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As Exxon CEO Calls Global Warming’s Impacts ‘Manageable’, Colorado Wildfires Shutter Climate Lab

By Rebecca Leber and Joe Romm  

"As Exxon CEO Calls Global Warming’s Impacts ‘Manageable’, Colorado Wildfires Shutter Climate Lab"

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Fueled by a warming climate, Colorado is experiencing its worst fire season in its history.

As researchers at Boulder’s National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) joined 32,000 other Coloradans in fleeing the fires, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations about the “manageable” risks of climate change:

Rex Tillerson said at a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that climate change was a “great challenge,” but it could be solved by adapting to risks such as higher sea levels and changing conditions for agriculture.

“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.”

Tillerson’s flippant remarks about “adapting” to the “manageable” consequences of climate change come at a time that Exxon is making record profits. In 2011, the company made $41.1 billion in profits, and Tillerson pulled in $34.9 million total compensation — a 20 percent raise from 2010.

A 2011 study found that “9 out of 10 top climate change deniers [were] linked with Exxon Mobil.” So it’s no surprise that Exxon’s CEO would spread misinformation on global warming.

Climate Progress is unaware of any serious climate scientists who think that global warming is “manageable” simply through adaptation if we listen to the do-nothing Exxon crowd and stay anywhere near our current emissions path. We know a great many who have written that the reverse is true (see below).

It’s also worth nothing that by mid-century, wildfires in the West  our projected to be far, far worse. Here’s the grim projection from a presentation made by the President’s science adviser Dr. John Holdren in Oslo in 2010:

We can barely manage the wildfires we have today. How exactly would much of the West “manage” a 4-fold to 6-fold increase in wildfires? And that’s just from a 1°C increase in temperatures. We could see 5 times that this century.

Tillerson pushed standard denialist obfuscation talking points:

He added: “In the IPCC reports … when you predict things like sea-level rise, you get numbers all over the map. If you take what I would call a reasonable scientific approach to that, we believe those consequences are manageable. They do require us to begin to spend more policy effort on adaptation.”

While it’s true that the IPCC and other analyses have reported a range of sea level rise and other impacts, much of that is due to the fact that they consider some very low emissions scenarios that would require aggressive action of a kind that Exxon has spent millions to stop. And the IPCC report was based on science and observations that is 6 years old — it ignored virtually any contribution to sea level rise this century from the disintegration of the great ice sheets. Now there is a widespread convergence of scientific analysis that says on the do-nothing path, sea level rise by 2100 is likely to be 3 feet and could be double that.

The key point is that the Exxon strategy – taking no serious action to reduce emissions —  eliminates most of the uncertainty concerning future emissions and makes catastrophic impacts all but a sure thing.

We are headed to 9° to 11°F warming this century — 12+°F warming over much of the U.S. —  if we listen to Exxon and the climate science deniers it funds, according to M.I.T and the International Energy Agency.

The first 7+°F global warming is “incompatible with organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems & has a high probability of not being stable (i.e.  4°C [7F] would be an interim temperature on the way to a much higher equilibrium level),” according to Professor Kevin Anderson, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change in Britain (see here).

Still, the planet would almost certainly keep warming past 2100 if we were on the high emission scenario:

Science stunner — On our current emissions path, CO2 levels in 2100 will hit levels last seen when the Earth was 29°F (16°C) hotter:  Paleoclimate data suggests CO2 “may have at least twice the effect on global temperatures than currently projected by computer models”

Steve Easterbrook’s post “A first glimpse at model results for the next IPCC assessment” shows that for the scenario where there is (5°C) 9°F warming by 2100 (from preindustrial levels), you get another 7°F warming by 2300.  Of course, if Exxon isn’t motivated to avoid the civilization-destroying 9°F by 2100, it clearly won’t be moved by whatever happens after that.

Lonnie Thompson explained why climatologists are speaking out: “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.” As for adaptation, scientists have found the “net present value of climate change impacts” of $1240 TRILLION on current emissions path, whereas aggressive emissions reductions to avoid the worst impacts is our vastly superior.

Perhaps multimillionaires like Tillerson think they will be able to manage those impacts. The 99% won’t be so lucky.

‹ Thinking Big: NREL Study Shows 80 Percent Renewables Possible By 2050

June 28 News: Arctic Sea Ice Levels Reach Record Low In June ›

57 Responses to As Exxon CEO Calls Global Warming’s Impacts ‘Manageable’, Colorado Wildfires Shutter Climate Lab

  1. Hardy Haberman says:

    Why is this not surprising? Exxon is going to say “it’s out of control and we helped destroy the earth”? They are intent on selling as much gas as possible and the rest of us can just deal with the consequences. They are a prime example of capitalism run amok.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Your observation that this is ‘capitalism run amok’, is, I believe, tautologous. Capitalism only does ‘amok’, it only does excess, it only does profit maximisation at the cost of all else, it only does destruction.

    • I can’t think of a more irresponsible statement. These oil companies wield vast power and could enable a transition to sustainability by changing their energy structures. Instead, they play a very dangerous game of chicken with the world climate system. And who gets hurt? The people. The people are directly in the line of fire here.

  2. Doug Bostrom says:

    The houses burning down in that picture? That’s “adaptation.”

    • Pangolin says:

      Colorado Springs is “adapting” to climate change at a pretty rapid clip this afternoon. I suspect there’s going to be a bit of adapting happening tomorrow also. It’s a good thing that people prefer this to solar panels, wind turbines, energy efficiency and rail.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Like the dinosaurs ‘adapted’. I suppose he thinks that his kind will transmogrify into birds, or some other miracle.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        I forgot the crocodilians, a far better fit.

        • Tim Palmer says:

          Mulga,

          I don’t know about the crocodilian comparison. Spiders, maybe? Sharks?

          But this is all just groping about for fearful, cultural stereotypes of organisms that are, in fact, marvelous examples creatures that share enduring, meaningful relationships within the biological web they inhabit. To compare any of these critters to Exxon-Mobil is, simply, to denigrate the most venerable among us.

          The only fitting organism to compare them to is H. sapiens. This is conguent with these abstract, man-made, cultural artifacts having been granted the rights of human beings by the venerated (venal?) Judicial Nobility.

          That seals the analogy, so far as I am concerned.

          I would much prefer that human rights, whatever they may mean, be granted to my laptop, or maybe iPhones. They adapt to us as undividuals, keep us company-even converse with us. Should there prove to be a human right to health care, under the Affordable Health Care Act, that would mean ‘free’ preventative maintenance and repair! Which would, in turn, result in a longer useful life–>less exploitation and environmental degradation.

          Humor–it is one of the unique adaptive strategies of human beings.

          We need one hell of a lot of it right about now!

  3. prokaryotes says:

    People like Tillerson believe in survival of the fittest rule and if an area burns – adapting simply means to settle elsewhere. Basically he is doing what he does, because if he wouldn’t, someone else would do it. At least that’s what he things and that is his adaption strategy, what he learned to do, to become 1 of the chosen 0.001%. Why should he do what some “hippy” is crying?

    He simply doesn’t care and in his lifetime there will be always adaption with his resources. And after him – he doesn’t care.
    He probably believes that humans will find solutions later and that a bit catastrophe is good to keep population growth in check. And if he is wrong, then oh shit, then so shall it be.

    That’s the kind of people who are in charge at the Exxon.
    Brought to you by capitalism and boundary breaking laws.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      People like this are simply indifferent to the suffering of others because they have no human empathy. As long as it is not his mansion burning down, he is completely uninterested. This is the type that capitalism inevitably promotes.

      • Doug Bostrom says:

        There’s actually some scientific evidence to that effect; sociopathy is apparently an advantage in climbing the executive ladder. Not that we can lump ‘em all together, but a group of 100 successful executives will apparently harbor more sociopaths than 100 randomly chosen persons.

        Kind of stands to reason; anybody who has ever fired anybody would understand. It’s a sickening act.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          Doug, there’s more than a modicum of scientific evidence, and there is a mountain of everyday observation, anecdotal evidence. I could name dozens from here, and list the behaviour that gives them away, but the libel laws do not recommend such plain honesty.

  4. Mark Shapiro says:

    Rex Tillerson is pushing all humanity into an experimental, untested, unknowable climate.

    There are some experiments which you just should not do.

  5. Peter M says:

    Capitalism ‘Run Amok’ is what contemporary America has become. And its on a head on course for catastrophic change. A future when Exxon no longer exists. In the process however many species will be gone, and vast parts of the US will be unable to support agriculture or many kinds of life. But we can adapt to this- right?

    • Hephaestus42 says:

      @Peter M … It is not capitalism run amok, it is the government picking winners and losers through regulation, subsidies, and laws designed to prevent competition. Preferential access to law makers is given to the large corporations that fund political campaigns. Which allows them to write the laws and prevent competition.

  6. An irony is that one of the entities protecting Tillerson’s interests,and which he owes something to, is the Air Force Academy, which has been evacuated due to raging fires.

  7. Excellent and timely article. Thank you!

  8. Doug Bostrom says:

    I forgot one important thing: Tillerson, you’re an asshole of the first water.

    Not that he’ll hear that but I needed to say it. Why?

    Here’s what he says about his fellow citizens: “Tillerson blamed a public that is “illiterate” in science and math, a “lazy” press, and advocacy groups that “manufacture fear” for energy misconceptions in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

    Having done his utmost to create a public illiterate in climate science and a press that is saturated with unscientific crap, he’s got the gall to turn his work around and throw it in the faces of his victims.

    Asshole.

    • Artful Dodger says:

      Tillerson called for a Carbon Tax during the Cap-and-Trade debate in 2010. I believe it.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Surely it is about time to gather a group of lawyers and other experts in morality and science, and set about creating a body of law concerning crimes against humanity and posterity in regard to the wanton destruction of the planet’s habitability for our species. The final product could be published, and be ready when, and if, sane regimes come to power, which could then enact them, making the provisions retrospective (there is no Statute of Limitations on crimes against humanity). Such a Damoclean sword might ‘concentrate the minds’ of the Rightwing gemocidists. Appeals to morality and humanity have, as expected, had no effect, whatsoever.

  10. bob h says:

    You might have to hire more firefighters, though.

  11. Ted says:

    Boycott automobiles!

  12. Paul Magnus says:

    “Rex Tillerson said at a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that climate change was a “great challenge,” but it could be solved by adapting to risks such as higher sea levels and changing conditions for agriculture.
    “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.””

    I dont think its flippant… many like him really believe that we can get by this with out much damage. And that is the reason they skeptical. It takes a lot to change peoples minds about these things…. but change is happening right now…

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      Perhaps he’s working on an project to engineer human physiology so that we can drink petrol, breath methane and eat coal, ME

    • Dennis Tomlinson says:

      “It’s an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions.”
      Forty years ago I couldn’t even spell injuneer – today I are one. And as an engineer, I’d like to chime in on this tawdry trope of tantalizing Tillerson twittery.
      1. Engineers cannot change the laws of physics, and never will.
      2. Engineers cannot design a system whose efficiency exceeds 100% (we’re currently over 99%, but that last 1% is a bitch).
      3. We cannot change an electron’s spin.
      4. We cannot divide an electronic charge into smaller packets.
      5. We cannot design a system which gives a response before it is stimulated.
      6. We cannot move 9 billion people to a new home planet.
      7. Perpetual motion… well, you get the gist.

      I am reminded of the words of a manager I worked for early in my career, “You might just as well throw rocks at the sunrise.”

      I have a shirttail relative who is employed as the IT manager at Exxon’s Joliet refinery. He tells me of backroom experiments with biodiesel, and algae farming. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are back rooms behind those other back rooms where geoengineering is studied as part of Exxon’s long-range business plan. Prototyping? There’s only one full-scale prototype, and I’m very nervous about running experiments on it.

  13. Paul Magnus says:

    “It’s also worth nothing that by mid-century, wildfires in the West our projected to be far, far worse. ”

    There an’t gong to be much to burn by then…

    • Lollipop says:

      I honestly fear you are right. I visit Yellowstone and Tetons a few years ago, and RMNP, and the pine beetle has done a terrible number on those places. I leave tomorrow fr Badlands, Glacier, and return to Yellowstone. We chose to go now because I’m afraid if we don’t go now, my children will never get to see these places. The pine beetle, drought, and fire are going to destroy them completely.

      • Lollipop says:

        Obviously, I’m too tired from packing to type properly.

      • Mark E says:

        When you get to Yellowstone, I suggest you save a lot of time for an early morning stars-still-in-the-sky walk – making a little noise so you don’t surprise any bears – in the 1989 or 1990 superfire area just down the road from the West Yellowstone entrance. Listen to dawn break in the middle of the burned area. See it come to life.

        Its different, sure. But the resilience of such places teaches us about hope, for whenever we decide to get smart about how we live here. We aren’t going to “completely destroy” these places but rather our easy going ecologically-ignorant lifestyle. We must get smart, or burn… BUT if we burn, humanity can still bloom again whenever we finally get smart.

        Please don’t visit these places like going to a wake. They’re all about hope, and the lessons we most need to bring to our civilization. (I’m jealous, have room in the car?)

  14. Dean Grodzins says:

    Exxon funds those who deny global warming, I think, because they want to prevent any action on climate change so that the Arctic will become ice free. Otherwise, the billions they are investing in Arctic oil drilling makes no sense, because ice would make Arctic oil inaccessible. The only way Exxon can justify this scheme to melt the Arctic for profit is to claim that the consequences of global warming are “manageable,” which is at best self-delusion. I would not be surprised to learn that oil companies are also investing quietly in geoengineering schemes. When the consequences of global warming get truly horrible, they will try to sell these to the world as an alternative to reducing carbon emissions, which they will resist to the bitter end.

  15. Bonnie Jones says:

    These fires burning now are much worse, 30,000 people in one area evacuating. I heard a news blip few months ago saying there reports saying the pollution in China is so bad that it travels globally and the disturbances and polluting effects to the atmosphere are causing or contributing greatly to the extreme weather patterns in the U.S. Has anyone else heard this? I cld probably google it…. so much info overload.

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      Polution always travels. It was pollution from the heavily populated N hemisphere that caused the hole in the ozone layer in the South years ago but we copped the consequences. Clean up your own mess, ME

  16. Mike Roddy says:

    About 25 years from now, they will wheel Tillerson out in a wheelchair for his World Court appearance. Rex will be talking gibberish, his health ruined more by corrosive guilt than anything else.

    The Court will give him a suspended sentence, since there is no point in putting him in a prison cell, and costing taxpayers all that money. After all, Rex will be unable to do the one thing in life that he so excelled at: feeding himself.

    • nyc-tornado-10 says:

      Rex T. had better hope for a jail cell. If the people get a hold of him after they have lost everything, and are hungry, he will likely suffer worse than the fate of khadaffy after the libyan people captured him.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        The ‘Libyan people’ didn’t lynch Gaddafi. It was jihadi murderers assisted by Western ‘Special Forces’.

  17. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    Exxon’s Rex T. (or T.rex) will have to explain how our food supply will find global warming to be “manageable”, as a large section of the midwest is scorched by severe heat and drought, which is also burning up colorado. Maybe wall $treet will figure out how to air condition farm fields? Bahahahaha….

    http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-06-27/drought-seen-rivaling-1980s-u-dot-s-dot-scorcher-that-cost-78-billion

    It is also interesting that india is having a late start to the monsoon, probably related to a predicted el nino this fall.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-06-27/monsoon-worst-since-2009-threatening-sugar-rice-crops.html

    This drought in india is being compared to 2009, which was also at the beginning of an el nino. that el nino began the el nino – la nina cycle of 2010 – 2011, which brought incredible weather and climate related catastrophes to the world. Couple this with the continued arctic warming, record loss of arctic sea ice, causing further distruptions of the polar vortex and jet stream, we have more disasters in our future, they will likely exceede what we have seen already.

  18. Charles says:

    I have to agree with Doug about Tillerson. The guy has the gall to suggest those who are concerned about climate change are scientifically illiterate. No surprise, I suppose.

    It makes sense that these guys want access to an ice-free Arctic for the oil reserves there.

    Good times.

  19. Wow! I grew up in Colorado, mostly on the Eastern Slope (of the Rockies). I spent two years of my childhood, at separate times, in Colorado Springs. Our family spent a lot of time fishing, and I did lot of backpacking and camping. So I am well acquainted with the landscape and climate there. (That is, the pre-21st-century climate.)

    When I started hearing about global warming, and especially when, more recently, I started hearing about the pine beetle blight, I put two and two together and said “Massive forest fires.” Sadly, today’s news is not surprising.

    What people like Tillerson and other climate change deniers don’t get is that once an ecosystem is damaged, it’s damaged — at least for a generational cycle of whatever ecosystem we’re talking about. Yes, forest fires are part of nature, and the pine forests are adapted to them, but it takes 30 to 100 years, depending on local conditions, for pine forests to regenerate and return to something resembling their original form. And 30 to 100 years from now … what will the dominant climate regime in the Rockies permit?

    My belief is that those forests are gone for good, and the replacement ecosystems will be considerably impoverished — scrub and bare rock throughout the entire Rocky Mountain region.

    Adaption indeed. Hell and High Water is the reality.

  20. WhichTruth says:

    I am at a loss to explain how so many intelligent beings can be so blind to reality,

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Maybe they are not so intelligent. If they have average intellect, then the failing is spiritual, therefore worse.

  21. Mark E says:

    Is it time to stop bitching about executives and corporations by name, and instead start using language refering to the stockholders?

    A large part of the problem is corporate power, but what exactly is a corporation?

    1. Group of INDIVIDUALS
    2. Banded together for mutual profit
    3. While avoiding risk

    By bitching about “Exxon” or “Tillerson” by name, we are embracing the anonymity of the people who really matter…. voting stockholders of these institutions.

    Short of filling the jails, if we play by their rules, it seems like the messaging target should be the little fish, instead of the figurehead or the corporate logo.

    Disinvestment worked wonders during S Africa’s anti-apartheid scheme. How do we make people who own stock in Exxon personally ASHAMED when they kneel down to pray? How do we hit them in their pocketbook?

    Will college kids care enough to demand disinvestment of their institutions from the fossil fuel companies? Can academia survive if it spurns research dollars from these outfits?

    Bitching about the figureheads and corporate logos ain’t really doing the job. We need to point the finger where the finger needs pointing:

    our individual neighbors who are using the corporate structure to for self-enrichment without risk to themselves, while spreading fear, ignorance, and destruction. Hey – isn’t that what street gangs do?

    We need to identify stock ownership with gang affiliation. Tillerson is just a posterchild. Its the folks next door who have voting power within Exxon that are the real enemy.

    • Doug Bostrom says:

      Good point. There’s another angle which is in our direct personal sphere and that is removing the market for Exxon’s combustible products. Push for transit, limit your own use of hydrocarbons, etc.

      That said, Tillerson should bear the costs of his character; the name “Tillerson” should be right alongside “Ponzi” in the public mind.

      • Mark E says:

        Even while resisting British rule, Gandhi showed the British officials nothing but respect, even after the massacre. Meaningful Nonviolence is more effective than punishment or retribution.

  22. catman306 says:

    Is there evidence that the mountain deserts of the world have been forested in the past and that droughts killed the trees and that then fires consumed the vegetation? And the lack of further rainfall created the mountain deserts that we see today in some places? Could we expect Colorado in the future to look like what is found when one Google Images ‘mountain desert’? How long would that take?

    • Ominous Clouds Overhead says:

      Packrat middens in the country around Moab (think Arches NP) show that this high desert region was covered with doug fir and other trees a mere 10,000 years ago. That might be your prototype for a picture of the future of the Rockies.

  23. Attu Ritsch says:

    Burn Baby Burn!!

  24. jonthed says:

    The science is clear, but the public is not demanding and insisting on change as they should be. The propaganda and doubt have diminished the argument. The only hope for real change is for enough of the people to stand up and demand it from their politicians. It seems only when enough people have suffered or realized there is a genuine cause for alarm that will soon directly affect them and their families, will there be enough momentum to get the real changes we need. It seems it’s going to take such many such disasters as this to rouse the rabble. At least it’s begun.

  25. Chris Winter says:

    “As a species that’s why we’re all still here: we have spent our entire existence adapting. So we will adapt to this,” [Tillerson] said. “It’s an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions.”

    Yes — like engineering the development of more effective forms of renewable energy, and a smart grid to tie them together. Like engineering an economically feasible way to pull CO2 out of the air.

    Unfortunately, I suspect the adage Mr. Tillerson lives by is, “An ounce of prevention generates less profit than a pound of cure.”

    • Mark E says:

      …less profit than an even smaller bit of disease, I think is what Mr. Tillerson meant.

  26. jonthed says:

    Also, there was mention that it would cost a lot more to adapt and deal with climate change than it does to mitigate it, but not for Mr Exxon and other big fossil types, they won;t be the ones having to foot the bill for all the adaptation, so they couldn’t care less, but they do care about getting as much money from their fossil businesses as possible. His opinion should count for nothing. Government needs to grow a pair and do what’s in the government’s and people’s interest, but we need the people to show the government that that is what we demand.

  27. I think there’s a misunderstanding of these wildfires. They’re not an increasing affliction on otherwise stable regional ecosystems; they’re part of a shift of most of those areas to new and different ground cover. Someone should study and spell out what that’s going to be in each region.