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

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.