When he was chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson agreed that climate change was real. He is not a climate denier. Exxon endorsed the Paris agreement. He does work for a President who thinks climate change is unreal. Can a denier work with a non-denier? More broadly, can people like me befriend people like Rex Tillerson? Is there enough basis for us to cooperate or is the widely discussed American divide too much for our friendship?
As Secretary of State, Tillerson holds wild power. I hope he is as unpredictable as his boss.
The basis for people like me and people like him to be allies, if not friends, follows.
I panic at the idea that the Paris agreement will be annulled. I know it will take a while to undo it, literally till the next election at the earliest, unless the Senate gets involved. I even know that other forces, some as strategic as the international agreement, will get stronger, if the President likely prevails in an act of cruel stupidity. The biggest companies in the world are actively involved in clean energy policies. Calvert Research just issued a report, called “Power Forward 3.0,” which showed that 240 companies now have climate related goals, up from 215 three years ago. They include Prudential Financial, Wells Fargo, Dow Chemical, Apple and many more. None of these companies are necessarily my friends. But they are my allies.
I also watch states like California and countries like China set gorgeous goals for themselves. When the big Paris agreement is stupidly annulled by the United States, that annulment will only accelerate other states’ and countries’ participation. Rex Tillerson, an intelligent globalist, and I, a prayerful pope-following globalist, hope the United States will find itself on the positive side of history, not the negative. We will join Nicaragua and Syria in being the third country not in support of the Paris agreement.
Furthermore, why would a nation state like the United States insult the international community or the Pope who also heads a large international organization?
While panicking at the idea of non-participation in the beauty of the Paris agreement by my beloved country, I appreciate the trans-national approach that Tillerson appears to be taking. He is widely quoted as understanding (duh) that air and water and birds have no national boundaries and that the climate problem has to be resolved globally not nationally. He appears to understand that the Paris agreement was a trans-national solution. Why President Trump would want to go national about a global problem is beyond me. But I don’t understand much of what he does. Hurting sick old people is almost as heinous as hurting nature.
A word about nature. I love it so much that I am highly motivated to make friends with people who associate outside of my usual group. Why wouldn’t I walk back and forth across the American divide as often as possible? Why wouldn’t I join the birds in not understanding a national border or a political one that puts people in aisles as though that’s where we were meant to be?
I write in the name of the ferns and the porcupines, the orchids and the grasses, the unborn children and the forest. They can’t speak for themselves. And the President is their enemy as he annuls Paris’ great hopes for nature. Perhaps Mr. Tillerson and I share a common love of nature, so common that we can’t not defend the earth we love? Out of that love, we cross the divide. We become allies and we could even be friends.
Donna Schaper is Senior Minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City. Her most recent book is I Heart Frances: Letters to the Pope from an Unlikely Admirer.