Wells peddles discredited fossil-fuel propaganda

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Andy Wells did a tremendous disservice to your readers by spreading falsehoods about the topic of human-caused climate change in his recent letter (“Climate change a farce, columnist is ignorant,” April 15).

Climate change

Wells parroted baseless talking points that have their origin in fossil-fuel industry-funded climate change denial propaganda, not honest scientific discourse.

For example, Wells’ claim that “there has been no temperature rise for at least the past 17-18 years” is so shopworn a myth that it ranks among the top 10 debunked denier talking points (see the response to this myth by the scientist-run website Skeptical Science).

The fact is that the warming of the globe continues unabated. The year 2015 is off to the warmest start ever, 2014 was the warmest full year on record, and took place during the warmest decade on record.

Consider also Wells’ claim that “the world’s glacial ice is growing.” There is no possible interpretation or parsing of that statement in which it is not blatantly false. Glaciers are retreating the world over, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass faster than models predicted, and Arctic sea ice reached the lowest levels on record this winter.

Nearly every one of Wells’ assertions is a distortion, half-truth or plain untruth. Most egregious of all, perhaps, are his false statements about the “hockey stick” reconstruction — work of my own published more than a decade ago showing that recent warming is unusual over at least the past 1,000 years.

Wells attempts to give readers the impression that this work has been refuted, overturned, or otherwise discredited. He does so by citing two individuals with close ties to fossil fuel interests whose attacks on our work have been rejected by experts, and by citing a partisan “witch hunt” (to quote the Washington Post) by an oil-funded congressman from Texas (Joe Barton) who was chastised by leading members of his own party, such as John McCain, for engaging in a politically motivated attack on scientists whose findings might be inconvenient to the special interests that fund his campaigns.

I’ve discussed this episode, and many of my various other experiences as a reluctant figure in the centre of the climate change debate, in my book “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.”

Wells conveniently fails to note that the highest scientific body in the U.S., the National Academy of Sciences, affirmed my research findings in an exhaustive independent review published in June 2006 (see e.g. “Science Panel Backs Study on Warming Climate,” New York Times, June 22, 2006).

In the decade and a half since our original published work, dozens of groups of scientists have independently reproduced, confirmed, and extended our findings, including most recently an international team of nearly 80 scientists from around the world, publishing in the premier journal Nature Geoscience.

The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the most authoritative assessment of climate science available, concluded that recent warmth is likely unprecedented over an even longer timeframe than we had concluded (at least the past 1,400 years).  Of course, the “hockey stick” is only one of numerous independent lines of evidence that have led the world’s scientists to conclude that climate change is (a) real, (b) caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and (c) a grave threat if we do nothing about it.

Readers interested in the truth behind the science, rather than the falsehoods and smears perpetuated by individuals like Wells, should consult scientist-run websites like realclimate.com and skepticalscience.com, or books on the topic like my own “Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming.”

Let’s get past the fake debate about whether the problem exists, and on to the worthy debate about what to do about it.


Michael E. Mann, director

Penn State Earth System Science Center

Organizations: Greenland, Washington Post, National Academy of Sciences New York Times Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change State Earth System Science Center

Geographic location: Arctic, Texas, U.S.

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Recent comments

  • Topic is Hot, at least
    April 21, 2015 - 15:16

    I once was asked to write an article for a newsletter of a technical association on this topic just before the conference in Kyoto, Japan in 1997. I didn't know really what, if any, conclusion that I should express. However at that time people still used the term "Greenhouse effect" more than "global warming" or "Climate Change", all of which can have a very different meaning. The greenhouse effect exists regardless, and climate change refers to global warming, or global cooling, or changes in humidity levels or any significant change in meteorological parameters observed over decades. Anyway, I pointed out that such a thermal analysis is very difficult to prove or disprove with the thermal balance of the earth. What such antagonists ought to do first is: use their own greenhouses as experimental models. Take any day in winter or summer and develop an algorithm to determine when the temperature inside the greenhouse reaches steady state, if at all. It is not that I take either side, it is just that in the apparent urgency of dealing with or ignoring the consequences of the phenomena or dealing with the lobbies for or against global warming (caused by fossil fuel usage), the complexity of the situation is lost.

  • steve
    April 19, 2015 - 08:28

    Go to any hardware store and see all the packaging on their 25.00 light bulbs and dangerous and mercury filled cfl bulbs are.The GREEN movement is about MONEY. Energy is worth trillions .David Suzuki and AL GORE know this more than anyone.And electric cars?only because governments are pouring millions in grants to the car companies to build these "stupid" I meant smart cars.BTW does Als private jet fly on the souls of babies or what?

    • Anthony Rockel
      April 19, 2015 - 16:12

      Oh, so the petroleum industry ISN'T about money? And governments aren't giving that industry gigantic tax breaks? Or are you saying that because some people are making big bucks off green projects, renewable energy must be a scam? If so, then what does that say about the petroleum industry? According to your logic, it must be a scam too.

    • steve
      April 20, 2015 - 10:04

      Scam. You nailed it.Especially Ontario and their GREEN ENERGY ACT.Lived that scam myself.Anyone who wants to reseach that Scam is quite welcome. I witnessed the City of Ottawa place 300,000.00 worth of solar panels on a 45 year old building with all the windows rotted out and an original heating system that sucked money.But their liberals they know best so I am glad you mentioned SCAM.

    • Anthony Rockel
      April 22, 2015 - 10:29

      You've missed the point of my argument. Scamsters are operating everywhere, be it the oil industry or the "green" industry, but that doesn't make climate change any less real.

  • Lela Gary
    April 18, 2015 - 18:54

    It is difficult to distinguish if a Climate Change denier, is appallingly ignorant or a guileful pawn of industry. Either way, they are not worth paying any attention to.

  • BillD
    April 18, 2015 - 18:21

    Glad to see a reply to the mindless, misleading and false commentary by Andy Wells.

  • jrh
    April 18, 2015 - 10:47

    For a current blurb on the topic see the following and need to read the whole... from a reputable source as well.. http://www.ibtimes.com/climate-change-march-temperatures-break-records-2015-hottest-year-date-1887474?ft=85du1

  • Patrick Dunn
    April 18, 2015 - 06:18

    Dude....we have oil now. So just step off. We need more educated outstanding citizens like Andy wells to tell us how great we are doing.

  • john
    April 18, 2015 - 02:04

    So embarrassing Wells was appointed to a important position as chairman of the PUB. Anywhere else hed be treated as the joke he is. Here hes part of the old boys club that is dragging the province under.

  • Marcus
    April 17, 2015 - 13:18

    What is most bothersome to me is the lack of integrity that is allowed by our mass media. In my opinion it's solely responsible for the confusion surrounding the science of climate change and continues to misguide many people on this critical topic. It's for this reason that I read anything from papers such as this with a very critical eye. At least within the scientific community we back up our statements and rigously test our conclusions. Please people, think, and stop being sheep.

  • Marcus
    April 17, 2015 - 13:05

    Indeed, a scientists income is based on their science. However, one must understand that unlike journalists a true scientists data, and methodology is reviewed AND tested by dozens of other independent people and groups Before and long after it's published. Publishing bad or weak papers would not only destroy a scientists career, but that of the journal as well. This is not true for the media. In fact I would argue that the more outrageous a reporters work the more attention it receives, irregardless of the reality of the situation. If we held journalism to the same standard we demand of our scientific community we would not even be having this discussion.

  • Wild Rose
    April 17, 2015 - 11:40

    Global warming is a hoax! Al Gore and David Suzuky are idiots.

  • Robert Way
    April 17, 2015 - 11:33

    Andy Wells article is filled with blatant mistruth and outright misrepresentations on the current state of science. There is strong evidence that even our province has warmed rapidly over the past century with profound impacts on Labradorians. Here's an example: http://www.skepticalscience.com/Labrador-Climate-Change.html Many of his arguments make it clear that his is not the least bit concerned with science.

  • joe blow
    April 17, 2015 - 11:10

    I'm not a nay-sayer, or an aye-sayer when it comes to the climate. How old is the earth? Hasn't the climate been "changing" forever? Has there ever been say, 10000 years or so when it stayed the same? I don't know, but I doubt it. Wasn't there an "ice age" once? Who / what caused that? I'm of the opinion that it's partly because we've only had the means to accurately measure "climate change" for the past few years that it's become such a "hot point" (pardon the pun). Previous generations were more focused on other issues, like trying to keep a fire going, or find food to survive. Yes, I agree the climate is warming, according to data collected. And maybe it will continue to warm for the next million years or so. Then, they may see a "cooling" trend for the next million years. Like so many things, I think maybe the concept of the universe unfolding is beyond human comprehension. When I watch the forces of nature unfold around me, I can't help but feel that the very idea that the efforts of "mankind" to step in & influence these forces, as well-intentioned as they may be, is naive at best.

    • David Gunstensen
      April 17, 2015 - 18:46

      I am curious how you formed the opinion that the current warming is only because of our means to accurately measure climate change? Climate scientist are very much aware of the fact that climate has always changed. Their study of that is why (among other things) they are now convinced that is human activity that is responsible for the current warming. Many of the things you questioned in your comment have been answered. The current rate of warming is unprecedented.

  • DeepSeaGuy
    April 17, 2015 - 10:41

    Wells was, and is, a first class fool. He was, at one time, a nominee for "Craziest Mayor in Canada." But...what does that say about the residents of St. John's, who elected Wells three times? Birds of a feather? Maybe.

  • Desertphile
    April 17, 2015 - 09:33

    In Wells' defense, his job is to spew falsehoods about human-caused climate change. If he was merely ignorant of the facts, instead of lying about them, then he would have no excuse.

  • Ward Pike
    April 17, 2015 - 08:35

    Of note here: Mr. Mann's income depends on his science and he is attacking Mr. Wells opinion as though his religious beliefs were under attack. I guess they are his 'religious beliefs'. One thing 'man-made climate change' proponents won't tell you is that the 2010 and 2013 eruptions of the Mayon volcano in the Philippines have also significantly contributed to greenhouse and non-greenhouse gasses (sulfa dioxide in particular which has cooled the earth) being pumped into the atmosphere. They also fail to mention that the winter of 2012-2013 was the coolest in the northern hemisphere for 520 years. Someday, all facts will go on the table and there won't be as much outrage over anyone with a contrary opinion or finding... someday, I hope.

    • Peter Jackson
      April 17, 2015 - 09:22

      Ward, where in tarnation do you get the idea that these things aren't discussed? It's yet another standard head-in-the-sand talking point. Why don't you go to a scientific site and look. They are discussed at length. Volcano particulate can cause temporary cooling, but their gas emissions don't even come close to manmade, only a fraction of yearly car exhaust alone. And how does one cold winter in the north discount a worldwide warming trend over more than a century?

    • Aaron Michaux
      April 17, 2015 - 09:27

      Ward Pike, do a google search for "tenure".

    • Desertphile
      April 17, 2015 - 10:09

      " Mr. Mann's income depends on his science" Yeah, just like most scientists. LOL!

    • Meow
      April 17, 2015 - 10:11

      "the winter of 2012-2013 was the coolest in the northern hemisphere for 520 years." Year 2012-13 out of 520 years? You seem not to understand that "climate change" doesn't mean that every day has to be warmer than the day before. Let us use money in a savings account as an example: I have 100 dollars to start 1. Every day for a year I gain 1% on it. 2. On Day 215 the markets did poorly and I lost 1% instead of gained. 3. At the end of the year I have more money than I started. Using your logic, I would say that I have not increased my money overall because on day 215 I lost 1%. I hope this helps you.

    • Mike
      April 17, 2015 - 10:19

      "income depends on his science" - I believe that is true for most, if not all, scientists. Volcanoes contribute less than 1% of greenhouse gases so I would not count that as significant. As for the winter of 2012-2013 your statement is a fabrication with no basis in reality.

    • caerbannog
      April 17, 2015 - 12:51

      If you really think that volcanoes are significant greenhouse-gas sources, then you should certainly be able to determine when the El Chichón and Mt Pinatubo eruptions occurred simply by looking at this Keeling curve (atmospheric CO2 vs. year) plot: https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/wp-content/plugins/sio-bluemoon/graphs/mlo_full_record.png So, can you tell us (approximately what year) those two eruptions occurred simply by looking at the above plot, and without consulting any other sources?

    • steve
      April 20, 2015 - 11:56

      Where did you find 520 year old temperature records? I would like to see them. They were probably similar to the records kept 935 years ago.....