The chief executive officer of the Exxon Mobil Corporation thinks we all ought to stop being sissies about global warming.
Sure, it’s happening, says CEO Rex Tillerson, and, sure, it will cause some disruptions. But global warming is, at heart, just another engineering problem and human technicians will find ways to solve it.
Somehow, that doesn’t make me feel more confident.
From what I’ve been able to read, Tillerson is at least a step ahead of his predecessors. For years, Exxon was the leading financier of global warming deniers. The company seems to have moved away from that position in favor of Tillerson’s new position: Trust us; we’ll fix it.
"We have spent our entire existence adapting," Tillerson told the Council on Foreign Relations. "We’ll adapt. It’s an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution.”
I suppose. But isn’t that a bit like the tobacco companies telling us that, rather than curbing smoking to end lung cancer we should just develop better cancer therapies?
In fact, the whole attitude of the energy industry as a whole is reminiscent of the attitude of tobacco companies back in the days when there was still an argument about smoking causing cancer. Executives of those companies testified before Congress that they knew of no evidence that smoking caused lung cancer. Later developments showed those corporate leaders were lying through their collective teeth.
Tillerson doesn’t say there is no problem. He says it’s just not an insurmountable problem. The reason we get so panicked about it, he says, is because the public is illiterate in science and mathematics, the press is lazy, and there are advocacy groups that raise their funds by scaring the illiterate public.
Well, that and the fact that those engineering solutions Tillerson is proposing seem likely to change dramatically the way people live and interact and the quality of life they receive.
Tillerson went on to defend "fracking," the process of injecting weird fluids into rocks so that the rocks give up natural gas and oil. The process holds the hope of making America energy independent. It also holds the threat of pushing the world over a global warming cliff because of the excess greenhouse gases that would be produced.
But here’s my problem: I know that Tillerson’s assurance that global warming is merely an engineering problem is a crock. I suppose it is possible to create some brave new world that will give humanity an opportunity to survive – though I sure haven’t seen many concrete examples of how all that might work.
My problem is that I don’t have an alternative solution. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks huddled inside my comfortable home while my air-conditioner worked non-stop, burning electricity supplied most likely by dirty coal.
My bigger problem is that millions of people, perhaps billions of people, around the world live in dire poverty and will keep right on living in dire poverty unless their economic situation improves -- and the only way that is going to happen is if they have access to affordable energy.
My even bigger problem is that scientists keep warning us that we are nearing a "tipping point" where destructive climate change cannot be reversed and last week’s weather will become the norm -- if we’re lucky.
This would all seem to be of concern to those who purport to lead us.
It is not. President Obama is not talking about climate change. Governor Romney is not talking about climate change. If, indeed, we are capable of adjusting or even of using technology to alleviate the destructive problems of climate change, then we ought to be talking about how we do it.
Instead, our national leaders put their heads in the sand and warble on about how they love the middle class. Our national debate is not about how we are going to save the planet but about whether billionaires should or should not be asked to "contribute" (that’s the word we use when we want to take money from people) a couple of extra percentage points of wealth for the common good.
I tend to think Tillerson is full of beans. But he is, at least, talking about the biggest problem currently facing the human race.
That’s more than the men who purport to care about the future of that race are doing.