Wrong about science, right about policy? Andy Wells says he's warming up to climate change

Andy Wells seems to be warming up to the idea of human-driven climate change. His views still contradict science, but his policies might not.

Though his views still contradict science, his policies might not

Andy Wells is back in the ring, battling for control of the mayoral sceptre once again. (CBC)

Two years ago Andy Wells was making headlines as a climate change denier.

Now, calling himself a "luke-warmist," the former mayor and current mayoral candidate says he believes humans have contributed to climate change, but there may be other factors.

He says he's building a climate change strategy for the city that will be included in his election platform.

"Energy efficiency, making the city more efficient, shifting over to better street lighting, improving city buildings, examining fuel consumption," he told CBC's Crosstalk.

"The object of that strategy is to make [the city] more energy-efficient, to waste less money on energy, and look at lowering fuel emissions and therefore carbon emissions throughout the whole range of city services."

Wells says he believes human activity contributed to some climate change, but that there are other factors. Climate scientists don't agree. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Though his stance on climate is still incorrect according to the majority of climate scientists — climate change is widely acknowledged to be caused by emissions of greenhouse gasses stemming from human industry and goings-on — one local scientist says we should give his policy ideas a chance.

Brett Favaro, a conservation biologist at the Marine Institute and the author of The Carbon Code: How You Can Become A Climate Change Hero, says that if Wells follows through with a good climate change strategy, it might be time for forgiveness.

Or at least to turn the other cheek.

Controversial stance

Wells' stance on climate change has been a source of controversy for a few years now.

In April 2015, he wrote a letter to the Telegram stating there has been no rise in global temperatures in the last 1,718 years and then quoted Freeman Dyson, a Princeton physicist and well-known climate change skeptic.

At a hearing of the Public Utilities Board, of which he was chair and CEO, he said, among other things, that excess carbon in the atmosphere isn't harmful, though it's widely accepted to be the cause of climate change.

He also spoke out against the city's plan to add electric vehicles to its fleet, writing a letter to council saying electric cars are nothing but "driveway jewelry" for the "eco-affluent."


Though he seems to have warmed up a little bit to the idea of human-driven climate change, he's still at odds with science.

A "lukewarmer" is someone who believes that climate change is happening and at least partially caused by human activity, though perhaps not entirely. They also believe that the effects of climate change, no matter what or who is to blame, will be both manageable and survivable. 

Emissions from oilsands mining produce large amounts of carbon and other greenhouse gasses, which contribute to climate change. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Though a step up from outright climate change denial, the beliefs of lukewarmers, and Wells, contradict scientific consensus.

In fact, Canadian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe just co-authored a major study for the United States government on climate change. The study determined that the long-term evidence showing climate change is driven by human activity is "unambiguous." It's currently being reviewed by the Trump administration.

Not a lukewarm issue

"This is not a lukewarm issue," says Favaro. During council's battle over electric cars, Favaro wrote a letter to the city asking them to purchase the vehicles and ignore the inaccuracies in Wells's screed against them.

He says it's concerning that someone aspiring to the highest position in the city holds unscientific views.

Brett Favaro, who studies sustainable fisheries and has written a book about climate change, says Wells's science is bad, but his policies might be good. (Sarah Smellie/CBC)

"It suggests a problem with differentiating fact from fiction," he said.

"The body of evidence on climate change is so overwhelming that there really isn't an excuse, particularly for people that have a history of expertise in the energy field in this province. There's really no excuse for not understanding that."

He adds that he'd prefer public servants to be able to distinguish between experts and discredited bloggers.

It's the plan, not the man

But, he says, although Wells's stance on the science isn't correct, his stance on taking action is cause for applause.

LED street lights can cut back on a city's overall energy use, says Favaro. (CBC)

"Some of the most conservative cities in the United States are among the fastest adopters of renewable energy," he said. "And the reasons why they do it is because the dollars and cents work out. It's cheaper to be a climate-friendly city than it is to be a climate-unfriendly city.

"The biggest danger here is ideologically avoiding solutions just because they might be seen as something that's for the climate," he adds. "It's the action that matters."

Olive branch

Wells said electric cars are "driveway jewelry for the eco-affluent." (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Hearing about Wells's plans to make a more energy-efficient, climate-friendly city, he says he's ready to offer Wells an olive branch.

"I hope Mr. Wells is keeping an open mind and is learning about this stuff as he's running for mayor again," he said.

With files from Crosstalk