Astrophysicist and host of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey Neil deGrasse Tyson infuriated climate change deniers on Sunday when a climate change-focused episode of Cosmos was aired on Fox and the National Geographic channel on Monday. Cosmos is no stranger to stirring up controversy among certain sectors of the population who disbelieve climate change, the Big Bang, and evolution, all subjects that the show, originally created and hosted by Carl Sagan, has now touched upon.
The 13-episode series will conclude this coming Sunday by airing Unafraid of the Dark, and has seen remarkably high viewership. The climate change episode tied ABC’s The Bachelorette in ratings among advertisers’ “key demographic,” young adult viewers. Tyson notes that the most important fact is that although “the ratings are exceeding our expectations,” the show demonstrates that science is “trending in our culture.”
Tyson made an important distinction in Sunday’s episode between weather and climate change. Certain infuriated deniers have attempted to refute climate change pointing to weather patterns, corrected by the host in Sunday’s Cosmos episode. One of the more infamous examples of this sort of denial was Donald Trump’s tweet earlier in the year which included the statements “Our planet is freezing … our GW scientists are stuck in ice.”
Tyson used a visual analogy to distinguish between short-term weather patterns and long-term trends in climate change by walking his dog on a beach. In the analogy the leashed dog is weather and Tyson is climate, comparing the meandering pooch as weather making short-term erratic changes with Tyson’s consistent path being the long-term trend of a changing climate. This clip in the episode highlights the fact that although winters may continue to be inconveniently cold, at least for now, climate change is predicted by major scientific research conducted by institutions such as NASA and the World Meteorological Organization to have very serious ramifications in the not-so-distant future.
The dog on the beach analogy was a simple reminder of the distinction of weather and climate. The episode beyond that visual was more characteristically expansive in its explanation of climate change, looking at the oxygenation of the atmosphere through burgeoning plant life in the Carboniferous period 300 million years ago, and other ancient periods of dramatic climate change including ice ages, continental drift, and asteroid impacts.
“We just can’t seem to stop burning … coal … oil and gas,” Tyson stated in the episode. “If we could, we’d be home free.” The episode began with a trip in the “Ship of the Imagination” to Venus, our sister planet, to review what its runaway greenhouse effect did to the inner solar system planet. The planet is depicted with boiling oceans and “sickening yellow” skies. Tyson’s predecessor Carl Sagan extensively studied the greenhouse effect of Venus, and planetary fates as determined by megaforces.
Tyson appeared on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes the day following Fox’s broadcasting of Cosmos. In the interview, while Tyson affirmed that in the United States people are free to “believe what you want,” the problem is when governance is not “based on objective and verifiable truths.” While last Sunday’s Cosmos episode was predictably infuriating to some climate change deniers, Tyson points to a surefire way to get more people to come around to its acceptance: “People beginning to lose their wealth.”
By Jesse Eells-Adams