Will Rex Tillerson become US Secretary of State – #climate risks

Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, is now Mr Tumps candidate for the office of US Secretary of State. As is normal, last week he presented himself before a confirmation hearing convened by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. From this point we can now wave goodby to the word ‘normal’.

Many of his answers were quite frankly jaw dropping, and as you might anticipate he was also quizzed about #Climate Change. His stance was one in which he articulated a position that can perhaps be best described as “Climate Change is real but …“, and it is that “but” that is a huge concern.

A bit of context – what did we learn last week?

Exxon, the company he was previously CEO of,  endorsed the Paris Agreement under his watch. It is also worth pointing out that doing anything but that would have been a PR disaster, so doing so does not establish any climate credentials.

Obviously Trumps climate stance is well-known.  He has previously declared his intent to pull the US out of the Paris agreement, so understanding Mr Tillerson’s thoughts perhaps grants us a small insight into how things might pan out if he was to be confirmed as US Secretary of State.

Some sound bytes gleaned from Mr Tillerson’s confirmation hearing do grant us an insight into his thinking …

When asked for his personal views, he said “the risk of climate change does exist“, however when pressed for precise details, it becomes clear that he is playing a bit of a word game. In an attempt to pin him down, the chair, Bob Corke asked “Do you believe that human activity, based on science, is contributing?” Mr Tillerson answered as follows ..

The increase in greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is having an effect. Our ability to predict that effect is very limited,

That’s a strangely fuzzy answer for a question that simply needs a yes or no answer. Climate Change is happening right now, it is well-established that we are indeed causing it, and we can and do have models that have been demonstrated to be highly accurate.

Some other bits of the detailed dialog did also prove to be interesting. When asked about his thoughts on Mr Trumps stance, he commented …

“I think it’s important that the United States maintain its seat at the table in the conversation on how to address threats of climate change. They do require a global response. No one country is going to solve this alone,”

So will the US leave the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or maintain a seat at the table?

He is of course a businessman, so he would be naturally inclined to advocate keeping a seat at the table, but in reality it is the president that determines policy.

When asked at one point about his endorsement of a carbon tax on January 9, 2009, he explained that this was done to oppose Obama’s cap-and-trade plan.

Mr Tillereson is wrong to claim – “our ability to predict that effect is very limited”

As you might perhaps anticipate, his “limited” comment was picked up and rejected by the climate science community, because it is simply not true.

As an example, Dana Nuccitelli, an environmental scientist and risk assessor has written a detailed explanation in the UKs Guardian that lays out in precise detail why this stance is wrong …

Many climate scientists took issue with that statement, and for good reason. Climate models have been very accurate in their projections about many consequences of human carbon pollution. It’s true that there’s uncertainty in just how quickly some of those consequences will be triggered. The bad news is that recent studies have shown that many of those consequences are happening more quickly than climate scientists anticipated. Greater climate uncertainty translates into more urgency to tackle the problem, not less.

Mr Nuccitelli then proceeds to give some specific examples (which his article expands upon in great detail, what is below are just snippets)…

…The Gulf Stream – which keeps the UK and surrounding area significantly warmer than it would otherwise be – is part of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Research has shown it could shut down as a result of global warming …

… Global sea ice has also been tracking at record-shattering low levels. …

What will happen if he is confirmed?

Most probably the sanctions against Russia will be lifted. That would then allow ExxonMobil to extract tremendous reserves of oil. I’m sure there is no conflict of interest in that decision by a chap who was COE of ExxonMobil just a few weeks ago and probably still owns lots of their shares… right?

He might indeed retain the US seat at the Paris Agreement table, but the role the US then plays would no longer be a positive one. US participation in the on-going negotiations by him might very well undermine them.

Will Mr Tillerson be confirmed?

It is distinctly possible that he will not be confirmed, but will instead be rejected.

The committee is composed of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats. It would take just one Republican to do the right thing here. Three of the Democrats have already publicly declared “no”, and the others are leaning that way. Do we have any Republicans who might also say “no”?

Potentially yes.

Marco Rubio, who for rather obvious reasons is not exactly a Trump fan, sits on the committee. It is wholly conceivable that he, with an eye on another run in 2020 after a disastrous Trump run, might indeed vote “no” to lay down some credentials as a more reasonable and rational alternative.

This is not idle speculation.

One commenter on it all notes …

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio harshly questioned Tillerson at the hearing about Russia and human rights in general; afterward, he told reporters that he was thinking seriously about doing “the right thing.” Rubio may also be seeking revenge against Trump, who belittled him during the presidential race and is believed to be contemplating a run in 2020 if Trump’s first term is wildly unpopular. Many assume that Trump will punish those who vote against his Cabinet choices, but Rubio may be immune from such threats: He just won re-election to the Senate, so he wouldn’t face a primary challenger for another six years, and it’s unlikely Trump would cancel federal contracts in Florida.

It may also drag on for rather a long time, potentially years and not days …

Often, after a hearing, senators submit questions for a witness to answer in writing. I’m told that, since Tillerson’s hearing, the senators on the Foreign Relations Committee have sent him nearly 1,000 questions—many times more than the usual amount—that he must answer before a vote is taken on his nomination.

While my immediate concern would be his potential impact on both Climate Change and also Human Rights, there are far broader issues in play. A rather startling revelation has not simply been his ignorance regarding Climate science, but his complete and utter lack of any understanding on almost everything, and his willingness to openly lie to the committee …

Several senators and their staffs, expecting to engage with a worldly sage regardless of what else they might think of him, came out of the hearing surprised at how little Tillerson knew about high-profile foreign policy issues. (He had been offered, but turned down, a briefing from the State Department.) Some chafed at his apparent lack of concern for human rights in several countries where he’d done business. And a few were appalled by his deceptive testimony on Exxon Mobil’s lobbying practices.

Well yes, ignorance and lies, I guess that does indeed qualify him as the ideal Trump appointee.

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