Wells peddles discredited fossil-fuel propaganda

Published on April 17, 2015
Climate change
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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).

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