What Exxon's CEO Proposes We Do About Global Warming: 'We'll Adapt'

The Atlantic
What Exxon's CEO Proposes We Do About Global Warming: 'We'll Adapt'
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What Exxon's CEO Proposes We Do About Global Warming: 'We'll Adapt'

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson's predecessor Lee Raymond was famous for providing "logistical and moral support" (like cash) to climate change deniers, but these days Tillerson's taking a different, sort of casual-sounding tack: just deal with it. Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations Wednesday, Tillerson suggested that rising levels of carbon in the atmosphere probably would have an impact on the environment. Tillerson said, in part:

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. And so I don't -- the fear factor that people want to throw out there to say, 'We just have to stop this,' I do not accept.

He said this while casting doubt on scientists' current ability to accurately predict just how warm the earth might get:

So I'm not disputing that increasing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere is going to have an impact. It'll have a warming impact. The -- how large it is is what is very hard for anyone to predict. And depending on how large it is, then projects how dire the consequences are.

Tillerson is staking out a posture on climate change that is starkly different than his adversarial predecessor, as documented in a 2006 New York Times article. Tillerson said then he accepted climate change's existence, but doubted much of the data surrounding it. So it's not his acknowledgement that the climate is changing that's new so much as his casual-sounding prescription for it. 

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There are, as you might have guessed, already some differences of opinion with Tillerson bubbling up in the day since his remark. Steve Coll, author of Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, told The Guardian, for instance, "Moving entire cities would be very expensive," by which he meant that slowing the rate of emissions would most likely be much cheaper than adapting to its effects. Perhaps so, but it probably wouldn't be cheaper for Exxon.

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