For anyone concerned about climate change, Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil's CEO, has the fast and easy solution: he wants you to just stop worrying about it. All those statistics, warming trends, rising ocean levels and severe weather events are nothing more than a little "fear factor" according to a speech given by Tillerson last month.
Isn't Fear Factor a game show in which people engage in risky and irresponsible behavior in the pursuit of money? So maybe what he said is true. Global warming is caused by people like Tillerson who engage in risky and irresponsible behavior in the pursuit of money.
Tillerson accuses environmental and consumer advocacy groups of fear-mongering when it comes to drilling and fracking for oil and gas, and he believes the general public doesn't have enough aptitude for math and science to comprehend the drilling process or to determine whether or not it's safe. But the "inconvenient truth" for Tillerson is that the science is not on his side. Two peer-reviewed scientific studies this year -- one in the journal Ground Water and another in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences -- have highlighted that the scientific question is no longer if drilling and fracking will end up contaminating vital aquifers, but when. Furthermore, there is a growing scientific consensus that natural gas is as bad as and may even be worse than coal when it comes to climate change.
But what was truly offensive about the CEO's recent comments is that he held out fossil fuels like oil and gas as the "God pod's" (as the executive suite at ExxonMobil's headquarters is known) Godsend to the world's poor:
[The poor] need fuel to cook their food on that's not animal dung. There are more people's [sic] health being dramatically affected because they don't even have access to fossil fuels to burn. They'd love to burn fossil fuels.
Contrary to Tillerson's self-serving missive, people are not dying to use fossil fuels, they're dying from using fossil fuels. If the resources were available there are many sustainable technologies that could be employed to improve the quality of life for people in the developing world, including cooking. The last thing impoverished people anywhere need is exposure to more toxins.
In fact, the World Health Organization attributes about 2 million deaths per year to air pollution tied mainly to the continuing use of fossil fuels. A recent report put out by the Better Future Project covers a whole host of other detrimental impacts on human health, the environment, global security and the world economy from out-of-control fossil fuel dependence.
The people of the United States are not immune to the heavy burdens caused by fossil fuel use, so it seems likely that those burdens would travel wherever consumers use energy. A National Academy of Sciences study finds that our own addiction to fossil fuels costs the U.S. about $120 billion each year in health costs and results in 24,000 deaths annually in this country alone, and that's with some of the toughest air pollution controls in the world in place. The human and environmental health toll in developing nations with few or no environmental regulations would rise almost as fast as Tillerson's profits.
Tillerson believes that the best way to adjust to climate change is not by decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels, but through wondrous feats of engineering. And just when you think the arrogance couldn't get worse, the CEO of the largest revenue-generating company in the world wants your government and your tax money to create and fund the technological workarounds needed to address the multitude of harms caused by his ongoing peddling of his very profitable product.
Among Rex Tillerson's other endearing opinions...
- The public is ignorant: The industry's biggest challenge "taking an illiterate public and try to help them understand why we can manage these risks."
- Water scarcity is not a problem (if you can move it around as you wish). "There is plenty of water; it's just not in all the right places."
- The media is lazy. "Journalists act irresponsibly when they report on negative impacts of shale gas drilling because it scares the public."
If Rex Tillerson really cared about the world's poor he'd stand up and say what is no longer deniable: the longer we rely on oil, coal and gas, instead of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, the worse our lives will be.
This post originally appeared at Food & Water Watch's blog.
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