Thursday, June 28, 2012

Don't let the vested interest of Exxon Mobil divert us from a shift to carbon free energy

On 6/27/12, Rex Tillerson, Exxon Mobil’s CEO, gave a talk at the Council on Foreign Relations on North American Energy Security. Here are links to video and a transcript of his talk.

It is an optimistic assessment - buoyed by the growing production of gas and oil by hydrofracking in North America, as well as a new Exxon Mobil process for Canadian Tar Sand production that uses less energy. He proclaims that energy security (but not energy independence) is within our grasp.

I think the flaw in his proclamation is that it embodies only short term thinking. It enables "business as usual" for another decade or two, but will leave us facing a catastrophic situation as demand for conventional oil and gas continues to increase as we stumble into it's depletion while the atmospheric CO2 concentration (and consequently the Earth's temperature) continues to rise.

In this speech, Tillerson acknowledged that the rising CO2 concentration is causing an increase in  temperatures at the surface of the Earth (a very welcome change from Exxon's past massive funding of climate change denial, reflecting the position of Tillerson's predecessor, Lee Raymond). He goes on to say that current models are not completely accurate (which is true), and then concludes without justification that the effects of climate change will be manageable (apparently assuming, falsely,  that the climate models can only err on the side of over-predicting the effects of a CO2 increase). Credible climate scientists, e.g., James Hansen, believe that unless drastic reductions in CO2 emission occur very soon, we face the possibility of climate catastrophe as we cross tipping points related to the melting of sea and glacier ice, and release of marine methane hydrates.

I suggest that a cautious response to this prospect is in the public interest, and thus, we need to shift to carbon free energy sources as fast as practical. We can thus avert climate catastrophe; while saving substantial amounts of conventional gas and petroleum for manufacturing by our descendents for the myriad millennia to come. We also need to rise to the challenge of using energy much more appropriately and efficiently, while sharing its appropriate use with all citizens of the world. Let's not let the vested interest of Exxon Mobil divert us from these necessities! We must end fossil fuel subsidies, and take other measures to foster the development of carbon free energy.