Science, Now + Beyond

This is what you need to know about Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Here's what you need to know about Trump's latest cabinet pick.

Rex Tillerson was recently confirmed as Secretary of State. Other news sources have been frantically discussing what he means for international relations, but few are wondering what this former oilman could mean for the future of the environment.

Before his nomination, Tillerson was complicit in actively undermining environmentalist efforts. The company he formerly headed, ExxonMobil, has an ongoing interest in disproving climate change. ExxonMobil is probably the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Big Oil: the international company is one the biggest and most profitable in the world. And to protect its main product, it has a record of funding climate change denial groups and deceiving investors about the real impact of climate change.

The latter infraction gave birth to the hashtag #Exxonknew, and dug up evidence that the company knew about climate change since the 60’s, yet still claimed uncertainty and sowed doubt. And these are only some of the shady things the company has done (i.e. TORTURE.)

Yet, Tillerson has voiced some seemingly responsible opinions as far as climate change denial goes. He doesn’t outright deny climate change, and seems to acknowledge its threats in some ways. As a result, some journalists have praised him as a good “moderate” as opposed to the other folks in Trump’s cabinet.

Don’t be fooled, Tillerson might be the worst pick in this entire administration. His ties to Big Oil underline a terrifying trend in US Politics: putting powerful business interests above the safety and wellbeing of the American people.

Climate change has the potential to destroy major cities with rising tides, exacerbate the existing drought & wildfire problems, and make life much more difficult for Americans. The HUMAN-caused warming of the planet should be treated like national security threat that it is, yet Tillerson is running in circles around the issue.

Although he may not seem as brazen as Trump in regards to climate change, none of what he is saying about climate change is even remotely true. He claims that “Our ability to predict [climate change] is very limited”, yet this is a falsehood. Scientists are in fact able to predict the warming impact down to the degree. He claims that climate change is something that we can adapt to, instead of trying to directly prevent. Yet there are threatened communities around the world that are already unable to adapt to a rise in wildfires, deforestation, drought, and other adverse environmental impacts.

No, The Washington Post, this doesn’t mean that he “sees climate change primarily through the eyes of an engineer, as something that must be solved largely through innovation and ingenuity.” Tillerson is trying to downplay the imminent threat of climate change to protect the business interests he is directly linked to.

While Tillerson was CEO, he did little to back up his so-called moderate position on climate change. He expanded Exxon’s funding of climate denial groups. Under his leadership, Exxon has harassed nonprofits and contributed to the re-election of climate denier Lamar Smith. While in office, Tillerson will have a vested interest in rejecting the Paris Climate Agreement, as Exxon’s finances have no plans for it.

His lack of outright climate change denial seems less threatening, but in fact, in makes him all the more dangerous. If we were to take a good, equitable look at the people around the world (and even just in this country) who are already suffering, we would see that global warming and environmental destruction are among the biggest threats we face. His promise to downplay these effects will only keep us complacent as the tide continues to rise.