New Year Hope – even with Trump!

The hopeful fact is that Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil and soon to be USA Secretary of State, accepted the IPCC reports on climate change as correct all along. He is on record as having given a speech in January 2009 in favour of a carbon tax. Yet, as the above link explains:

“Activists have compared Exxon’s tactics of funding climate-change denialists to disinformation campaigns about smoking led by the tobacco industry, which spent billions of dollars in a settlement with state attorneys general and was found guilty in a federal civil fraud and racketeering case.”

The above report comes to the frightening conclusion that Tillerson does indeed share Trump’s view, and that of the rest of Trump’s appointees, that climate change is a hoax. The reason I take a contrary view is already in my blog, but is worth repeating: the Tragedy of the Commons’. Regular readers can skip the next paragraph. They should know it off by heart.

Opportunity for expansion leads to an indivualistic, competitive ethos, so that when, inevitably, growth reaches Limits, the optimum strategy is to flatly deny it in the short term, and push ahead with aggressive expansion. The sane response of reducing output does nothing to protect the ecosphere; it merely puts the individual competitor at a disadvantage. Restraint will only work when all competitors can be relied on to co-operate. ExxonMobil have so far followed this strategy to a T.

In view of the 2009 speech mentioned above, it is odd that alone among the major oil companies, Exxonmobil did not at least pay lip service to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change last December. I may be clutching at straws, but I think Tillerson is simply playing a riskier game of poker than the rest. He wants to extract the last ounce of advantage. Did he take the risk that Trump might not become President? Or did he, like many Poker players would, simply judge that ExxonMobil could go on denying a little while longer?

Be that as it may, the rule in the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ game is that it is safe to do a volte face, and actually support climate change initiatives when all players do the same.. I thought that moment arrived last December when other major oil companies, and even the Chinese government thought so. But we are only talking about a change in actions as distinct from statements. Rex Tillerson can claim to be ahead of the game with his 2009 speech.

There is objective evidence against ExxonMobil. I cannot now find the link, but the FT did publish a private memorandum from Tillerson to potential investors admitting the IPCC case, but it opined that democratic governments would not take immediate action because the measures necessary would be unpopular with voters, therefore investment was OK in the short term. But Tillerson was and is well aware that trashing the ecosphere is not in his interests. Continued climate denial and exploitation of fossil reserves would simply not make sense if Tillerson has accepted the IPCC reports, albeit only in a memorandum to prospective investors intended to be confidential.

But where does Trump stand, and the formidable phalanx of apparent climate deniers he intends to appoint? If they have not yet read the rules of the ‘Tragedy’, Rex T can put them straight. He may well not have heard of the ‘Tragedy’, but he has read, and believes the IPCC reports, and he is bright enough to work out the logic. I would not go so far as to say the ‘Paris’ agreement is safe in their hands (see next paragraph), but I do think a widespread volte face is more likely than most would expect..

Unfortunately this does not mean that a sustainable world economy, still less an equitable one, will necessarily emerge instead of climate mayhem. Personally, I fear that the information from the Arctic means that there is a risk that for 4 months next summer, an entire ocean will absorb as much radiation as the tropics, energy which has hitherto been reflected back into space by ice. Even if the effects are not dire, the response of those who have been successful until now through taking risks, will not immediately think in terms of stopping ecologically dangerous activity. They will think instead in terms of geo-engineering and the like. But it will inhibit their conventional operations, and crucially, Tillerson knows this.

The Green Party was formed in 1973 in response to the MIT ‘Limits to Growth’ report. ‘Limits’ actually missed climate change as the major problem, but the concept of tailoring economic activity to ecological limits was sound. Far from being ‘anti-business’, this approach would have enabled maximum economic activity with those limits, aided by appropriate technological innovations.

I saw the Green Party as the vehicle for an orderly transition to a sustainable, socially just world economy. Something of the sort may emerge, but the transition now has little chance of being orderly. The most we can hope for is an emergency plan to halt climate change as soon as the new President is inaugurated. Anything which buys time is better than nothing.

Although I was born into the socialist tribe, my father’s generation did not have to worry about eco-limits. I naively expected a new political divide to supersede left/right: those who see the planet as finite, and those who think human ingenuity renders that fact irrelevant.

My current view is that we are already in the closing stages of a new Feudalism, with a tiny ‘elite’ (a bad misnomer) in power.  Those who see Socialism as desperately needed now more than ever are not misguided, just unrealistic. However, Phillipe van Parijs, one of the gurus of the Basic, guaranteed Income movement, once described it as ‘A capitalist road to communism’. At least it has two advantages which the Feudal system lacked: no one will starve, whatever the state of the economy, and no one will be trapped in their starting status.

There is already a new world order run by the CEOs of mega corporations. They are already in control of all major ‘democracies’. Trump’s ‘unexpected’ success is due at least in part to the perception of him as outside the controlling ‘élite’. He may be, but Tillerson is most definitely an insider.

If democracy has already been subverted, the remaining question for us former Socialists is, to what extent will it be possible to inject a degree of social justice into this new regime? A new culture will emerge, either by design and consensus or following an eco-collapse. With a Basic Income, the rich will remain richer than the rest, though not quite as rich as they would with rampant growth.

Growth will still occur, but in the new culture it must await sustainable technological innovations, instead of needing them desperately, regardless of what harm they might do. Think fracking.

I credit those capable of managing mega corporations with the intelligence to realize that the Basic Income is a small price to pay for their continued ability to make a profit in a socially just sustainable society.

Hope for the future?



2 responses to “New Year Hope – even with Trump!

  1. Thanks for the news of rex of exxon, Clive. I find a contradiction in your first three paragraphs however. Are you saying that rex believes climate change is real or a hoax? Looks like the latter is his current position. Unfortunately that is the hopeless rather than the hopeful one from your and my point of view.

    • I have just added to paragraphs 7 and 8 in response to your comment. I agree, there is ominous evidence that I am completely wrong, but the crux is in the FT article to which I cannot find a link. If it s true that he has secretly known that the IPCC was right all along, switching sides should only be a matter of timing. Anything else, even massive investment in Russian oilfields, just does not make sense.

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