Earlier today, President-elect Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, the former oil baron Rex Tillerson, returned to Capitol Hill for his confirmation hearings.
Much of the early discussions focused on U.S. relations with Russia, given Tillerson’s history of close contacts with the country and renewed allegations of the extensive involvement and possible intentions of Russian hackers in the presidential election, but the issue of climate change was notably absent in his opening remarks.
Environmental and human rights protestors made sure this issue would be on Senators’ mind during the hearing, shouting “don’t put Exxon in charge of the State Department.”
Faced with questions about his position on climate change, Tillerson skirted the issue. He stated his personal opinion that the risk of climate change exists and that some action may need to be taken. He continued that he felt the “U.S. had done a pretty good job” so far, despite research showing the U.S. response and commitments to be inadequate.
If confirmed as the country’s Chief Diplomat, Tillerson will lead the U.S. delegation in the international climate negotiations – a process his new boss consistently threatened to withdraw from throughout his presidential campaign.
When asked whether the U.S. should withdraw from this important international process to tackle the climate crisis, Tillerson responded that he thought the U.S. should remain “engaged in those discussions”, at present. But he then went on to state his belief that the effect of human activity on climate change was “very limited.”
And when pushed by former Vice-Presidential candidate Tim Kaine on whether under his leadership ExxonMobil funded and promoted the view that human activity was not to blame for climate change, despite the company’s own research showing that the burning of fossil fuels had a direct impact on climate change, Tillerson declined to answer the question. Twice.
Today, millions of people around the world are already seeing the devastating impacts of climate-induced floods, droughts, and extreme weather. They need the United States to live up to and go well beyond the climate commitments made at the United Nations.
Tillerson has a history of funding climate science denial and has a massive stake in ensuring international climate action is as slow as possible, which will result in displacement and even death for countless people in poor countries.
These conflicts of interest, together with his coziness with governments that show a scant regard for human rights, especially women’s rights, make him ill-suited for the office of Secretary of State.