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Physicist Dr. Lubos Motl worried that Rex Tillerson is not strong climate skeptic

Rex Tillerson, a lukewarmer, stands out like a sore thumb in the new era

Donald Trump has said that global warming was a hoax invented by the Chinese in order to weaken America. And believe me, Trump isn’t a great fan of China so this link between China and the man-made global warming movement wasn’t meant to be a compliment for the latter.

He has chosen numerous folks for his administration whose climate realist credentials seem indisputable: Scott Pruitt for the EPA, Cathy McMorris Rodgers for the Interior Department, and Rick Perry for the Department of Energy. Given the fact that Rex Tillerson has served as a CEO of ExxonMobil, you would think that it’s similar with this guy. Except that it’s not.

All climate jihadists who have been fighting “climate change” and ExxonMobil should notice: If you have a relative ally in the Trump administration, it’s the former CEO of ExxonMobil! 😉 What an irony. Don’t get me wrong. He is not as superficial and insane as his predecessor – he should be an improvement relatively to John Kerry. However, his views are mixed.

Christian Science Monitor’s section on climate solutions wrote

His zeal isn’t clear, but Tillerson calls climate change a ‘threat’

AGW is a threat, Tillerson says. On the other hand, in a testimony to the lawmakers (video), he said that the global warming wasn’t an imminent threat to the U.S. national security, a statement by which he differs from the Democrats’ party line, and he stated that there are mixed opinions in the scientific literature when it comes to the relationships between CO2 and unpleasant weather events (e.g. in Syria – and let me say that the suggestion that the mess in the Middle East was due to the “weather” is both arrogant and silly).

I must say one thing. Donald Trump seems to make rather radical changes but his team isn’t supposed to be an ideologically uniform group of Yes men and I surely think it’s right. Moreover, Tillerson has some experience with international relationships as well as with applied science and engineering – and those can be useful for his new job although I am not quite sure whether the engineering part is ideally exploited by the Department of State.

Tillerson’s scientific and engineering background places him into a special position that I can understand very well. While some other people who naturally identify as Republicans may sometimes have skeptical but extremely simplified opinions about the climate science (and about science in general), Tillerson doesn’t. He really knows something about the climate science. Perhaps more importantly, he knows how to read scientific papers and how to extract information and assign the importance to the scientific papers.

It’s not hard to see examples of quotes placing Tillerson way outside the climate realists’ mainstream. For example, take this quote:

Tillerson on climate: “the fact that we cannot predict with precision … doesn’t mean that we should do nothing.”

This is a totally standard alarmist meme. You could find nearly identical quotes said by the likes of James Hansen or Michael Mann, I don’t want to look for precise quotes now but you have surely heard this from numerous alarmists in your life. This proposition is designed to sound superficially wise but it is totally idiotic. Tillerson and the alarmists say that “we should do something even though we don’t have precise data”. Clearly, the idea that “we should do something” is treated as a dogma that cannot be invalidated by any evidence.

In a similar way, alarmists have said that “the Climategate proofs that the top climate change activists are fraudsters who have fabricated graphs, bullied colleagues, and undermined their field shouldn’t mean that we should do nothing, either”. The fact that almost all predictions by the IPCC models were almost always falsified or the fact that cities have experienced extreme cold weather while climate officials were fighting global warming in these cities shouldn’t threaten the “need for action”, either. In fact, nothing should change that we should fight against climate change, these people effectively say. The fight against climate change is a dogma for this postmodern religious cult that no rational argument is allowed to question. People who question it are labeled heretics. And it just seems to me that Tillerson is a member of the cult, albeit a lukewarm one.

His template is simply not how an economically sensible person decides about his actions in the context of some imperfect knowledge. That’s why Ross McKitrick, a university professor of economics in Guelph and Steve McIntyre’s fellow “hockey stick killer” a decade ago, replied with a tweet that makes the tension between Tillerson and the climate realists’ mainstream obvious:

… no, the argument for doing nothing comes from comparing costs of proposed policies to their likely benefits. 

Even when the knowledge is imprecise, the rational attitude to the question “Should we do something?” is the costs and benefits analysis. Instead of assuming one option as a dogma, one fairly compares the two options, in this case “doing something [specific]” and “doing nothing”, and their costs and benefits, losses, damages, missed opportunities, and profits. All these quantities end up being uncertain or imprecise because we have to use lots of imperfectly known assumptions about the climate, the human society, future evolution of the population, technology, and many other things.

According to optimistic alarmists, the Paris Agreement could eliminate the fossil fuels by 2050. The world in the year 2100 could be some 1 °C cooler than the world without this agreement – because the total difference between “no emissions” and “expected emissions” could be some approximate IPCC’s 2 °C per century but only about 1/2 of that could be avoided. Be sure that I consider all these estimates for the temperature change as well as the possible impact of policies on the CO2 emissions to be vast overestimates which is why the conclusion “it’s better to do nothing” is even more obvious in the rest of the parameter space that I consider more likely.

Now, I am confident that a world warmer by 2 °C would be better than the original world or the world warmer by 1 °C. But feel free to imagine the “damages” that the 2-degree warming does and the 1-degree warming doesn’t in 2100. I think it’s absolutely obvious that the “damages” couldn’t exceed several percent of the GDP. It’s very difficult to find any damages. The warming may erase a part of the skiing industry. Whenever the temperature goes up by 1 °C, the snow line moves up by some 200 meters. So some ski resorts either go bust, or move up, or have to spend money for technical snow, or something like that. But the skiing industry is just a tiny percentage of the GDP. Add some places that have to spend more money to fight some extra sea level rise that could be by 20 cm per century greater with CO2 than without CO2. All these expenses are tiny.

But the real-term year-2100 GDP of the world that will have “decarbonized” would be smaller at least by 50 percent. Just imagines that you’re forced to buy batteries for all your wind turbines and solar panels to store the energy, electric cars instead of petrol cars, and you perhaps even have to produce artificial cows that don’t fart in order to avoid that kind of greenhouse gas emissions. You could only afford to buy 1/2 for your salary. Also, the world population is a key variable so people’s freedom to have kids would be restricted, too.

So the costs are some 50% of the GDP but you only avoid damages equal to e.g. 2% of the GDP in 2100.

And that’s not what will happen if the world remains free – and hypothetically warms up by two degrees (which may take 200 years instead of 100 years but I think that it will sometimes happen). A warmer world would make vast Northern areas – in Canada, Scotland, Siberia, you surely know the geography – as fertile as the U.S. or Germany is today while much of the U.S. or Germany could be as fertile as Spain or Brazil. The net benefits would surely be great and would allow the growth of life – and the human population, too. People could surely afford to donate 100,000 BMW boats (price: $1 billion in total) to the polar bears who will be alive in 2100 (so that they’re not threatened by the ice that may completely melt e.g. in Summer 2103) and build a few walls against some cities that could be increasingly threatened by the extra 50 cm of the sea level and that are too valuable to be abandoned or moved (Trump’s planned Wall of Mexico would be longer and more expensive than the anti-ocean walls around all important very low-lying cities in the world so the latter really is negligible on a global and centennial scale).

ExxonMobil was previously criticized for “knowing” about the man-made climate change Armageddon. They were employing a guy who was writing alarmist papers a few decades ago. That “proved” that Exxon knew that the Armageddon was imminent and Exxon should have transformed itself into a gang of assistants to the IPCC and, the activists basically said.

They must have known that these claims were ludicrous. The fact that some scientist hired by Exxon was writing alarmist papers didn’t prove that the alarmist claims are right. Even today, some of them seem very unlikely or at least inconclusive. The evidence in favor of the alarmist claims doesn’t even exist today – so it’s even more clear that it didn’t exist decades ago. But it just happens that Exxon was softly cooperating with the AGW movement – and it wasn’t the only fossil-fuel company that did, of course. In fact, Exxon recently endorsed the Paris agreement and Tillerson still seems to back it. The corporate America is often more politically correct than the U.S. Congress.

Some people say that Exxon only wants (and a few other similar companies want) to “wrestle” with the CO2 emissions because it needs to sell some extra natural gas (which has lower CO2 emissions per unit energy) but I don’t really believe that this may be a relevant explanation. Some improvement for the natural gas division may take place but it’s very clear that every company supporting this kind of policies is threatening its own existence – which is surely a bigger issue than some temporarily smoother accounting of its natural gas division.