Rex Tillerson is an ExxonMobil oilman. For years, he has questioned the reality of climate change. Now, as Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, he refuses to admit his complicity in the corporation’s disinformation campaign. We must stop his confirmation.
ExxonMobil, the world’s largest publicly-traded oil company, is the only employer Rex Tillerson has had, ever since graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1975. But he claims to know little about their policies.
On December 31, 2016, he traded in his job as the oil giant’s chief executive for the potential position of secretary of state to President Donald Trump. After 41 years of working for ExxonMobil and serving as CEO for a decade, during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill two weeks ago, Tillerson refused to answer questions regarding how much the company knew about climate change.
“Since I’m no longer with ExxonMobil, I can’t speak on their behalf,” Tillerson said. “The question would have to be put to ExxonMobil.”
Exxon knew and Tillerson knew
Since the 1980s, Exxon has understood the destructive effects of climate change. In fact, the company conducted cutting-edge experiments and funded academic research unpacking the science behind global warming. And high-level executives were regularly informed of this research.
But Exxon’s positioning on climate change shifted completely by 1990. For years after that, the company poured millions of dollars into a campaign that mirrored the organized efforts of disinformation spewed by Big Tobacco in the 1950s. The Los Angeles Times and InsideClimate News published reports in 2015 disclosing that the Exxon board was well aware of climate change during this period and purposefully covered up the evidence to secure its financial interests. As Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) pointed out while grilling Tillerson during the confirmation hearing, Exxon did everything it could to “deny, downplay and obscure the scientific consensus on climate change.”
Exxon has aggressively worked to undermine the public’s understanding of climate change. It has taken out substantial ads in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, arguing climate science was dubious, and has funded think tanks that deny or devalue climate science.
Another shift, more lip service
Yet again, Exxon shifted its public stance on climate change in 2007 due to pressure from shareholder activists. “In 2008 we will discontinue contributions to several public policy groups whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure energy required for economic growth in the environmentally responsible manner,” the company said in its 2007 Corporate Citizenship Report.
But this was simply lip service at best, since Exxon (even as recently as last year) has continued to fund organizations that deny or downplay climate science.
At the confirmation hearing, Sen. Kaine asked Tillerson about Exxon’s purported coverup. Did he lack the knowledge, or was he refusing to answer? Tillerson said, “A little of both.” This is an unacceptable response from the man who may be our secretary of state, who may be negotiating international climate treaties that will dictate the future of humanity.
Call your senators
We must hold Tillerson accountable. We must ask our senators to put his feet to the fire and ask him the hard questions about his history with ExxonMobil. As Angela Davis said: “I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change.… I’m changing the things I cannot accept.”
This is unacceptable, and the Senate can change it. Rex Tillerson the oilman knew and Exxon knew. Call your senators today and let them know that he must not be confirmed as secretary of state.
If you’re in California, call:
- Dianne Feinstein: DC (202) 224-3841 or CA (415) 393-0707
- Kamala Harris: DC (202) 224-3553 or CA (213) 894-5000