John Oliver Enlists Bill Nye to Highlight Climate Change Crisis

John Oliver on Last Week Tonight HBO Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of HBO

The TV scientist also explained carbon pricing on Sunday's episode of 'Last Week Tonight.'

John Oliver took on climate change during Sunday's episode of Last Week Tonight.

The host stressed the urgency of addressing the issue by sharing a news clip that said worsening food shortages, wildfires and a mass of coral reefs that will likely die off by 2040. "That's just 21 years from now. By that point, Finn Wolfhard will only be 37, Ariana Grande will only be 46 and Lou Dobbs will only be dead for 30 years," Oliver said.

He then spoke about the Green New Deal, which "has been famously polarizing." The legislation is "a non-binding resolution that very briefly sets out some extremely aggressive goals including achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, meeting 100 percent of the country's power demand through clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources, and creating millions of good high-wage jobs in the United States."

During the segment, Oliver also focused on carbon pricing. "The current situation with carbon is critical," he said. The host explained that carbon emissions are the largest source of greenhouse gases, yet it is essentially free to pollute the air with carbon dioxide, "which is a little bit weird when you think about it, cause we universally agree that polluting is bad, and yet it's free to do it."

To further help explain carbon pricing, Oliver enlisted TV scientist Bill Nye, who simply laid out that when something costs more, people buy less of it.

"Honestly, I was expecting something a bit more fun and visual than that," responded Oliver. He then asked if Nye could explain the long-term impact of carbon pricing "with a cool stunt to jazz up what you're saying."

Nye once again put on his safety glasses. "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," he said as he pointed to visuals of each natural disaster. "Putting a fee on carbon creates incentives to emit less carbon, and more important, 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," Nye said as he deposited a package of mints into the soda, which then exploded. "Happy now?"

While Oliver was ecstatic that Nye conducted the experiment, he added that the scientist was correct about incentivizing carbon. He said that economists across the political spectrum support the concept, while 40 governments worldwide have done it.

In the U.K., carbon pricing has contributed to carbon dioxide levels 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," said the host. "Yes, cocaine. You thought the spoonful of sugar was actually sugar?"

The host next explained another way a price can be put on carbon, which is through a concept called "cap and trade." Oliver explained that it is when you "cap the total amount of emissions the company is allowed to release, and you let them trade emissions permits among themselves."

He also spoke about the carbon tax, which is when surcharges are added to activities that emit carbon.

Oliver next explained Canada's use of the carbon tax, which is often looked down upon because "tax" is viewed as a "dirty word" in politics. "Very basically, they're taking the money they collect and giving it back to their citizens. They're doing this by pulling the money gathered by increased fees on things like gas and heat, dividing it up and sending it back to taxpayers as a rebate," he explained. The host added that the policy was created to "exceed the increased costs for about 70 percent of households, with lowest-income households seeing the most benefits from the policy."

The fight for the carbon tax is still met with difficulties in Canada. "It's no wonder that some politicians in this country are weary of even attempting a debate about carbon pricing," said the host.

Oliver next said "the last national attempt that got any real traction" happened 10 years ago. The debate became "so toxic" that West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin released a video in 2010 that showed him walking around with a rifle as he promised West Virginia residents that he would fight against the cap and trade bill.

"Now that may seem idiotic to you, because it is, but in fairness, that is the only way to stop a bill from becoming a law," Oliver said as the bill from Schoolhouse Rock came onscreen.  

Oliver added that it's a good sign people are still discussing the bill, while the percentage of conservative Republicans that are worried about global warming has doubled in the last five years.

Nye closed the segment with another experiment. After putting on his safety glasses one more time, he said, "By the end of this century, if emissions keep rising, the average temperature of earth could go up another four to eight degrees. What I'm saying is the planet's on fucking fire," he said as he set a globe on fire.

He added that there are a lot of things that we can do the put the fire out, though none of them are free. "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."

Earlier in the episode, Oliver took on Georgia's new bill banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. A heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, which is often before most women realize that they're pregnant.

The bill would give the fetus "natural person" status, which means the fetus is entitled to child support, can be claimed as a dependent on tax returns and is included in the state's population. The bill says that abortions are only allowed in certain instances, including rape or incest that is filed in a police report.

"First, tax breaks beginning at conception may be literally the most Republican law ever created," said Oliver. "Second, it’s pretty egregious to only make a exception for rape or incest 'where a police report was filed.' I guess that's to separate the incest that they're talking about from your run-of-the-mill cousin-fucking, or as it's more commonly known, a Giuliani marriage."

Oliver then criticized a statement from Georgia House of Representatives member Darlene Taylor in which she spoke on behalf of a "baby named Fetus." In her plea, she quoted a fetus that fought to not be aborted.

"First, she explicitly says she's speaking not on behalf of a fetus, but on behalf of a baby whose name is Fetus. Then she's somehow quoting this baby Fetus, despite the fact that babies can't speak or write, so she has no source material from which to quote," he said.

"If I may quote baby Fetus, 'A fetus is not a baby, and in fact, at six weeks, it isn't even a fetus. It's an embryo the size of a pomegranate seed,'" he said.

Oliver noted that while the "blatantly unconstitutional" law won't go into effect until 2020, Alabama and Ohio are other states that are looking to restrict women's access to abortion.

Ohio lawmakers are considering implementing a bill that would prohibit insurance companies from paying for abortion services. "If that bill passes, even women who do qualify for an abortion may struggle to pay for one," said Oliver. "At that point, why stop there? Why not pass a bill saying all women seeking an abortion in Ohio must first tie up all the remaining plot threads on Game of Thrones in one single episode of television?"

Many people have shared their concerns that the new laws could prevent people from being able to afford birth control and contraceptives. The bill's author, John Becker, admitted that he did not give much thought to how the bill would impact birth control and that the "people smarter than me can figure out what that means."

"It seems like lawmakers should exhibit a little more awareness of what they're releasing than the makers of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie," said Oliver. "'I don't know. I just had the CGI team mark up a furry potato with a corpse's face. Someone smarter than me can figure out if that's nostalgic for people.'"

Oliver added that he didn't know if the bill would pass. "It's complete fucking nonsense, so I certainly hope not. But you never know."

"It's pretty clear now, with a conservative Supreme Court, lawmakers are taking every shot they can to get a case that might end up overturning Roe v. Wade, and they keep trying, which is why it is incumbent on all of us to pay close attention to this issue," he continued.

"So if I may address those lawmakers in the words of an unexpectedly literate baby, 'Listen, I'm not a constitutional scholar — I'm not anything — but if I were, I'd tell you that laws like these deny women agency over their own bodies, and your actions put their health and lives at risk,'" he said. '"But hey, why not ask the women affected what they think? Because they're actual people, unlike me, a fucking fictional baby named Fetus.'"