Bill Nye's Climate Change Debate With Tucker Carlson Reminds Us To Keep The Conversation Going

The exchange aired on Fox News.

During a fiery conversation on Monday night, Bill Nye The Science Guy and Fox News host Tucker Carlson argued about climate change denial in America.

Carlson, well-known for ushering liberal guests into combative conversations, pushed Nye on why climate change was no longer up for debate. He repeatedly claimed that skepticism is a scientific necessity, but that in the climate change conversation you aren't allowed to be a skeptic.

"We in the science community are looking for a reason as to why climate change deniers — or extreme skeptics — do not accept the overwhelming scientific evidence for climate change," Nye replied. 

While conceding that the climate was in fact changing, Carlson pressed Nye about whether we know that climate change we're seeing is caused by human activity and not — presumably — part of some natural cycle.

"It's not an open question, it's a settled question: human activity is causing climate change," Nye said. "In the science community it's a settled point... instead of happening on timescales of millions of years, or let's say 15,000 years, it's happening on the time scale of decades and now years."

Nye, to his credit, was accurate in his depiction. While Carlson's skepticism is a healthy one, and one that is a feature of the scientific attitude, many of the questions he posed have already been answered — repeatedly — by climate scientists, organizations like NASA, and science pundits like Nye.

Since 1880, the Earth's average surface temperature has warmed by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit — which may not sound like a lot, but has detrimental effects on the environment. In fact, over the last three years, the Earth has repeatedly broken its own records for warmest temperatures ever recorded. 

In a recent Bloomberg piece, data sets provided by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Study illustrate how temperatures fluctuate with non-human factors climate change deniers frequently cite as the cause for global warming: the earth's orbit, the sun's temperature, volcanic activity, and so on. What they found was that none of these individual factors, or those factors combined, had any significant impact on rising temperatures across the globe.

What they did find, though, was that greenhouse gas emissions directly correlated with a sharp rise in temperatures. 

Land-ocean temperature index, 1880 to present, with base period 1951-1980. The solid black line is the global annual mean and the solid red line is the five-year lowess smooth. The blue uncertainty bars (95% confidence limit) account only for incomplete spatial sampling. [This is an update of Fig. 9a inHansen et al. (2010).]
Land-ocean temperature index, 1880 to present, with base period 1951-1980. The solid black line is the global annual mean and the solid red line is the five-year lowess smooth. The blue uncertainty bars (95% confidence limit) account only for incomplete spatial sampling. [This is an update of Fig. 9a inHansen et al. (2010).] Via NASA / https://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/
 CO2 (a heat-trapping greenhouse gas) levels during the last three glacial cycles, as reconstructed from ice cores.
 CO2 (a heat-trapping greenhouse gas) levels during the last three glacial cycles, as reconstructed from ice cores. Via NASA / https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/carbon-dioxide/

The effect of these greenhouse gasses, commonly released through processes like burning fossil fuels (coal or gas) and deforestation, has been known for some time. In fact, major oil companies like Exxon knew of the dangers of climate change as early as 1981, but, according to The Guardian, chose to fund climate deniers instead of addressing the issue. 

It wasn't until Barack Obama's presidency that a fight against climate change began at the highest levels of government. During his time in office, the United States tripled its capacity for generating energy from wind power and saw 400,000 electric cars hit the road. Oil imports are down 60 percent. Solar installations increased by 2,000 percent, and every three weeks the U.S. brings on as much solar power as they did in all of 2008. 

Perhaps more importantly, though, Obama's Climate Action Plan was the single biggest legislative carbon emission killer ever implemented in the United States. New standards for appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners will slash 3 billion tons of carbon emissions by 2030, or "the equivalent of taking every car off America's roads for two years," according to Politico. In all, 6 billion metric tons of carbon emissions would be avoided as a result of Obama's plan, but President Donald Trump plans to roll back many of the regulations.

While the federal government may not be leading the climate change battle, there's reason to believe clean energy and climate regulations aren't going anywhere. Even if they aren't implemented through a legislative agenda, economic benefits may motivate people to change the energy sources they use naturally. 

If that doesn't happen, there's also the pending legal battle headed for the Trump administration. 21 youth plaintiffs are currently working their way up to the Supreme Court in a lawsuit that alleges the federal government is infringing on their right to a clean environment. Several federal court wins has given the group of 9- to 20-year-olds momentum as they attempt to pin the federal government into implementing a holistic, legislative agenda to stop climate change. 

Though Nye and Carlson didn't find much common ground (aside from the fact temperatures were going up), they did show us why the conversation is important. Climate change and the data behind it are known to much of the scientific community, but it seems Americans remain divided on how big a threat climate change is and what course of action we should take to combat it.

Fortunately, there's plenty of data to consult, and plenty of leads to follow.

You can watch their conversation below

Cover image via lev radin.