Brow Beat

This Trevor Noah Segment on Climate Change Deniers Pulls Back to Ask the Big Question: Why on Earth Are These People on TV to Begin With?

Trevor Noah, in front of photos of Rick Santorum and Danielle Pletka.
“Like, where else would we accept this shit?”
Comedy Central

One of the best things a satirist can do is make the familiar unfamiliar in a way that motivates his or her audience to question things they’ve been accepting as normal for too long. That’s what Trevor Noah does in this rundown of the “climate change buffoons” booked on news shows over the weekend to try to spin away the Trump administration’s report on the devastating consequences of climate change:

Usually, late night climate change denier segments follow the same form (and speaking of unquestioned premises, what kind of world are we living in that we let that become a genre?): The host airs a clip of an Exxon mouthpiece saying something profoundly stupid on a news show, then points out how stupid it is. Noah observes the form at first, mocking the American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka, a guest on Meet the Press last weekend, for spouting misleading statistics, then saying she’s “not a scientist” when anyone calls her on them:

Uh, okay. Once you say “I’m not a scientist,” why is anyone listening to your scientific opinion? “I look at this as a citizen—,” well, get the fuck out of here with your opinions as a citizen. Like, where else would we accept this shit? You tell me now, where else would we accept this? If someone told me, “Hey, Trevor, these test results say that you have cancer, but I’m not a doctor—I think you’re fine,” trust me, I would not be like, “Oh, you’re not a doctor? No, no, carry on, carry on, yeah. Tell me your thoughts on my health.”

That’s efficiently done, and there is undoubtedly value in yelling from the hillside that Pletka’s a bad faith actor, but demolishing the credibility of a right-wing liar (to no great effect on their career or the thriving market for right-wing liars) is par for the course for this kind of segment. What’s unique here is Noah’s pullback to the wide shot:

Here’s the thing: I can play clips from the news like this forever. But why? Why can I play clips like this forever? Why does the news keep bringing on non-scientists to argue against science? I mean, CNN pays Rick Santorum to come on and talk that shit. This woman’s group has gotten funding from oil companies. So why is the news having these climate deniers on? 

One of the defining characteristics of the Trump era is the realization that, in all kinds of realms, we’ve been overcomplicating moral questions that are actually not that difficult, and desperately need to reexamine some of the premises we’ve been working from. Why should a network amplify Rick Santorum and Danielle Pletka’s thoughts on this issue? What public interest is served by acting as though they have a point of view worth hearing? There are only two differences between climate change deniers and other fringe thinkers like flat earthers or spiritualists:

• No one thinks climate change deniers genuinely believe what they’re saying.
• Climate change deniers have a considerable amount of money behind them.

That’s not enough, to put it mildly. Why can these clowns buy their way into the public debate? Why do we treat it as a mitigating factor that Pletka, a graduate of Smith and Johns Hopkins, is probably not as stupid as she pretends to be for money? None of this should ever have been okay, and if we’re going to make it through the coming century, it’s on all of us to make sure we never treat it like it’s okay again.