On February 6, University of Alabama assistant professor Matthew Wielicki appeared in a short Fox News Digital clip discussing how “climate alarmism” is scaring children and young adults, accusing the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of spreading a “false narrative,” and painting a picture of himself as a noble crusader against dishonesty in science, claiming that he had committed “career suicide” in speaking out against the established consensus around climate change.
Wielicki, a geologist by training, was just a fringe Twitter user with several hundred followers in late 2022. He tweeted climate misinformation under the #climatescam hashtag, which is part of a larger increase in climate denial and disinformation being spread on Twitter since Elon Musk took over the platform at the end of October.
On the surface, it’s fairly remarkable to see how he ballooned to nearly 60,000 Twitter followers in such a short period of time and was able to promote his climate views on the most-watched cable news network. However, a deeper look into his rising star shows just how easy it is to gain attention and credibility in right-wing media by attacking climate science and linking it more broadly to right-wing culture war issues.
Right-wing media amplification gave Wielicki’s climate misinformation a large following, which jumped even more after he denounced DEI policies
When Wielicki had just several hundred Twitter followers in late November, he tweeted a passage from an old IPCC report alongside the #climatescam hashtag and implied that climate models are wrong.
Wielicki’s post was misleading, as he did not include the full context of the IPCC passage, and even the oldest climate models accurately predicted the rate of warming that scientists have actually observed. Despite this misinformation, his post was amplified by right-wing psychologist and commentator Jordan Peterson, a budding climate denier himself who has nearly 4 million followers.
Peterson’s amplification likely helped Wielicki gain nearly 13,000 followers in one week.
Peterson also amplified a pro-fossil fuel tweet by Wielicki in early January, and another one by Wielicki decrying Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practices in academia. Wielicki’s follower count shot up by nearly 10,000 in the span of a week.
It was Wielicki’s railing against DEI that gave him another bump in followers — over 20,000 more — in late January. On January 23, he announced via Twitter that he was leaving the University of Alabama, partly citing “the rise of illiberalism in the name of DEI” at the school. He also noted “the earth science communities silence on the false ‘climate emergency’ narrative” among the reasons that academia “is no longer worthy of my efforts.” The first tweet in his thread received more than 2 million views.
His right-wing media appearances began soon thereafter
On January 24, FoxNews.com wrote an article about Wielicki’s resignation, focusing on his condemnation of DEI. He discussed his resignation (and climate change, briefly) in person on the January 25 edition of Fox & Friends First, claiming that “speaking up about things like climate and DEI was career suicide.” He also discussed his resignation from the University of Alabama on the January 26 edition of Fox Business’ The Bottom Line over a chyron that warned of a “Woke Tide.”
Wielicki again discussed his resignation and thoughts on climate change a bit more on the February 1 edition of far-right outlet One America News Network’s OAN News, in a segment about the debunked “World Climate Declaration,” which falsely claimed that “experts” agreed that there is no climate crisis. Wielicki, who was among the declaration’s signatories, admitted to OAN that “I don't really work in climate science per se” and said that his background in geochemistry “would allow me to take an objective view” on the climate issue. He then stated that “if we take an objective look at the data, it's very difficult to see any metric that would allow us to explain the state of the climate as an emergency or in a crisis.” Later in the interview, he also complained about being labeled a climate denier and compared it to being labeled a Holocaust denier.
Additionally, his February 6 FoxNews.com video also sparked a discussion about climate alarmism on the network’s “news side” programming. On the February 8 edition of Fox News @ Night, anchor Trace Gallagher referenced Wielicki’s video to suggest that scientists are “overstating the effects” of the climate crisis, while guest and right-wing radio host Jason Rantz agreed with Wielicki’s premise.
In addition to these TV appearances, Wielicki was interviewed by the climate-denying and fossil fuel-backed Heartland Institute in late January and was invited to the group’s upcoming climate denial conference.
His climate misinformation and DEI-bashing is getting rewarded by right-wing media
Wielicki has been caught numerous times spreading falsehoods about climate-related data or documents to support his climate denial narrative. An excellent round-up of some of his worst offenses has been compiled by a climate scientist on Twitter:
But it doesn’t matter that Wielicki is being debunked; it doesn’t matter that he is dead wrong when he says there is no consensus on global warming; and it doesn’t matter that he admitted that he doesn’t even work in climate science. Notably, Wielicki and his conservative media allies coupled this climate denial with complaints railing against DEI and the supposed scourge of too much wokeness on college campuses, a grievance narrative that right-wing circles have been fearmongering about for years.
Climate change is now a part of the right-wing media’s endless culture wars — witness the rise of conspiracy theories related to the Great Reset, or the fact that a sizable amount of climate denial is now being spread from more generalized right-wing media personalities rather than more traditional fossil fuel industry-connected figures.
It likely helps that Wielicki describes himself as an “Earth science prof” in his Twitter bio, which might give him more credibility to people who might think that climate science falls under that purview, even as he apparently can’t tell the difference between climate and weather.
No matter your credentials, if you complain loudly enough about climate change and DEI, it seems that you’re bound to get noticed by right-wing media — and Wielicki’s rapid rise is a perfect example.