ExxonMobil's Rex Tillerson rejects "fear factor" in climate change research

Give Rex Tillerson some credit. At least the ExxonMobil CEO has avoided claiming that global warming isn't real, the way tobacco executives used to pretend lung cancer was just some weird, wacky, luck-of-the-draw disease that had no linkage to massive consumption of their product.

Tillerson just happens to think that climate change researchers are, well, overstating things a bit, with the aid and collusion of the fear-mongering media.

Rising sea levels? Melting polar caps? Disappointing crop yields? Sure, some folks on the coasts might get a little water in the basement, but so what?

"Our ability to predict, with any accuracy, what the future's going to be is really pretty limited," Tillerson said in a response to a question, after delivering an upbeat speech on "The New North American Energy Paradigm" to the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday. "We have spent our entire existence adapting, okay? 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."

Tillerson's remarks came only hours after a federal appeals court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency does indeed have the authority (and the science to back it up) to regulate greenhouse gases produced by industry and motor vehicles -- a clear victory for researchers and environmental groups that have been maintaining for years that human-generated carbon emissions are a major source of climate change and endanger human health.

Just how carbon regulations will ultimately be implemented remains up in the air, so to speak. But Tillerson's comments point to a possible new direction for energy industry leaders reeling from the EPA decision -- instead of burying your head in the tar sands, it's okay to talk about climate change, just so long as people understand we can adapt.

It's what we do, okay?

For more information on how one humble species has adapted to slightly warmer temperatures, increasing the severity and range of the worst beetle epidemic in recorded history in Colorado and across the West, check out this week's cover story, "The Beetle and the Damage Done."

More from our Environment archive: "Groupon project enlists hikers to hunt for elusive pika."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast