The Sunday edition of HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver focused heavily on climate change, so it featured an appearance from Bill Nye the Science Guy, who had some harsh words for conservatives skeptical of the Green New Deal throughout the episode, concluding with a profanity-laced rant aimed at critics of the Green New Deal.
Host John Oliver spent much of the show’s last third doing an infomercial for carbon pricing with Nye’s help to “break down the logic behind it.” Nye first explained the “complicated logic behind carbon pricing” by declaring that “when something costs more, people buy less of it.”
Later, Nye attempted to scare the audience: “When we release carbon…say, by burning coal or driving an SUV…all of us pay for that, in the form of things like fires, floods, and crop failures.” Nye also noted that “putting a fee on carbon creates incentives to emit less carbon. And, more importantly, it also incentivizes the development of low-carbon technology.”
Oliver praised the United Kingdom’s carbon pricing, claiming that it has contributed to carbon dioxide emissions “falling to their lowest level since 1890.” He proceeded to highlight cap and trade as well as a simple tax on carbon as “different ways to put a price on carbon.”
The HBO host also praised Canada’s carbon tax and the massive redistribution of wealth scheme that accompanied it:
They’re taking the money they collect and giving it back to their citizens…by pooling the money gathered by increased fees on things like gas and heat, dividing it up, and sending it back to taxpayers as a rebate. In fact, they’ve designed it so that the rebates in Canada are anticipated to exceed the increased costs for about 70 percent of households; with…lowest-income households seeing the most benefits from the policy.”
The episode concluded with Oliver introducing Nye so he could “drive the urgency home” about climate change with an “enjoyable, light-hearted demonstrations.” The “demonstration” started out with Nye warning that “by the end of this century, if emissions keep rising, the average temperature on Earth could go up another four to eight degrees.”
And then came the profanity:
What I’m saying is the planet’s on f***ing fire. There are a lot of things we could do to put it out. Are any of them free? No, of course not! Nothing’s free, you idiots. Grow the f*** up. You’re not children anymore. I didn’t mind explaining photosynthesis to you when you were 12 but you’re adults now and this is an actual crisis. Got it? Safety glasses off, mother***ers.
Not surprisingly, Oliver was quite amused by Nye’s profanity-laced rant: “I think we’ve all broken Bill Nye. And I, for one, am absolutely on board with his new, gritty reboot.” It looks like if Oliver ever needs a guest host, left-wing environmentalists like Nye and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would get first dibs.
A transcript of the relevant portion of Sunday’s edition of Last Week Tonight is below. Click “expand” to read more.
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
11:59 p.m. Eastern
JOHN OLIVER: Carbon emissions are, by far, the largest source of greenhouse gases, yet right now, it’s basically free to pollute the air with carbon dioxide, which is a little bit weird when you think about it because we’ve universally agreed that polluting is bad, and yet it’s free to do it. When you litter, you pay a fine. When you drive above the speed limit, you pay a fine. When you steal 400 hamsters from PetSmart, tie them to a sled, and race through the streets on a hamster sleigh, you pay a fine. Is that fine worth it? Yes, of course it is. [LAUGHTER] But you do pay it. Now, carbon pricing is a little complicated, so, so to break down the logic behind it, I’ve enlisted the help of a guy who’s made a career out of explaining complex ideas with fun, visual stunts.
BILL NYE: Hi, John. Bill Nye the Science Guy here. [CHEERS AND APPLAUSE] I’m going to explain the complicated logic behind carbon pricing. But first, safety glasses on. When something costs more, people buy less of it. Safety glasses off. That’s it.
OLIVER: That’s it? Oh. I mean, honestly, I was expecting something a bit more fun and visual than that, Bill. Could you maybe explain the long-term impact of carbon pricing but…but with a cool stunt, you know, to jazz up what you’re saying? Go on.
NYE: Okay, safety glasses on. When we release carbon…say, by burning coal or driving an SUV…all of us pay for that, in the form of things like fires, floods, and crop failures. Putting a fee on carbon creates incentives to emit less carbon. And, more importantly, it also incentivizes the development of low-carbon technology. Which is huge, because that’s vital to reducing emissions globally. And because, for some reason, John, you’re a 42-year-old man who needs his attention sustained with tricks, here’s some fucking Mentos in a bottle of Diet Coke. [CHEERS AND APPLAUSE] Happy now?
[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]
OLIVER: Yes, I am happy! I am happy! The Coke went high! The Mentos made it fizzy! I love it! I love it, Bill! I love it! I love it! I love it! [LAUGHTER] But…but his, his point about incentivizing new technology is really important especially because our current low-carbon technology strategy is, essentially, “Hope that this guy stops calling people pedophiles long enough to invent an affordable electric car.” And right now, the pedophile-to-car balance is way off. So, in theory, putting a price on carbon makes complete sense. And you should know that there is absolutely nothing extreme about this idea. Economists across the political spectrum support it, and more than 40 governments worldwide have done it, including the U.K., where carbon pricing has contributed to CO2 emissions falling to their lowest level since 1890. That’s right. The lowest level since before Mary Poppins danced with chimney sweeps and introduced the Banks children to Cocaine. [LAUGHTER] Yes, Cocaine. You thought the spoonful of sugar was actually sugar? Come on! How do you explain the dancing penguins? She gave those children Cocaine! And she changed their lives forever. [CHEERS AND APPLAUSE] Now, now…there are, there are different ways, there are different ways to put a price on carbon. One is cap and trade, where you cap the total amount of emissions the company’s allowed to release and you let them trade emissions permits among themselves. Or there’s the more straightforward carbon tax, which just adds a surcharge to activities that emit carbon. The problem there is mostly the word “tax,” which has become a dirty word in politics. Just look at what happened in Canada, which rolled out a new carbon tax that went into effect just last month; although it was not easy for them to do that. Justin Trudeau desperately tried not to use the word tax, instead calling it a “price on pollution,” and when he slipped up once, just look how people reacted.
JUSTIN TRUDEAU: What we are also guaranteeing is that this tax, this pricing…
TRUDEAU: …price on carbon will be…
OLIVER: Listen to the level of excitement over that verbal slip-up. If you’re a politician, you just can’t say the word “tax,” in the same way that if you’re an actor you can’t say the word “Macbeth,” and if you're the president of the United States, you can’t say the word “origins.”
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I hope they now go and take look at the oranges…the oranges of the investigation…the beginnings of that investigation.
OLIVER: It’s funny ‘cause his brain is turning into pudding. [LAUGHTER] Anyway, anyway, the point is, Trudeau simply saying the word “tax” was described as “Trudeau trips on his own words.” So on one level, you can kind of understand his reluctance to use that term, because it exposed him to fearmongering about what his policy would mean for regular people, which sometimes took the form of catchy slam poetry from his political opponents.
ARNOLD VIERSEN, CANADIAN MP: We can’t afford this onerous fee. 11 cents more for a liter of fuel, taxing me and my kids’ school. Farms and families will feel the pinch when the carbon tax man pulls the cinch. Tax the tractor, combine, plow. Tax the chicken, egg, and cow. Carbon tax man, enough’s enough. Don’t cat-tax Canadians on all their stuff. [APPLAUSE]
OLIVER: Fire. [LAUGHTER] Look, I don’t care where you stand on this issue, no one wants to hear a rhyme about carbon taxes from anybody, let alone some guy who looks like he got his entire wardrobe at “Express John Oliver.” [LAUGHTER] Not a fan. But, but he is, he is speaking to a real concern there. How do you…now you see it. [LAUGHTER] Now you can’t unsee it. [CHEERS AND APPLAUSE] He’s speaking to a real point there. How do you put a price on carbon and make things more expensive, without harming the people who can least afford it? And what Canada’s doing to address this is actually pretty simple. Very basically, they’re taking the money they collect and giving it back to their citizens. They’re doing this by pooling the money gathered by increased fees on things like gas and heat, dividing it up, and sending it back to taxpayers as a rebate. In fact, they’ve designed it so that the rebates in Canada are anticipated to exceed the increased costs for about 70 percent of households; with lower, lowest-income households seeing the most benefits from the policy, which is great. But even with that being true, the fight over a carbon tax was, and still is, very difficult in Canada. It’s no wonder that some politicians in this country are wary of even attempting a debate about carbon pricing. In fact, the last national attempt that got any real traction here was ten years ago, when Congress tried passing a cap-and-trade bill, and the debate around it got so toxic, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin was comfortable expressing his displeasure like this:
JOE MANCHIN: I’m Joe Manchin, I approve this ad because I’ll always defend West Virginia. I sued EPA, and I’ll take dead aim...
MANCHIN: …at the cap-and-trade bill, ‘cause it’s bad for West Virginia.
OLIVER: Now that may seem idiotic to you, because it is, but --- [LAUGHTER] --- but in fairness, that is actually the only way to stop a bill from becoming a law. That bill had a knife! That bill had a knife! You all saw it! You all saw it! It reached for its pocket. Look, look, look, I…I know that this can all seem hopeless, especially under the current administration, but there are actually some small signs that the tide may be turning here. The very fact that we’re still talking about the Green New Deal is really encouraging. Plus, the percentage of conservative Republicans who say they are “very” or “somewhat” worried by global warming has more than doubled in the last five years. Even Mitch McConnell finally acknowledged the role of humans in climate change for the first time a few weeks ago. And yes, that is a bit like him giving a speech titled, “Alf is actually just a big puppet.” I mean, yeah, Mitch, we all fucking know that, Mitch. [LAUGHTER] It’s embarrassing it’s taken you this long to accept it. But better late than never, I guess. And look, however bumpy its rollout was, to its eternal credit, the Green New Deal has succeeded in getting people talking. But that won’t mean anything unless that talk now turns to actions. And putting a price on carbon could potentially be one of them. Although…let me reiterate, it will not be enough on its own, by a long shot. We’re going to need a lot of different policies working in tandem and we have to take action right now. But you don’t have to just take that from me. Instead, I’m happy to say that Bill Nye has actually agreed to help drive the urgency home of this point by actually doing one of his enjoyable light-hearted demonstrations. So, Bill…please, please, do you have a fun experiment for us?
NYE: Here, I…I’ve got an experiment for you. Safety glasses on. By the end of this century, if emissions keep rising, the average temperature on Earth could go up another four to eight degrees. What I’m saying is, the planet’s on fucking fire. There are a lot of things we can do to put it out. Are any of them free? No, of course not! Nothing’s free, you idiots! Grow the fuck up! You’re not children anymore. I didn’t mind explaining photosynthesis to you when you were 12, but you’re adults now, and this is an actual crisis. Got it? Safety glasses off, motherfuckers.
[CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]
OLIVER: I think we’ve all broken Bill Nye. And I, for one, am absolutely on board with his new, gritty reboot. That’s our show, thank you so much for watching.