to rise high enough to flood most of the world’s coastal cities.”
Rex Tillerson speaks from a position of extreme privilege when he suggests simply adapting and engineering our way out of catastrophic climate change. The poorest and most vulnerable communities around the world, and in the United States, are already being hurt first and hardest by the climate crisis. Tillerson’s suggestion that we can just adapt ignores the very real impacts communities around the world are already grappling with today.
And plus, why should we trust Exxon to engineer our way out of a devastating climate crisis? Afterall, Exxon has yet to engineer a pipeline that won’t leak, or a tanker that won’t run aground…why would we ever trust them to re-engineer an entire planet’s ecosystem?
Rex doesn’t believe we can fix it.
Climate science does not end with assessing the problem. Countless studies and academic analyses have shown that we have the technology available to swiftly move away from fossil fuels and tackle the climate crisis. But Rex Tillerson and his ExxonMobil have no interest in preventing the climate crisis.
Exxon’s yearly energy forecasts expose the calculated cynicism of the company’s interest in maintaining the fossil fuel status quo. Every year, Exxon publishes an “energy outlook” that details its vision for energy 25 years out. And every year, this forecast has two primary features:
- The Exxon Outlook consistently underestimates the growth of renewable energy;
- The Exxon Outlook consistently forecasts fossil fuel use will continue to grow regardless of climate limits or clean energy progress.
Tillerson puts his views bluntly: “The world is going to have to continue using fossil fuels, whether they like it or not.”
Exxon apparently bases its investments and future plans on these energy models. Repeatedly, Tillerson has said he sees no future in which Exxon’s vast oil reserves around the world are not sold and burned, or in which further exploration and development of oil and gas will be unnecessary.
These assumptions are so problematic that the Securities and Exchange Commission recently launched an investigation into how Exxon accounts for the climate crisis, prompting rumors that Exxon may be forced to change its accounting. Unfortunately, as our recent analysis “The Sky’s Limit” shows, a future in which we continue extracting and burning fossil fuels is one that will cause devastation for our planet and our communities. It will change life on earth as we know it.
But what about Exxon’s support for a carbon tax? A closer look at that support unveils a ruthless PR effort to forestall future climate action and promote its natural gas holdings.
The Carbon Tax Center puts it succinctly: “There’s zero evidence that Tillerson or anyone associated with Exxon has ever voiced support for a robust carbon tax.” And 350.org’s Jamie Henn lays out the real reasons behind stated “support” for a carbon tax:
As Kate Aronoff writes, “the fossil fuel industry cannot exist if the planet has any chance of a remotely stable future.” We have outlined this clearly in our recent “The Sky’s Limit” report, showing that we must not see any new fossil fuel development and wind down existing development if we are to have a stable climate.
Tillerson built his entire career and massive wealth on the back of our climate. He was an instrumental player in a company that spent decades deceiving the public to avoid climate regulation. It appears he’s developed a cleverly deceitful line about acknowledging climate change in order to avoid personal scrutiny, a line that is now giving him dangerous and misleading cover as a “moderate” on the issue.
He chooses his words carefully to benefit his company. His weak statements on climate to this day are testament to a movement that has made openness to climate action a public relations imperative for business leaders. In the context of his actions and those of his company, they certainly do not appear to be an indication of where he truly stands on the issue.
Don’t believe the hype. Rex Tillerson denies the full realities of climate change, and as Secretary of State he would put our climate at even greater peril. Plain and simple.