My prediction in the last couple of blogs is based on the massive amount of evidence that Rex Tillerson was well aware of the reality of climate change long before the IPCC started to document it in the 1990s. Another source covers the same ground, but it includes the following statement:
“In 2014, shareholders seeking greater accountability from the company [ExxonMobil] pressed the issue [of the IPCC reports on climate change]. They submitted a resolution to disclose how its reserves would be affected if climate action reduced demand. The company, in response, produced a report that said it would be “highly unlikely” that countries would enact action aggressive enough to affect demand”.
Did Tillerson’s parents have a sense of humour when they named him Rex? In fact, the soon to be USA Secretary of State is no dinosaur. On the contrary, I think he is a smart operator, but I fear he may have misjudged, and taken a risk too far. He apparently intends to push on with exploitation of the Alberta tar sands, and his friendliness with Putin is presumably with a view to securing the rights to oilfields in Russia. But this does not make sense in the light of the evidence that he is fully aware of climate change. What could make sense of it is that he judged that ExxonMobil must ensure that no other company had access to the reserves he now has first claim on.
His misjudgment is in failing to anticipate the massive shift of sub-zero air from the Arctic Ocean. But he may get away with it. The ice may freeze in time.
But the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ logic of my possibly preposterous expectation is that there must come a moment when ExxonMobil switches, possibly quite abruptly to publicly accepting – and acting to prevent climate change when the risks become too great, and all competitors can be trusted not to steal a march.
But there is another strange aspect of this developing story which intrigues me. Just as George W. Bush was in fact advised, possibly controlled by much brighter supposed subordinates Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, I believe that it is Tillerson who will wield the real power, not Trump.
I do not have to spell out the evidence that Trump is totally unsuited to the role of President of the USA. But how much insight does he have? He has been elected – on a minority vote – for reasons which have nothing to do with his personal qualifications. Even his business acumen is clouded by bankruptcy.
Rex Tillerson has no political experience either, but he does have 10 years of successfully managing an entity larger than the nation state of Austria. Even if Trump does believe in his own ability, I think Tillerson will prove to be a stronger personality. It is certainly possible that the many other apparent climate deniers in the new administration will listen more carefully to Rex than to the loose cannon nominally in charge.
Trump’s appeal was that he was thought to be outside the neoliberal clique (a better term than élite) who are really in control. Rex Tillerson is most definitely within that inner circle.
But what, if anything, can the most powerful man in the world do about the Arctic? Even though preserving the ecosphere is in his interests as well as ours, and even if he can steer the world economy to something approaching sustainability, his management strategy is unlikely to be congenial to most of us.
I might as well round off these improbable conjectures with the observation that Milton Friedman, one of the architects of neoliberalism, was in favour of a version of the Basic Income. It will be needed if the economy does collapse next September due to climate mayhem.