In a scene straight from a "dystopian movie script," President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday officially tapped Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be his Secretary of State, thus elevating someone whose "lifelong mission is to crash the climate" to one of world's most influential and powerful government positions.
While many pundits and mainstream media outlets are objecting to Tillerson due to his business dealings and reported friendliness with Russian President Vladimir Putin, environmentalists and social justice advocates made it clear the threat posed by his nomination is far more menacing.
In the official press statement, Trump's transition team says that as head of the State Department, the career oil tycoon "will be a forceful and clear-eyed advocate for America's vital national interests, and help reverse years of misguided foreign policies and actions that have weakened America's security and standing in the world."
Paired with the incoming president's pledges to dismantle global climate agreements and open up vast areas to more oil and gas drilling, those words rang ominous to the many environmental groups who were aghast over Tillerson's nomination.
"Donald Trump made it clear during the campaign that he wants to 'take the oil'—and in Rex Tillerson, he's found his man," said Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International (OCI), referring to Trump's oft-repeated campaign pledge to "take the oil" from Iraq.
"Trump has spotlighted what most of the world already knows: U.S. foreign policy is governed by the myopic, perceived need to access and control oil," Kretzmann added. "The honesty and naked truth of the revealed petrostate is actually quite refreshing."
Indeed, Tillerson began his career with Exxon in 1975 and eventually rose to the position of CEO, where he has served for the past 10 years. During his tenure, and with his help, the oil giant vastly expanded its global holdings. At the same time, it also suppressed scientific evidence that the burning of fossil fuels would drastically impact the Earth's climate and funded a massive campaign to prevent solutions to the crisis.
Many have argued that Exxon's actions amounted to one of all-time worst crimes against mankind. "In its greed Exxon helped—more than any other institution—to kill our planet," 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben wrote last year.
Since those revelations came to light, Tillerson as CEO has overseen efforts to quash investigations by state attorneys general into whether the company improperly deceived consumers, investors, and the public about the dangers posed by climate change.
"At this moment in time, choosing a man who knows the world through the single frame of the oil and gas industry may actually be more dangerous than picking somebody with no understanding of the world at all."
—Annie Leonard, Greenpeace
"In a rational world Tillerson's role at climate-change-promoting ExxonMobil would be more of a political liability than his ties to Putin," writer and filmmaker Astra Taylor quipped in response.
Pointing to Exxon's "climate crimes," author and activist Naomi Klein similarly wrote:
2/2 A reminder that the biggest problem w/ #RexTillerson isn't his ties w/Putin; it's his lifelong mission to crash the climate.
— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) December 13, 2016
Tillerson "has used legal action to harass civil society who dares attempt to protect itself from existential harm. He has led his company and his industry to double down on an energy source that is literally poisoning the world and making it harder for humans to survive on it," said Greenpeace executive director Annie Leonard.
Corinna Gilfillan, head of Global Witness U.S. office, said that "[a]t the same time [Exxon] has systematically struck backroom deals with tyrannical regimes and been at the forefront of Big Oil's efforts to gut laws that would reduce corruption in the oil, gas, and mining sector."
"Investigations by Global Witness have shown how ExxonMobil or its corporate predecessor Mobil have engaged in questionable transactions with governments of oil-rich countries, including Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, and Chad," the rights group further noted. "Such deals have contributed to entrenching poverty, fueling instability and violating human rights in some of the world's most volatile regions."
"In Tillerson's tenure," Kretzmann observes, "ExxonMobil has supported undemocratic regimes, attacked climate science and activists, and stands accused in U.S. courts of complicity in human rights abuses including torture, murder, and sexual assault."
Trump is "showing Americans and the world that he quite literally intends the interests of large powerful corporations to dominate our country's decision-making."
—Trip Van Noppen, Earthjustice
"Does Rex Tillerson understand that democracy, the Earth's climate, and human rights matter more than profits and petroleum?" Kretzmann asks. "To judge by his record, you'd have to say no."
"At this moment in time," Leonard continued, "choosing a man who knows the world through the single frame of the oil and gas industry may actually be more dangerous than picking somebody with no understanding of the world at all."
Earthjustice president Trip Van Noppen said that with Tillerson's appointment, Trump is "showing Americans and the world that he quite literally intends the interests of large powerful corporations to dominate our country's decision-making—making it all the more important for Americans to fiercely resist the big corporate takeover of our democracy."