ExxonMobil CEO says global warming poses significant potential risks, emissions reductions needed

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There was much business-as-usual in ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson’s recent speech to the Chief Executives Club of Boston, but considering Exxon’s leading role in funding the global warming disinformation campaign for the past eight years, we found it interesting that he now says:  “[W]hen it comes to the issue of climate change….the potential risks to society could prove to be significant, so despite the areas of uncertainties that do exist, it is prudent to develop and implement strategies that address the potential risks….Consistent with this approach, we should take steps now to reduce emissions in effective and meaningful ways.”

Thanks to Environmental Defense for posting a full transcript of Mr. Tillerson’s remarks.  The part in which he talked about climate change follows:

Rex W. Tillerson
Chairman and CEO, Exxon Mobil Corporation
Chief Executives Club of Boston
Boston, Massachusetts
November 30, 2006

For all the technological progress we have achieved in the energy field, we have yet to discover or develop an energy source that meets the world’s enormous needs with no environmental impact. There are no silver bullets to the energy-environment challenge. This is a reality we dare not ignore, and one we must not mismanage.

This is especially true when it comes to the issue of climate change.

While our scientific understanding of climate change continues to improve, it nonetheless remains today an extraordinarily complex area of scientific study. Having said that, the potential risks to society could prove to be significant, so despite the areas of uncertainties that do exist, it is prudent to develop and implement strategies that address the potential risks.

In my view, this means we should continue to fund ongoing scientific research without conditions or preconceived outcomes to increase our understanding of all of the forcings which are part of this very elegant, but very complex climate systems in which we live including ongoing study of not only the possible forcing effects resulting from mankind’s socioeconomic activity, but equally if not more important understanding of the natural forcing elements that are and have been apart of the climate system since the dawn of time.

While the scientific community continues this study, we should pursue public policies that start gradually and learn along the way with full recognition of the economic consequences of certain actions and we should bring all countries into the effort. This is a global-wide, century-scale problem. 85% of the growth of CO2 emissions are associated with economic activity in the developing part of the world, with only 15% of the growth associated with developed countries. We should start on a path to reduce the likelihood of the worst outcomesօ and understand the context of managing carbon emissions among other developing world priorities, such as economic development, poverty eradication and public health.

Consistent with this approach, we should take steps now to reduce emissions in effective and meaningful ways.

Improving the fuel economy of our light duty vehicle fleet is one such way. Reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants must also be a priority, as worldwide carbon dioxide emissions from power generation are currently more than four times that from light duty transport.

The important point is that a variety of ways exist to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions, but weighing the options effectively requires understanding the potential scale, cost and economic and quality of life tradeoffs involved.

We’ll see what, if anything, comes of this.

Is Mr. Tillerson starting to part company with Exxon Mobil’s clients in the global warming denial machine, such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute?  Exxon used to fund CEI—some $2 million in all until this year—basically to spread the word that global warming is a non-problem calling for a non-response. Mr. Tillerson and CEI don’t seem to be singing on quite the same page now, if his remarks in Boston have any substance to them.  What about ExxonMobil’s funding of dozens of other organizations in the U.S. and abroad? 

And we still have the legacy of Exxon-funded CEI activities, including working with its allies within the Bush administration (in particular an oil industry operative, once embedded in the White House, who now works for Mr. Tillerson) to bury the National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts.

That was then. Can we now turn the page and start setting things right? 

Our previous entries relating to ExxonMobil’s role in obfuscating the global warming problem include:

Michael MacCracken’s 2002 letter to the ExxonMobil board of directors
November 23

Senators Snowe and Rockefeller to ExxonMobil: Stop funding denialists
October 31

“Out of Balance: ExxonMobil’s Impact on Climate Change” documentary released
October 23

Royal Society letter to ExxonMobil: Exemplary citizen-science for public accountability
September 23

UK science academy letter tells ExxonMobil to stop funding global warming denial machine
September 23

CEI TV spots continue global warming denial communications strategy
May 25

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