About a year ago I mentioned that it seemed likely that in the next few years we’d see a transition from climate denial to climate defeatism or worse climate engineering:
I imagine that a number of those who previously denied that climate change was a problem will quickly shift to “it’s too late to do anything about it” or, among those who never miss an opportunity, “we have to geoengineer our way out of this problem.”
Apparently we now have the leading edge of exactly this shift in thinking, from none other than Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, saying, among other things:
What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers? … We do not see a viable pathway with any known technology today to achieve the 350 outcome that is not devastating to economies, societies and peoples’ health and well-being around the world. So the real question is, do you want to keep arguing about that and pursuing something that cannot be achieved at costs that will be detrimental? Or do you want to talk about what’s the path we should be on and how do we mitigate and prepare for the consequences as they present themselves?
Let’s deconstruct his first statement, which is remarkably similar to Hirsch’s comment that “While the environment is important, humans are more important.” that I discussed before. Both stem from a fundamental assumption of conventional macroeconomics: that the human economy is separate from the natural economy. Thus, in Tillerson’s mind, these two economies are locked in a zero-sum game, in which to help the natural economy is to hurt the human economy, and thus to “save” nature is to make humanity suffer.
It’s only been a year since he first acknowledged that climate change is real but not a big deal, and yet he’s already moved on from that stance to defeatism (“we do not see a viable pathway with any known technology today”) but doesn’t fail to seize an opportunity (“how do we mitigate and prepare for the consequences as they present themselves?”). Note that the pathways that he considers require technology, though he doesn’t think any are viable. I assume viable pathways in his mind are those that enable the pursuit of short-term economic growth and bottom-line profits for companies like his and technology involves the sort of large-scale machinery that Exxon has a fondness for. (Unfortunately defeatism leading to opportunism is not just the province of former climate change deniers like Tillerson, as this brilliant Radio Ecoshock episode details.)
Now that a captain of the fossil fuel industry has made the party line clear, I expect to start hearing the same from his allies in congress and various think tanks who’ve, up till now, been denying that climate change is real and human-caused. I expect that they too will ignore non-technological responses, including many of the things we like to write about here, such as the Clean Energy Dividend, planting trees, eating a more local and low-emergy vegetarian diet, cycling, and more. There are no large technological fixes among this suite of responses, and only one large-scale policy response.
So it seems we can soon add the titans of the fossil fuel industry to the groups engaged in uni-directional thinking in the context of the succinct description of Contraposition that Adam wrote two years ago.