In honor of the upcoming Climate Change March this weekend (not to be confused with the #MarchForScience last weekend apparently), I figured it would be worth watching Bill Nye’s climate change episode (entitled “The Earth is a Hot Mess”). By the end of it I was convinced that the Earth probably isn’t a hot mess but that Bill Nye’s show definitely is. The new show has a new name – it’s no longer Bill Nye the Science Guy but is instead Bill Nye Saves the World. This shifted focus from just exploring science to now engaging in some sort of messianic world-saving truth-telling makes for bad science, bad truth-telling, and bad television. The show is punctuated with boring experiments, meandering sketches, and just random yelling to the point where you start to wonder if Bill Nye is well. It’s not a show about science, but rather a show about #Science or Science (TM) or Sciencism. It’s about pushing a very specific narrative — the facts be damned. The problems with the climate change episode are varied, so let’s start with the basics.
It’s Lame. Just So Very Very Lame.
Right off the bat, you realize that this is going to be one long slog. The camera pans in and there appears your childhood hero, Bill Nye, ready to ruin your fond childhood memories of him. He begins his monologue: “Hi folks [he says with all of the folksiness of a frequent guest of the Rachel Maddow Show], I’m Bill Nye. You might remember me from the Science Guy show [Yes Bill, we obviously remember you, you’ve been coasting on this nostalgia for going on two decades now]. Well, I’m back talkin’ science again with a new show and a new lab. I’m loving me some Netflix on the electric internet machines that the kids are usin’. [Cue the most forced laughter you’ve ever heard. Laughter more forced than an “Uncle Joey doing a Bullwinkle impression” segment on Full House. This terrible studio audience will accompany you throughout the show.]” The opening monologue lets you know that not only are you in for a thirty-minute science lecture that’s as informative as a bad stand-up routine, but that you’re also in for a thirty-minute bad stand-up routine that’s as funny as a science lecture.
The episode leads off with an “experiment” (and I cannot emphasize enough how loosely that term should be used) that is supposed to wake us up to the dangers posed by climate change – specifically the threat posed by rising ocean levels. This experiment is simplistic to the point of parody, involving Bill Nye putting water into a beaker, putting a giant flame directly underneath the beaker, and then absolutely blowing his audience away with the fact that water with a giant flame directly underneath it heats up, and that when water heats up it expands. This is supposed to demonstrate the dangers posed by climate change – hotter temperatures mean hotter water means rising sea levels. But the applicability of the experiment is fairly absurd, because water contained in a tiny controlled glass beaker is not particularly comparable to the 353 quintillion gallons (that’s 353 billion billions gallons or 353,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons) of ocean water that cover the planet. So yes, heated water expands. But what amount of heat is needed to make planet-wide oceans expand? And at what rate does this heated water expand? These two questions – at the very the crux of the threat posed by climate change’s effect on ocean levels – are never asked and never answered.
There’s Millennial-Style Fear-mongering
After this experiment, the show then cuts to a strange segment featuring a couple of renowned scientific minds – fashion designer Karlie Kloss and rapper Desiigner. The sketch consists of Desiigner at a store trying to buy chocolate, at a restaurant trying to buy sushi, & at a shop trying to buy coffee – with Karlie Kloss then popping out of nowhere to zap these items away from the poor guy, darkly explaining to him how cocoa and fish and coffee beans won’t exist anymore because of climate change. Desiigner (a lyrical genius in real life who they confusingly portray as basically a deaf dumb mute in the show) is there to represent the rubes who think life can continue like normal, but a #Woke Karlie Kloss is there to scare us all straight. And it’s meant to be pretty scary stuff – climate change means no more organic chocolate, no more Asian fusion sushi, & no more fair-trade coffee? We need to do something! The absurd focus on scaring urban Millennials is telegraphed so strongly in this segment that they might as well have said that climate change would also mean no more Twitter, no more craft beer, and no more Unicorn Frappuccinos.
Bill Nye Lies About Climate Change Being Worse Than World Wars & Global Pandemics
In one of his many monologues during the show, Bill Nye makes the following claim that exists at the root of most climate change scare tactics: “We’ve had World Wars and pandemics … But global warming and climate change are worse!” This statement is so fact-free (and, if I may, unscientific) that it strains credulity. The most cursory look back at human history reminds us just how bad both wars & global pandemics can be, and just how foolish it is to downplay the horrors of those chapters in human history simply to make a political point. For instance, over 17 million people died during the First World War – and that was only the eighth deadliest conflict in human history, ranking behind such ghastly wars as the Mongol Conquests (over 34 million deaths), the Three Kingdoms War in China (over 37 million deaths), and of course the Second World War (well over 58 million deaths) with over 6 million killed in the Holocaust alone. And if wars have been bad, global pandemics have been far far worse. Massive plagues, scourges, & disease outbreaks have absolutely destroyed human populations throughout history – 300 to 500 million may have died from smallpox, tens of millions from malaria (with hundreds of thousands still dying from it every year to this day), tens of millions from influenza (including 50 million dead within a single year during the Spanish Flu of 1918), perhaps as many as 375 million dead from the black plague worldwide, and estimates ranging as high as 100 million or more Native Americans dead from diseases brought over by Europeans. These two – war & disease – have brought untold horror to this planet – and to dismiss these very real deaths in comparison to the supposed potential future effects that climate change may or may not one day have is absurd. Bill Nye has made an extraordinary claim – and, as Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Bill Nye literally provides none. It’s exploitative of human tragedy and it’s shabby science.
Bill Nye Lies About Climate Change & the City of Venice
In the next segment, we travel with Karlie Kloss to Venice, which is accurately called “the front lines of fighting rising water” but not for the reasons that the show portrays. Presenting the city of Venice as some sort of case study on the effects of rising sea levels due to global warming is just a heavy-handed con job. Anyone with knowledge about the geography and history of Venice knows that it has been battling the tide literally for centuries – indeed, for well over a millennium. Venice is quite literally built on top of a lagoon and has been sinking into the water for over sixteen hundred years – facts that have nothing to do with the amount of CO2 in the air. And so pretending that the city’s battle against the water has been caused by 20th & 21st century climate change is intensely ahistorical. Bringing a film crew to a city that’s sinking into the ocean to prove that ocean levels are rising due to global warming is akin to bringing a film crew to the ice-planet Hoth to prove that the world is cooling. But this is exactly what Bill Nye & Co. try to do – they go to Venice, show the canals, show some pontoon boats, show some flooding, and show the $5.5 billion Venetian effort to build what’s called the MOSE Project (a sort of integrated water gate system) – all with the implication that all of these problems stem from climate change. This could not be further from the truth, because the battle against the tide has defined Venice’s entire existence since its founding in 421 AD.
In a fabulous & detailed article entitled “Venice’s Struggle Against the Water”, Der Spiegel outlines some critical historic & scientific facts about Venice (literally none of which are mentioned by the Science Guy). I highly recommend reading the entire article because it shows how absurd Bill Nye’s claims are, but I’ll excerpt some highlights: “In actual fact, a lagoon isn’t a particularly suitable place to found a city. Formed by rivers and the sea as if by the whims of nature, lagoons are fragile creations, an unstable interplay of high and low tide, seawater and freshwater, influx and drainage … Storms ‘overflowed the Lidi and the islands of Venice with such force that it felt like another biblical Great Flood’ … Masses of salty water ran into the houses, spoilt food supplies, damaged goods and threatened to salinate the wells … The enormous water pressure from the Adriatic also prevented the swollen rivers flowing down from the Alps from draining, thus driving water levels in the lagoon even higher … From the 14th century on, anyone who endangered the city’s flood defenses in any way risked getting a hefty fine or even a public flogging. Felling pine trees, burning off grass, driving cattle across the dykes and removing reeds or sand were all forbidden. An old inscription from the Magistrato Alle Acque, the water protection agency, warned: ‘Whosoever shall dare to damage this common asset should not be punished less severely than those who damage the walls of the town. This edict shall remain in force in perpetuity.’ … Since then [the recent 20th century], a million cubic meters (35 million cubic feet) of sand and pebbles have washed out of the lagoon and into open water every year … Scientists believe that this alone will cause the base of the lagoon to drop by 15 centimeters over the next half-century … Water levels are rising; the floor of the lagoon is dropping. According to estimates, Venice is currently 23 to 30 centimeters lower in the water than it was a century ago. And it’s not stopped yet.”
The reality is that Venice has been fighting rising oceans and flooding since before the Renaissance, before the Reformation, before the Crusades, before the Dark Ages, before the Aztecs, before the Incas, before Charlemagne, and since before the Legend of King Arthur was a thing. That literally none of these aforementioned facts are mentioned by Bill Nye and that he blames Venice’s struggles on climate change is unforgivable – he presents a fake version of Venice to his audience and then exploits this fakery to further his political agenda. It’s pretty shameless stuff.
Bill Nye Completely Dismisses Nuclear Power, Because #Science
We finally careen toward the end of the episode with a climate change panel discussion that mainly consists of Bill Nye loudly interrupting the panelists right when they are on the verge of saying something interesting. One of the panelists advocates for replacing nearly all fossil fuel energy sources with wind & solar sources within the next decade or so — a laughably impossible task, of course. Another panelist suggests dramatically increasing the use of nuclear power to reduce carbon emissions since it is a clean & efficient power source – a very interesting suggestion that is dismissed outright by Bill Nye for terrible reasons: “Why do we wanna go making more nuclear power plants when (b) nobody wants them and (a) we probably don’t need them?” Again, another fact-free claim from the Science Guy, because there are plenty of people who advocate for nuclear power as a key component of combating climate change. Here we have an energy source with essentially zero carbon footprint and that (unlike wind & solar) could very easily power vast swaths of the nation and indeed the world, but Bill Nye wants nothing to do with it and claims no one else does either. It’s simply another major falsehood to claim that “no one” wants nuclear power. Lots of people do. The problem simply seems to be that Bill Nye just doesn’t like nuclear power – but facts don’t care about your feelings, Bill.
In Response to this Cataclysmic World-Ending Catastrophe,
The Call to Action is … to Vote Democrat
As the panel nears its conclusion, the third panelist pipes up and finally asks the question that has been lacking the entire show: “We want to make a change. We want to take action. What are the first simple steps we can take to get to this future? We don’t want to get rid of our car right away, just trying to be a realist here…” Bill Nye answers with one word, screaming “VOTE!” and then goes off on a rant about people who don’t exercise their franchise. So the answer to solving climate change isn’t to stop doing the things that supposedly lead to climate change – like, stopping going on carbon-spewing flights, for instance – because that would be hard. Instead the solution is easy: just vote against “Deniers” and vote for Democrats. Bill Nye spent an entire episode talking about how climate change is to our generation what World War Two was to the Greatest Generation and about how we need to respond with the same sort of common purpose and shared national sacrifice – and then he defines this purpose & sacrifice as … voting for Hillary Clinton? Here the shallow ploy of the climate change racket is laid bare – this isn’t about proving that a problem exists, and this certainly isn’t about solving the problem, but rather it is about power, plain & simple. That Bill Nye would come so close to outright admitting it is surprising.
When the unflinchingly positive coverage of the Climate Change March begins pouring in this weekend, remember the one truth revealed by Bill Nye: this was apparently the best they could do. A couple irrelevant experiments, some fear-mongering about your morning coffee being taken away from you, some weak comparisons to World War Two, blaming the sinking of Venice into a literal lagoon on climate change, a muddled panel discussion, Bill Nye being aggressively awkward, and a cameo from the affable Zach Braff in his worst performance since Scrubs Season 9. That’s it. The debate over climate change deserves actual facts — from both sides. And the proponents of climate change really deserve better than what Bill Nye provides in this episode.
Bill Nye wraps up the episode by rather incredulously insisting that he doesn’t even want to be talking about climate change and that he’d rather be talking about anything else, like “[his] New York Times best-selling book” (can something be a humble brag if the bragger isn’t humble?) or like “baseball.” Bill Nye — Science Guy and World Saver — America is begging you: don’t turn your sights onto our national pastime. You’re already doing your utmost to ruin science with your politics, so please don’t make the politicization of sports your next endeavor. I can assure you that ESPN already has that well covered.