Changing Its Tune: Oil Giant Says Global Warming a Problem

A head of oil giant Exxon Mobil, in Houston for this week's CERA Conference, is again acknowledging that greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to global warming. It's the latest wrinkle in a recent shift by the company, from denying that man-made contributions to global warming are real to urging the energy industry to deal with the effects of climate change. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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It was just last week that Exxon Mobil executives officially went on record with promises that the company will do what it can to limit greenhouse gas emissions, an about-face from its stance a few years ago that humans had very little to do with global warming. At the energy industry's most influential conference, Exxon Mobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson left no doubt the company has changed its tune.

"We know our climate is changing, the average temperature of the earth is warming and greenhouse gas emissions are increasing. We also know that climate remains an extraordinarily comlex area of scientific study. While our understanding of the science continues to evolve and improve, there is still much that we do not know and cannot fully recognize in efforts to model and predict future climate-system behavior."

Since Tillerson took over at Exxon Mobil in early 2006, the company has slowly adjusted its attitude toward greenhouse emissions and their effect on global warming. He says he expects new solutions in the next few decades, solutions that both address environmental concerns and still allow companies like Exxon Mobil to answer and increasing global demand for energy.

"Just as technology has continually been the driver of progress in our industry, I am confident that future technology advances will both expand our understanding of the climate system and will enable an effective response. We must encourage all participating in this debate to frame the discussion in terms of the realities we face, the realities of growing demand and the need for affordable, reliable energy to enable the world's consumers to achieve genuine improvements in their quality of life."

Tillerson says in order to be effective, global participation, specifically in the growing Asia-Pacific region, would work best to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Barbara Shook is the Houston-bureau chief of the Energy Intelligence Group and says Exxon Mobil's leadership could have a ripple effect.

"Exxon Mobil is not just the biggest oil company in the world, it is the biggest investor-owned company of any type in the world, so it has a tremendous influence on the thinking of other business executives. They are a role model and other companies do follow their example and so now perhaps executives who also previously questioned the science behind greenhouse gas emissions are now saying, well, if Exxon is taking it seriously, maybe we ought to as well."

Tillerson and Shook's comments came at the CERA energy conference, which continues through the end of the week here in Houston.

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