At the May 29, 2013, annual meeting of Exxon Mobil in Dallas, CEO Rex Tillerson adroitly responded to questions concerning the human influence on climate and energy choices in light of climate science. His points? The science is uncertain as to the magnitude of change; there has not been warming in the last decade; and fossil fuels are necessary for the masses, particularly the energy poor. As he asked a questioner:
How do you want to deal with that great social challenge to what good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers in the process of those efforts when you don’t know exactly what your impacts are going to be?
Friendly Floor Comments
Some statements from the floor were friendly. “It’s funny,” said one. “You have helped to find enough oil and gas in this country so that the protestors here [could] leave their heated and air conditioned homes and fly and drive here so they can protest the way Exxon runs their business.” Said another:
We wish to commend the company’s management in this regard for not surrendering and for standing up for what not only is good for this company but quite literally to the United States itself. We urge our fellow shareholders to stand up for liberty lower taxes, government accountability and free markets….
In this regard, Tillerson did not state any need or preference for a unilateral U.S. carbon dioxide emissions tax (carbon tax) as a way to address emissions. Resting his case on climate realism, he defused a controversy and made his opponents look like a fringe, religious group in the court of public opinion.
These comments (emphasis added) are taken from the entire transcript of the May 29th meeting.
I think our views on climate change and the risk of climate change have been fairly well described both in public forums where I and others have spoken as well as, in publications in the ways we have expressed review climate change as a serious issue, it does present serious risk.
I will maintain the view that I have had for some time now, but notwithstanding all the advancements that have been made in gathering more data, instrumenting the planet so that we understand how climate conditions on the planet are changing. Notwithstanding all that data, our ability to project with any degree of certainty the future is continuing to be very limited.
If you examine the temperature record of the last decade, it really hadn’t changed. I know you will like to hear that as it doesn’t comport to some of the views of others, but last 10 years’ temperatures had been relatively flat in a period when is been noted greenhouse gas concentrations have been rising.
That’s not to drawing a conclusion about anything other than to make the point, our ability to understand all of the relationships between emissions and the environment and the feedback loops continues to be one of the science communities grand challenges and there are some of the best scientists in the world working on that.
And we support their work; continue to support their work because we want to understand that as well. So as we said in the past that how do you want to deal with something or the outcome is unknowable but the risk are significant. So that’s why we have concentrated on we do not have a readily available replacement for the energy that provide the means of living that the world has today. Not [only] our standard of living but … more importantly a standard of living that more than two billion people on the planet are below anything any of us would find acceptable from poverty, hunger, education standpoint.
How do you want to deal with that great social challenge? To what good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers in the process of those efforts when you don’t know exactly what your impacts are going to be?
So we have taken a much more balanced view and we said let’s manage the things, we know how to do manage today.
That’s why we’re strong proponents of energy efficiency, we’re strong proponents of how we consume energy and consuming it at a much more efficient way and we’re strong proponents of looking at other options for energy supplies and sources and we have invested in a broader ray of those in terms of the investigation so that we are well informed as to the likelihood of their having broad-based application on a scale that will serve human need across the planet.
There is nothing out there today that will do that. When windmills won’t do it, solar panel won’t do it. Bio-fuels won’t do it and all of those come with consequential issues as well.
It’s not that we do not support continued advancement [with biofuels], but I think that in this discussion which is vitally important to all mankind. I think we could have a much more use discussion if we could find the place in the middle which is where 80% of people are and talk about a reasonable approach that acknowledges what we know, acknowledges what we don’t know, and looks at all the tools available to us to manage that outcome.
The engineered solutions side of that is–I’ll maybe biased because I’m an engineer and … work in a company there is full of scientist and engineers. I have enormous faith in our technology’s ability to find solutions as they present themselves to us which will be a combination of mitigation and adaptation.
And I firmly believe that we will find that way forward but we’re only going to find that way forward if we can put all our energies into that and less of our energies into the most extreme view points on both end of this debate ….
I can’t conclude there is something magical about 350 [parts of million CO2 atmospheric concentration] because that suggests these models are very competent, and our examination about the models are that they’re not competent.
And in fact, if you read the IPCC report, they published a very broad range of possible outcomes because they acknowledge the models competencies are questionable… So I don’t know if there 350 or 450 if you look at outlook as you’re seeing our outlook has range greenhouse gas emissions peaking and declining at some point in the future as technology takes hold more broadly across society, but it does lead to a much concentration of greenhouse gases.
We do not see a viable pathway with any known technology today to achieve the 350 outcome that is not devastating economies, societies, and people’s health and wellbeing around the world. You cannot get there.
So the real question is, you want to keep arguing about that and pursuing something that cannot be achieved at cost that would be detrimental. Do you want to talk about what’s the pathway we should be, and how do we mitigate and prepare for the consequences as they present themselves because our ability to predict the consequence is simply not that good, sure?
To which we can say to Mr. Tillerson, “Thank you, and get back to finding, transporting, refining, and marketing the underground treasure we better know as oil and gas.