Like a sad father, Bill Nye wasn’t mad that he was forced to debate climate change on CNN; he was disappointed that CNN had presumably pitted him against a climate change denier to create drama instead of spreading factual information.
“I will say, much as I love the CNN, you’re doing a disservice by having one climate change skeptic and not 97 or 98 scientists or engineers concerned about climate change,” he said during a segment on the April 22 March for Science that aired Saturday night.
Nye was part of a five-person split screen along with CNN anchors Victor Blackwell and Christi Paul; May Boeve, the executive director of 350.org; and William Happer, a physicist and climate change denier with ties to President Donald Trump. During the segment, Happer said he doesn’t think “science has anything to fear from Mr. Trump,” and talked about the “myth” of carbon dioxide being harmful, emphasizing that it’s perfectly “natural.”
Nye pointed out that Happer was obfuscating a crucial component amid his facts: that human behavior is contributing to a higher rate of carbon dioxide emissions in Earth’s atmosphere than there used to be, and that carbon emissions are a known factor of climate change.
“What he claims to not understand is the rate. It’s the speed at which we’re adding carbon dioxide [to the atmosphere],” Nye said, explaining that it’s not the existence of carbon dioxide that’s bad, but rather the rate at which humans are producing it. “What you’ve got to get is the speed at which things are changing.”
But Nye’s initial statement was about CNN’s responsibility as a news organization. As my colleague Carlos Maza recently pointed out, CNN treats its political news like a sport or theater. The network maximizes the drama by creating confrontations — one of the anchors in this segment asked Nye for his “reaction” — and in doing so, it gives false credibility to unfounded arguments and provides a platform for misinformation to spread.
What’s even more disconcerting is that, according to Media Matters, Sunday’s news shows didn’t cover the March for Science protests even though tens of thousands of people showed up to march. CNN’s panel with Nye was a somewhat rare example of mainstream media coverage of the protests, though the network was arguably more concerned with sparking a fight than discussing the purpose of the march.