Environmental ethicist H. Sterling Burnett (Ph.D., Applied Philosophy) knows how to make distinctions, and he does so nicely in his discussion of President Donald Trump’s nominations of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State (now confirmed, though Burnett apparently wrote the piece before that) and Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) to be Secretary of the Interior.
Zinke’s strengths: advocate for energy independence; firsthand observation of federal mismanagement of national forests, grasslands, and parks leading to environmental destruction and waste of resources; recognizes human-induced climate change is real but far less than President Barack Obama claimed; champion of increased local, state, and tribal control over federal lands.
Zinke’s weaknesses: rejects idea of returning much federal land (1/3 of nation, 1/2 of Western states) to state and private ownership; supports funding Land and Water Conservation Fund, used by the federal government to buy yet more land.
Tillerson’s strengths: long and successful experience dealing with hundreds of nations in which ExxonMobil does business; powerful negotiating skills; understanding of energy’s role in overcoming poverty.
Tillerson’s weaknesses: possible capitulation on climate change (though that might have been strategic); supports Paris climate agreement (contra Trump’s policy). I would add that, as Family Research Council President Tony Perkins pointed out, while Tillerson was president of the Boy Scouts of America, he played a strong role in opening the organization to homosexual scout masters, and while he was CEO of ExxonMobil the company made large donations to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of abortions. Both abortion and LGBTQ are issues that have played significant parts in American foreign policy administered through the State Department. One hopes that Trump’s policy will override Tillerson’s predilections, at least on abortion.
Featured image “Gunnison National Forest, Colorado,” by David _____, Flickr creative commons.