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. But the green morons don't understand it – instead, they are terribly alarmed by Tillerson. 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
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.
Again, I am not sure whether this kind of skills is ideally utilized by the Department of State but I want to say that I sympathize with his being politically promoted and there's a sense in which he feels like a "similar type of guy" in a political environment that I would be. When I talk to the folks trained in politics and economics who sometimes talk about the climate change in the Czech conservative circles, well, I also feel like a sore thumb that stands out because their scientific knowledge seems so weak and they tend to "reduce" scientific questions to their political ideology.
So all this personal stuff is OK, Tillerson is an exceptional and exceptionally achieved man. It's just his opinions about the climate issues that he has converged to that simply seem way too alarmist to me. I obviously know lots of people who know much more about atmospheric physics than Tillerson does (like Richard Lindzen) who are much more skeptical than Tillerson, especially when it comes to the final question of practical relevance, namely "whether we should try to solve a problem".
Tillerson has whatever opinions he has created by evaluating the evidence, I hope, which is how it should be. But when you compare those opinions to his previous job, it looks so crazy. 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 350.org, 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.
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."— Zack Colman (@zcolman) January 11, 2017
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. https://t.co/HkCGX8c3D1— Ross McKitrick (@RossMcKitrick) January 12, 2017
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.
But the outcome is that almost regardless of any of these unknowns – i.e. almost for all points in the realistic "parameter space" for all these quantities – "doing nothing" against the CO2 emissions ends up being the better option than "doing something". I am confident that the difference in the losses may be counted in orders of magnitude.
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).
Let's return to Tillerson. I do think that he isn't thinking like a climate realist when it comes to the final question, one that basically all climate realists agree with (perhaps by definition of the climate realists), namely whether "we should do something". We should have the "courage to do nothing", as Lord Monckton likes to say, because regardless of all the uncertainties, it's pretty much certain that the attempts to avoid the CO2-caused warming are way too expensive. You could only arrive at a different conclusion if you started to believe in a quadrupling of hurricanes and other unpleasant weather events in the CO2-richer world – but this utterly unscientific belief is on par with the beliefs that the witches were to be blamed for all bad events a few centuries ago (not only in Salem). The simplest empirical justification for all such claims of mine is very easy. We haven't seen any dramatic increase of any of these climatic or related unpleasant events, like the big hurricanes, in the 20th century, and up to a factor of 2 at most, the 21st century will see a similar temperature change as the 20th century. So we won't see anything interesting in the 21st century, either. It's that simple. The modern and ongoing transformations of the Earth due to advances in technology and the society are faster or more influential than the climate change by orders of magnitude.
As I mentioned, Tillerson doesn't share the most naive and oversimplified alarmists' memes – such as the claim that it's been established that the extreme weather events are largely caused by elevated CO2 these days. He doesn't believe that there was a Biblical flood preceded by a boom in SUVs, for example. ;-) But even his apparent open-mindedness towards the alarmists' suggestions of these scientifically ludicrous connections seems worrisome to me. You know, if someone thinks that the probability that some catastrophic enough changes induced by CO2 is 30%, he may still have the probability similar to 30% that he will help to introduce the harmful policies designed to fight the alleged threat. And that's too much. Climate alarmism is the real threat for the human society and if Tillerson represented "just" a 30% threat that those policies will be adopted by the U.S. and perhaps the world, well, it would still be too big a risk and he should better be fired.
He may even rediscover himself as the "ambassador of the alarmists" in the Trump team and turn himself into a more radical alarmist. Well, Trump may also tell him "You're fired", of course.
I am sure that Russophobia would be greatly reduced if the Anglo-Saxon viewers happily watched Father Frost, the Russian fairy-tale, on every Christmas as Czechs and Slovaks do. Richard Gere was shocked that the "Mrazík" beats the Pretty Woman but it surely does! ;-) Try the English dubbing above or the Russian one with English subtitles. There's also the Slovak dubbing but I am confident that the Czech dubbing is the best one. For example, Mr Filipovský's Yaga Witch sets it apart.
Also, for a man who looks like Miloš Zeman's twin brother and who must have had great relationships with many people in Moscow, he seems to say lots of brutal things about Russia and e.g. about Crimea. He said that the U.S. shouldn't reconcile itself with the reunion of Crimea and Russia and two years ago, the U.S. should have acted more aggressively and even offer the military help to Kiev. Wow.
That's just crazy – a Kerry-style crazy and maybe even more so, from some perspective. What actually happened was that there was a coup in Ukraine – a coup that was partly powered by the U.S. meddling into the internal affairs of Ukraine. And you know, when there are coups, the chaos increases and various events that would be unlikely in calmer periods become more likely. In the language of thermodynamics and statistical physics, the period of the coup resembles a higher-temperature environment in which atoms wiggle more quickly and it's easier for them to jump from a local minimum of the potential energy to another, deeper local minimum (which may be the global minimum).
And that's exactly what happened. The tension and chaos associated with the ongoing coup has led the predominantly ethnic Russian population of Crimea to review their links to Kiev and Moscow – and they decided to return their territory under Moscow where they have belonged until a "generous" prank by Khrushchev half a century ago. Again, in calmer periods, all these proposals and steps would be very likely dismissed as radical, illegal, or whatever. But when the legality of the Ukrainian president and many other cornerstones of their political system were being questioned or overthrown, those steps looked equally appropriate. Action usually induces reaction.
So thanks to the temporary havoc 2 years ago, Crimea has simply found a deeper local minimum of the free energy. It's much more natural for Crimea to be a part of Russia, especially for historical and ethnic reasons. Every sensible person who was deliberately meddling in the Ukrainian affairs had to know that such changes – not precisely happy changes from the Kiev perspective – could have taken place. I said "Kiev perspective" but I really mean "Maidan perspective". It's not clear to me whether Kiev should be against the reunion of Crimea with Russia – and it's even much more debatable whether Washington D.C. should have any priorities here. From the American viewpoint, Russians and Ukrainians must be largely indistinguishable – they're indistinguishable even from our Czech viewpoint (and usually neighbors in likability polls) and we're much closer to these two East Slavic nations culturally and geographically.
Those things have just taken place. Crimea was reintegrated into Russia and these days, it's as unnatural to think about its "return to Ukraine" as it was to think about the "return to Russia" in 2013. (These developments have only partially taken place in the case of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.) You simply should return to the reality, Mr Tillerson. Obama and his pals have brought the U.S. to the verge of a hot war with Russia. If the new Secretary of State is going to be even more aggressive when it comes to the previous administration's idiotic opinions about issues that create a big tension with Russia, well, the tension with Russia and the threat of a hot war may get higher, indeed.
I assure you, Mr Tillerson, that a thousand of Russian nukes detonating at U.S. targets is more unhealthy than 1 °C or 2 °C of warming.
Well, at least, when encouraged by Marco Rubio to perform a mandatory anti-Putin tirade, Tillerson refused to do so. So he's perhaps just a lukewarm foreign policy neocon, too. Maybe Tillerson will switch to the official policy that "Putin is a great guy but the remaining Russians suck". That could still mean an improvement of the international relations.
Those who think that politics shouldn't appear on a physics-heavy blog should know that the actor behind Sheldon Cooper will have a political talk radio show, too.