Recently, TV personality Bill Nye, a man who has been compared to a hybrid of a mad scientist and Mr. Rogers, became more like a cross between a mad scientist and Samuel L. Jackson. On the May 12th edition of the HBO show Last Week, Tonight, he participated in a segment designed to bring awareness to failed efforts to pass the Green New Deal.
The segment was anything but subtle. In it, Bill Nye emphatically said, “The planet’s on Fu**ing Fire.” Then he took a blowtorch to a tabletop version of the globe. As cameras showed the globe clearly burning he continued “There are a lot of things that we could do to put it out. Are any of them free? No, of course not, nothings free you idiots.”So what are you going to do about it?” He finished by saying, ” Got it? Safety glasses off Mother Fu**ers”
Response To The Clip
The segment was a passionate, dramatic attempt to bring further awareness of the need to act quickly on the issue of climate change. Nye held nothing back, even imploring his formerly middle school-aged fans to grow up. He told them, “I didn’t mind explaining photosynthesis to you when you were 12, but you’re adults now and this is an actual crisis.” Seeing the clip in full gives the best sense of its impact. The section everyone talks about begins at about minute 18.
Fan response was dramatic. As the segment closed, host John Oliver commented, “I think we’ve broken Bill Nye”. Other fans seemed to agree and were especially shocked that Bill Nye, the gentle but wacky science personality of their youth, cursed. Major media outlets across the country including business, news, science, and entertainment publications ran headlines on the segment and on Nye’s message. Of course, they all showed near-universal amazement that Bill Nye was driven to shouting expletives because of climate change.
Scientists’ response to Nye
Overall, scientists, particularly others who have themselves been advocating against climate change, were supportive of the segment. However, the scientific community isn’t always 100% behind Nye when they believe he hasn’t earned their praise. This was particularly the case when, in early 2018, he attended the State of the Union address with Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine when Bridenstine was Trump’s nominee for NASA administrator.
Why were scientists so upset about this? Bridenstein has been known to endorse and further a number of policies that they see as climate denial and other attacks on science. They believed Nye’s presence at the event with Bridenstein tacitly endorsed these policies. Nye emphatically denied that his presence was meant as an endorsement. He simply meant to support the agency overall, calling NASA one of America’s “best brands.” Bridenstine was a controversial nominee but his candidacy was ultimately successful and he was sworn into his position in April of the same year.
The Science Behind The Segment
Nye has more than enough reasons to be frustrated. Not only are legislators lagging in their response to the issue, with pulling out of the Paris Agreement and stubbornly refusing support for the Green New Deal, but the situation on the planet is only getting more desperate. Statistics tell the story. The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere just reached its highest point ever. In addition, last year was the warmest year on record for the planet’s oceans and a UN Report indicates that up to a million species are likely to go extinct.
These are just a few of the statistics that show the trouble the planet has found itself in. Hopefully, Nye’s work along with others will continue to bring attention to, and movement on, the issue.