2 Reasons Why Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson Is Unfit to Be Secretary of State

by Tim Donaghy

December 13, 2016

Exxon oversaw one of the largest and most expensive climate denial campaigns the world has ever seen. Now, Donald Trump wants to hand its CEO the reigns to U.S. foreign policy.

Rex Tillerson

Photo via World Economic Forum.

ExxonMobil has spent years putting its corporate profits ahead the interests of the people and the planet. So there is a certain grim logic to the fact that President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to serve as Secretary of State.

This is, after all, the same president-elect who nominated an Attorney General opposed to voting rights, a Labor Secretary opposed to the minimum wage, and an Environmental Protection Agency administrator opposed to environmental protection.

Tillerson looks like a natural fit for Trump’s Cabinet of horrors, but there’s something different about him. He’s not just a shill to the fossil fuel industry, he is the fossil fuel industry. By nominating him, Trump is truly cutting out the middleman and handing over the reigns of U.S. foreign policy to the fossil fuel industry.

But ultimately, it’s what Tillerson did as part of that industry that should disqualify him from even coming close to being Secretary of State.

1. What Exxon — and Rex — Knew About Climate Change

Over the past year, ExxonMobil has been exposed at the center of one of the biggest corporate scandals in decades. Investigations revealed that Exxon’s own scientists were conducting cutting edge climate change research in the 1970s and had developed a sophisticated understanding of the impact of carbon emissions on the climate.

Research has shown that Exxon conducted sophisticated in-house climate modeling and even outfitted an oil tanker with scientific equipment to study the crucial question of how much carbon dioxide was being absorbed by the oceans.

A 1982 memo summarizing the findings stated, “The consensus is that a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide from its pre-industrial revolution value would result in an average global temperature rise of (3.0 ± 1.5) degrees Celsius [equal to 5.4 ± 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit] … There is unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the Earth’s climate, including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere.”

In short, Exxon’s scientists were arriving at the same conclusions about the impacts of carbon emissions on the climate as today’s scientists decades ago.

2. What Exxon — and Rex — Did About Climate Change

But rather than acting responsibly with this information, Exxon’s managers and leaders disavowed their own experts and orchestrated a massive campaign to sow doubt and misinformation about climate change, with the goal of preventing any meaningful climate action. They helped found the Global Climate Coalition, dedicated to stopping policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions. They put out advertisements, pamphlets, and public statements disingenuously claiming that climate science was too “uncertain” to act.

They even bragged about their strategy of deception. A leaked 1998 Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan boasted that “victory will be achieved” when “average citizens understand” uncertainties in climate science and they become part of the conventional wisdom.

Rex Tillerson is a career Exxon man. He started with the company in 1975 as a production engineer and by 1989 he was in management. Many of Exxon’s fateful decisions regarding climate change were made by his predecessor, Lee Raymond, but Tillerson would have had a front-row seat during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Upon taking over the reins of the company, Tillerson has softened Raymond’s climate denialism, but only slightly. Exxon now admits that climate change is real, but has continued to push uncertainty, fund groups that spread disinformation, and block climate action. Under Tillerson’s guidance, Exxon has doubled down on a business model that is largely incompatible with the climate goals outlined in Paris and has adopted a scorched earth legal-campaign to avoid responsibility for its actions.

Don’t Let Exxon in the White House

It’s hard to overstate the impacts that Exxon’s campaign of disinformation has had on the American people. The fact that the Republican Party has been largely captured by climate deniers, for example, can be traced back to the echo chamber funded by Exxon years ago.

During that time, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has risen from roughly 320 parts per million to over 400 parts per million, all the while delaying the investments needed to transform our economy to one powered by clean energy. This delay has come with a price tag that we will all be paying for decades to come.

If Exxon had not known better, its behavior might have been understandable. But Exxon did know better and leaders like Tillerson continued to mislead millions of people while reaping hundreds of billions of dollars in profits. These may be qualities that Trump values, but they certainly don’t represent the values of the American people.

It’s up to us to stop this. Make sure the Senate blocks Tillerson’s nomination for Secretary of State! Sign on today.

Tim Donaghy

By Tim Donaghy

Tim Donaghy is a Senior Research Specialist with Greenpeace USA. He writes frequently about climate change, offshore oil drilling, energy production, and the Arctic.

We Need Your Voice Join Us!

Want to learn more about tax-deductible giving, donating stock and estate planning?

Visit Greenpeace Fund, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charitable entity created to increase public awareness and understanding of environmental issues through research, the media and educational programs.