When Greenpeace first began focussing on ExxonMobil's funding of climate denial, its CEO and Chairman was arch denier Lee Raymond.
Raymond had spent years - and millions - on denying the science of climate change, both in funding right wing think tanks and scientists, and in his role as chair of the American Petroleum Institute's climate change committee. A 1998 document revealed ExxonMobil plotting with some of those think tanks to challenge climate science.
For years, Exxon had paid for expensive, weekly "Opinion Advertorials" on the New York Times opinion pages challenging the science (see image).
When Raymond stepped down and Rex Tillerson took over in 2006, we hoped the worst was over. That year, ExxonMobil dropped its funding of the Competitive Enterprise Institute that ran the charmingly titled "Cooler Heads Coalition". The final straw for ExxonMobil was the CEI's "C02 is life" advert (this links to an annotated version, but it's the original ad) positing that we couldn't get enough of the stuff.
In dropping the CEI, ExxonMobil told everyone it had been "misunderstood" on its stance on climate change - and the media were led to believe that this tiger had changed its stripes. Its "Corporate Responsibility report" that year stated it was dropping its funding of a few think tanks because their "‘position on climate change diverted attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner."
And yet, the company continued to fund deniers and does to this day. As of May last year, Exxon has poured a total of $26,061,235 into the campaign against climate denial. While the funding in 2010 was just above $1 million, well down from its 2005 peak of $3.478 million, in 2010 Exxon started funding one of the think tanks that it had dropped and arguably the first off the blocks in the climate denial campaign, the George C Marshall Institute. The Koch brothers have taken up where Exxon left off, but its legacy is clear.
But yesterday, Tillerson stepped right back into Raymond's old shoes, revealing that the company truly hasn't changed its thinking. While he doesn't disagree with the fact that climate change is happening, he thinks we can adapt to it.
The public is illiterate on science, and it's Exxon's job to fill in the gaps for everyone, apparently. We just have to trust them as they know best (?).
Climate change, he says, is a “great challenge,” but it could be solved by adapting to risks such as higher sea levels and changing conditions for agriculture.
“There are much more pressing priorities that we, as a human race, need to deal with.”
“Increasing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere will have a warming impact,” “As a species that’s why we’re all still here: we have spent our entire existence adapting. So we will adapt to this,” he said. “It’s an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions.”
While Tillerson has accepted the science of climate change, saying we can all adapt is no different. It's the same old obfuscation we have been seeing from this company, and from the denier groups it's been funding. It's all about ExxonMobil being able to continue to pump fossil fuels out of the ground - and into the sky, and its profits from doing so. Which is why Tillerson says that fracking science is also "solid"/
Apparently, this man has "seen the drafts" of next year's IPCC report. Not sure what to make of this, but the question must be asked: how has he seen these drafts? What might a company that is so keen on climate science do with early drafts? A spot of lobbying?
The science on the impacts shows us that we will NOT be able to adapt.
Tillerson's comments remind me of a US delegate, J.R.Spradley, way back in 1990 when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was being negotiated. When confronted by the Bangladeshi delegation about the impacts of sea level rise, he told them: "the situation is not a disaster; it is merely a change. The area won't have disappeared; it will just be underwater. Where you now have cows, you will have fish."
Tillerson says that the world’s poorest residents “don’t even have access to fossil fuels to burn. They’d love to burn fossil fuels because their quality of life would rise immeasurably.”
All the predictions on the impacts of climate change point to the world's poorest bearing the brunt of the worst impacts. The quality of life for small island states who could lose their entire nations will cease to exist as they know it.
But right now, much closer to home, Colorado's on fire. I'm sure Tillerson's words will be welcomed by residents forced to flee from the flames.
If we don't change tack, we are currently heading to a 3.5degC temperature rise. This infographic from the scientists at the Climate Action Tracker gives us a clear outline of what we can expect.
It seems that what we can also continue to expect is business as usual from ExxonMobil so that it can continue its own business as usual.
What it also shows is that a tiger really cannot change its stripes.