Bill Nye vs the Barbarians: Is Bill Getting Better at This?

February 17, 2014

I fully agree that reversing the slide into the New Dark Ages is a worthy preoccupation – but, it’s worth asking, – Bill Nye getting better at this?  I’m not so sure – getting sucked into “the debate” on a venue that has criminally ignored the issue for years, except to perpetuate the idea that there is a “debate” among people who actually know stuff –
he gives yet another opportunity for Marsha Blackburn (think Sara Palin without the charm) to spout science denialist talking points.

Huffington Post:

First, some context: TV news shows almost never cover climate change, which ought to be one of the most aggressively-reported issues around, given that, y’know, it’s a dire threat to the planet and everyone on it. A recent study from Media Matters found that the Sunday shows on NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox spent a combined 27 minutes on the topic in the whole of 2013. Meet the Press was singled out as “failing to offer a single substantial mention of climate change” for the entire year.

I cringed when he held up a picture of the arctic and said “antactic”.  I wish he’d bluntly said “climate change is manmade”, “humans are the cause, humans are the solution”, and “we can’t prove any single event was caused by global warming” with “we can’t prove any single home run was caused by steroids — but we *can* prove there wouldn’t have been as many”.
He does not yet know how to cut to the heart of an argument.  Some points for continuing to show up.
What made a difference in this presentation was David Gregory’s continued reminders to climate denier Marsha Blackburn that blatant denial was not an option, the consensus was clear. Points for him on that, but deducts for scheduling Nye and Blackburn in the first place. Should have been leading scientists with expertise, and policy maker who is serious about solutions.
Fact Checking below.


Here’s an example of how this will work. The segment, which you can watch here, begins inauspiciously, with a quote from NBC weatherguy Al Roker.

Al Roker:

Is it a natural cycle? Is it — is it due to human interference or human conditions that we have created? That remains open to debate. But there is no doubt the climate is changing.

Rating: False

What Roker’s doing here is what you might call skepticism-once-removed. He’s too smart and too prominent to deny that climate change exists, but he also doesn’t want to get nasty emails from people who hate the idea that anyone would say climate change exists. (I, however, welcome such emails!) So he walks a wishy-washy and incorrect middle road: climate change is real, but is it humanity’s fault?

It is humanity’s fault, at least according to the same scientists that say it is happening, which is nearly every climate scientist with only a few isolated exceptions. A survey of climate studies completed last year found that 97 percent of 4,000 studies blamed human activity for warmer temperatures  — more greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-burning leading to more heat trapped in the atmosphere. Roker is wrong.


And when you look at the fact that we have gone from 320 parts per million 0.032, to 0.040 four hundred parts per million, what you do is realize it’s very slight.

Rating: False
Blackburn tries to downplay the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by talking about the amounts in very, very small decimals. Which they are: If I took $400 versus $320 out of your million dollars, you wouldn’t be terribly upset.

But that’s intentionally misleading. The difference between the two is an increase of 25 percent over the past 50 years — after thousands and thousands of years of it being lower. Last year, The New York Times explained that the level of carbon dioxide now in our atmosphere is a “concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years.” And at that point, “the world’s ice caps were smaller, and the sea level might have been as much as 60 or 80 feet higher.”

Why hasn’t that happened now? Because “it takes a long time to melt ice,” as one scientist told the Times. But we’re getting there.


[T]here is not consensus [on climate change] and you can look at the latest IPCC Report and look at Doctor Lindzen from MIT. His rejection of that or Judith Curry … from Georgia Tech. There is not consensus there.

Rating: False
This is just cherry-picking. Finding two people who disagree with the thousands of other scientists doesn’t constitute debate any more than scoring a field goal when you’re down 70 points makes the game a tie.

What’s more, as MSNBC’s Ned Resnikoff points out, Blackburn didn’t even pick very good cherries.

Blackburn cited two climate scientists to make her point: One who has been “wrong about nearly every major climate argument he’s made over the past two decades,” according to fellow environmental scientist Dana Nuccitelli, and another who recently said, “it’s clear that adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere will warm the planet.”


[E]ven Director McCarthy from the EPA in answering questions from Congressman Pompeo before our committee, said reaching all of the 26 U.S. goals is not going to have an impact globally.

Rating: Mostly true
During the discussion between Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo and EPA administrator Gina McCarthy (which can be seen here), McCarthy did say that the 26 steps the EPA would like to adopt to scale back America’s greenhouse gas pollution wouldn’t, in themselves, solve climate change. That’s because other countries — like China — wouldn’t be affected and would continue to pump out carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.

But that doesn’t mean that there would be no impact. If the American example of fighting emissions could serve as a model for other countries, it would have broader value. Fighting climate change is not something we can win by ourselves.

We didn’t win World War II by ourselves either. It took multiple countries coming together to defeat the Axis threat. What McCarthy, the head of our environmental military, suggests is that we get on a war footing.


Now, you know, when you look at the social cost of carbon, and there is a lot of ambiguity around that, what you also need to be doing is looking at the benefits of carbon and what that has on increased agriculture production.

Rating: False
Blackburn’s main point — in fact, the main point of he Republican colleagues and of the fossil fuel industry at large — is that stopping climate change would be expensive. Which is largely true: It means that coal plants and heavy industry wouldn’t be able to release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere for free where the long-term costs would be borne by other people in the form of increased floods or droughts.

ThinkProgress did a good job rebutting the “CO2 is good for plants” schtick. While small amounts of the gas are critical for plants to grow, it points out that the California drought, almost certainly exacerbated by if not entirely due to climate change, has hardly been a boon for the state’s agricultural centers.

The site also explains a bit more about the “social cost of carbon.” That cost “is the formula used by federal regulators to calculate how carbon pollution harms public health, the environment, property value, and other issues” — and could be as much as $129 per ton by 2020 under some emissions scenarios.

Again, Blackburn claims there’s ambiguity to the figure. In part that’s because the cost varies depending on how much we keep emitting. If Blackburn and her colleagues accept a value for that “social cost,” her cost-benefit analysis starts to work against polluters. After all, any cost to prevent the emission of carbon dioxide that’s less than $129 a ton (or whatever the final figure) becomes preferable under any cost-benefit analysis, even if it mandates regulation of the industry. And polluters and their advocates don’t want to incur any additional cost, because it’s bad for profits.

David Gregory:

This debate goes on.

Rating: False
The debate is over. If Meet the Press covered the topic more — in 2013, according to Media Matters, it failed “to offer a single substantial mention of climate change” — Gregory might know that.

Mother Jones:

Fresh off a mega-debate that embarrassed Young Earth creationists and led to none other than Pat Robertson denouncing their views, Nye appeared on Meet the Press today to debate Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), a global warming “skeptic.”

On the air, Blackburn, who is vice-chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, denied that there is a scientific consensus on climate change and argued that “you don’t make good laws, sustainable laws, when you’re making them on hypotheses, or theories, or unproven sciences.” (There is indeed such a scientific consensus; at one moment, host David Gregory had to correct Blackburn on this point.)

But Nye rebutted her with some simple science lessons that made a lot of sense—noting that going from 320 to 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, something Blackburn called “very slight,” is actually a very big change in percentage terms (Nye said 30 percent; it is actually a 25 percent increase). At the same time, Nye also hammered home a compelling message centered on patriotism. “As a guy who grew up in the US,” he said, “I want the US to lead the world in this….The more we mess around with this denial, the less we’re going to get done.”

The key gotcha moment in the debate came when Nye called out Blackburn for failing to lead on the climate issue. “You are our leader,” he said to Blackburn. “We need you to change things, not deny what’s happening.”

“Neither he nor I are a climate scientist,” Blackburn noted during the debate. But as Nye observed, only one of them is a politician, whose job is to use the best information that we have at our disposal to make the world work better.


61 Responses to “Bill Nye vs the Barbarians: Is Bill Getting Better at This?”

  1. rayduray Says:

    Guardian columnist Nafeez Ahmed is interviewed by Max Keiser of the Keiser Report on Please advance to Minute 15:50 for the interview regarding recent UK flooding, peak energy, peak food and drought. Not discussed: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

    Ahmed’s Guardian page:

    • ubrew12 Says:

      Sorry I pressed the wrong button, so my Reply to you appears at bottom. “Its the cost of cognitive dissonance” is a great line. (I might steal it.)

    • They briefly discussed why the media gets this subject so wrong so often, but didn’t go into enough depth. My take? The media is a mouthpiece for business. They are not ‘news’ organizations anymore.

  2. Only someone who is naive will accept the global warming hype without question. The simple fact is that science advances by using the scientific method, not claims of consensus in which less than 100 papers that explicitly support the AGW hypothesis out of 12,0000 reviewed is somehow deemed to be a 97% agreement. What we need is a real debate using a real debate format in which both sides can bring their evidence and empirical data and fight it out before the viewers. It is easy to raise a lot of money to fund such a debate and it is easy to see that the debate can attract a decent audience. The problem is that the AGW proponents don’t want to have any such discussion about the issue in front of an audience and in a forum where the opponents get equal time.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      that debate has been conducted for the last 150 years in the peer reviewed literature where facts matter and can be checked over time. It is that very fact checking process that deniers wish to circumvent through a sound bite debate with smooth talkers before an audience of rubes on Fox & Friends.
      That said, I’ve never turned one down, and am happy to appear any time, any place, with any one, on this issue.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      to be fair, such a debate would be conducted among trained climatologists. On one side would be a climate change skeptic. On the other side, would be 48 climate change believers. Of course, you have no intention of being fair, so this will never happen. You are just seeking to prolong debate indefinitely.

    • andrewfez Says:

      Or an equally fair debate could happen by way of the medieval practice of trial by ordeal of boiling water: We could have two proponents try to grab a stone out of a pot of boiling water, then after three days a priest could examine their burnt hands to see if they were healing or festering. Obviously the person whose hand is healing is in the right, and the person whose hand is festering is in the wrong. That would settle the debate once and for all.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      ” the global warming hype

      The hype? You might as well wear a sign on your forehead.

      “claims of consensus in which less than 100 papers that explicitly support the AGW hypothesis out of 12,0000 reviewed is somehow deemed to be a 97% agreement. ”

      But all 12,000 IMPLICITLY support support AGW. How do I know this? Because climate scientists themselves have been surveyed. 100% of them believe that AGW is real, and 97% believe AGW is anthropogenic.

      Somehow, you missed the memo and feel there is a conspiracy. Better make that sign on your forehead even bigger.

  3. ubrew12 Says:

    BBC “this ‘might’ be climate change” A problem which occurs repeatedly, now that climate chaos is among us, is with attribution. No single weather event can be related to climate forcers since natural variability still exists. I’ve noticed that deniers are anxious to capitalize on the confusion. When media and climate experts say ‘this may be climate change’ they are allowing deniers an ‘open’ to insert doubt. But when deniers make that inevitable claim, I’ve lately begun responding like this: “I can’t prove that you got mugged because you moved to a bad neighborhood. Maybe you just got unlucky, and muggings happen even in good neighborhoods. Still, as climatologists have been saying for 30 years now: why would you move into a bad neighborhood?” Since many deniers are Conservatives for whom security is paramount, this hits them where they live.

    • Bill Elmer Says:

      It’s not just “skeptics” who think extreme weather is over-hyped. Mainstream climate science thinks so too. From IPCC Fifth Report (2013):
      Table 12.4: “low confidence in projections of changes in the frequency and duration of megadroughts”
      Chapter 14: “There is low confidence in the projections of future changes for the tropical Atlantic … . The implications for future changes in Atlantic hurricanes … are therefore uncertain.”

      Anyone who thinks hurricanes are increasing should look at what hit New York in the 1950s:

      1350+ Peer-Reviewed Papers Supporting Skeptic Arguments Against ACC/AGW Alarm:

      Skeptics don’t deny that the climate is changing. They just don’t agree that CO2 is the main driver of climate change.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        How about telling us what the “main driver” of climate change is, if not CO2 produced by man’s burning of fossil fuels?

          • dumboldguy Says:

            The SUN? That thing that has been around for the entire life of the Earth and has indeed contributed to past episodes of climate change? Both global cooling and global warming?

            Unfortunately, your two word answer might be adequate to answer the question “What can be seen only in the daytime?”, but it falls far short of answering my question about climate change and how it relates to man’s burning of fossil fuels.

            Climate scientists have looked at the global warming that is occurring right now and looked at all the causes and factors they can find, including things related to “The Sun”. If you care to study the topic, you will find that the consensus is that CO2 produced by man’s activities since the start of the industrial age seems to be the driving factor behind the present climate change episode, and that’s why we refer to it as “Anthropogenic Global Warming”.

            I am, however, willing to admit that I may have misunderstood your answer, and even though I’m a dumboldguy, I may not be alone in having done that. So, how about going into a bit more detail for us about how “The Sun” is the main driver of climate change?

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Ho-hum. The demented roosters of climate change denialism strut around the barnyard, pecking at dead bugs and crowing over some imagined victory. PSI—-Principia Scientific International—-is a denialist garbage sight and a great place to see them in action.

      Read the comments—the only ones that make any sense are the ones that ask for REAL citations to what has actually happened in the Canadian courts. I myself am awaiting to see what happens to the suit here in the U.S. Pater? Any news on that? How is Mann fixed for $$$ to pursue it?

      • Terry Drury Says:

        What a strange response, why don’t you demand that Michael Mann release his research data so any Scientist can replicate his work, isn’t that how normal scientific research works. But I think you must be afraid of what might be revealed. The Global Warming Scam is exposed for all to see.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          A strange response, you say? The failure of Climategate to amount to anything significant is very old news, and what’s strange is the tenacity with which climate change deniers like you cling to it in hopes that it will magically turn out some other way.

          I think sane folks ought demand that you and the other fools that can’t accept the 9-0 score of the game stop wasting our time bringing it up.

          Yeah, you nailed it with “The Global Warming Scam is exposed for all to see”. We are being “exposed” to it all over the planet lately in the form of extreme events whose increasing frequency and intensity have been predicted by the climate scientists. Can’t wait to see the “scam” develop even more over the next year—the sea ice decline, droughts, floods, wildfires, polar vortex misbehavior, continued warming—all those hockey sticks that will be used to beat you hockey pucks over the head.

          And will you be the one to provide us with real details of what’s going on in the Canadian courts? Rather than with the PSI demented rooster horsepuckey?

          • Right, dbg. “Climategate!” the battle cry of global warming denialists like “Benghazi!” the battle cry of FOX News-watching Obama-bashers. Both manufactured scandals. “Remember the Maine, goddammit!”

      • Love that metaphor of demented roosters, dgb. We really should collect clever metaphors for AGW denialists and denialism, publish a book.

        Re-reading my beloved Dante the other day, came across a passage very evocative, I think, of the denialist crowd. It is from Canto III of the Inferno, the Vestibule of Hell. Here Dante and Virgil encounter the damned souls of the Opportunists. In Robert Pinsky’s translation:

        “I looked again. / A whirling banner sped at such a rate / It seemed it might never stop, behind it a train / Of souls, so long that I would not have thought / Death had undone so many . . . at once I understood / Beyond all doubt that this was the dreary guild / Repellent both to God and to his enemies.”

        Replace “Death” with “Anti-science” and you’ve got the denialists to a T.

      • greenman3610 Says:

        I’m quite sure that Mann is fine. The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, does need help however, to continue supporting scientists less prominent than Dr. Mann. See button at the right of page.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Yeah, been meaning to send them some $$$. Inertia, and having to spend too much time cleaning up after the polar vortex—snow still hasn’t fully melted and more is coming.

          Was out there today blowing the sand off the street—-we’ve been tracking it in the house just like we were at the shore (NJ) or beach (VA) because that’s how much they put down—could barely see the pavement showing through.

  4. Terry Drury Says:

    I’m so delighted to be a fool.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Yes, that’s a common thing among deniers—-being quite self-satisfied in their ignorance, self delusion, and mindlessness—-you fit in nicely in the denier crowd, bit won’t find much company on Crock.

      By the way, have you looked at what Charles Zeller so nicely gave you a link to in an attempt to help you overcome your ignorance? After you study it, let us know how it all jibes with your mistaken belief that Mann’s work cannot be replicated by anyone who is smart enough?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: