Dear, Bill: Is it Hot in Here Or Is it Just Me? An Open Letter on the Urgency and Inconvenient Truth of Climate Change

Dear Bill Nye,

Everyone loves you. You know that, right? You’re the endearingly kooky, nerdy uncle we all deserve. Your métier is breaking down formidable and complex scientific principles into compact, memorable units we can all access, children and adults alike. I like you, Bill. How could you not like someone who handily wins a debate about creationism being an opinion and evolution being a fact, but, admittedly, this is low-hanging fruit for you and your fanbase, which is decidedly more NPR than NRA.

I know open letters can be a little off-putting but I really don’t know a better way to reach you. I want to make it clear again that this letter isn’t about disliking you, Bill, because, not that it really matters, but, again, I like you. I like your snazzy bow ties. I like your commitment to bringing science to people in entertaining, creative ways. I like your reassuring demeanor, your friendly attitude, your approachability. But here’s the thing: you are known as The Science Guy. Part of your popularity stems from how seamlessly “Bill Nye” and “The Science Guy” rhymed and fit together like pieces of a puzzle neatly snapping into place. I know it is not just branding, though clearly you did some very smart marketing there. I sense that you really care and are not just phoning in this persona you’ve created for a buck. For example, in your off-brand-yet-strangely-on-brand scatological segments on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver Sunday, I felt your frustration was real when you bluntly illustrated climate change with a globe you’d set on fire and yelled, “…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?!”

Here is where things get sticky for me, though. For us, really. Us being vegans. Yes, I know vegans are thought of as the Enemies of Fun but why should that matter to you? You’re supposed to be that friendly, nerdy uncle to us all, but especially with the urgency of irreversible climate change breathing its hot breath down our necks, shouldn’t you take what we have to say seriously, especially when it is backed by rigorous and current scientific research? I know it’s not fun to acknowledge our legitimacy, but isn’t the bacchanal-like attitude humans have towards the planet, her inhabitants and resources part of why you felt it such a sense of urgency to educate people about the stark and intensifying reality of climate change?

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Your segments on John Oliver’s program, which was all about the Green New Deal, did not address the meat and animal products industries’ role in advancing climate change but that’s not surprising: the Green New Deal, even as an otherwise bold initiative, only pays vaguely-worded lip service to it in one small section, glossing over the fact that animal agribusiness is one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

From water scarcity to water pollution, habitat destruction to species extinction, soil erosion to deforestation, we see the traceable and unmistakable fingerprints of animal agribusiness. According to the Livestock’s Long Shadow by the FAO, animal agribusiness generates more greenhouse gas emissions — 18 percent — as measured in CO2 equivalent than transportation. This number has been challenged, as the Worldwatch Institute puts the number far higher at 51 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and others put the number slightly lower, but the fact remains that animal agribusiness contributes to ecological peril at a massive scale. The only people you will hear argue otherwise, frankly, are either ignorant or working for the industry.

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Can you tell me why then it is so very hard to get people to discuss this topic in a serious way, especially when the bad news about our planetary trajectory is hitting so hard and so often? We have had this information for years. When An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006, many of us were treated like a bunch of wild-eyed radicals or dour buzzkills when we pointed out that focusing far more on changing to compact fluorescent lightbulbs and than shifting to a plant-based diet was, well, a convenient omission, but it really didn’t change much. When even Neil deGrasse Tyson mocks the idea of adopting plant-based diets to reduce greenhouse gases and climate change, you have to understand why, well, vegans are as exasperated as you were in that John Oliver skit. Wouldn’t you say we’re a little justified?

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I am happy to hear that you believe plant-based diets are the future. I think based on your urgency in your John Oliver segments, though, you can agree that the future is now. We don’t have time to tap dance around it. We don’t have time to play silly little games. We need to act. And, frankly, we need for people like you to say, unequivocally, that the way to save our planet (and billions of animals not born into misery) is through reducing our contribution to climate change at least three times a day through what we eat. More than saying this, I want you to adopt it, model it, and advocate fearlessly for it. I know that no one wants to be the messenger of news that may not be received well, but, Bill, you are a messenger. When we know what we know, reneging on the responsibility of that role makes you an accessory in setting our planet ablaze. While people are wringing their hands and kids are wracked with anxiety over the future, shouldn’t someone like you be offering accessible solutions?

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Plant-based diets aren’t everything, the be-all, end-all. There is much more that we can and should do. We can replace lawns with pollinator-friendly plants. We can use less pesticides and weed-killers. We can compost our food scraps. We can buy as much as possible secondhand. We can avoid plastic as much as possible and bring our own mugs, cutlery and to-go containers when dining out if that reduces waste. We can drive less, and use our feet, bikes, ride-sharing programs and public transit more. Diet is a huge part of the equation, though, and eating is something we do every day. Ignoring that is ignoring the elephant in the room. I’m not trying to be sanctimonious but I’ll risk it by asking what it will take to get through to the people who have the kind of influence like you do to model a path moving forward, which is a planet we can all inhabit and protect for generations to come?

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As you said, this is an actual crisis. We need to start acting like it. In other words, to quote you, Bill, “Safety glasses off, mother f*cker.”

With love,

Marla Rose

Marla Rose is a journalist, co-founding partner of VeganStreet.com and Vegan Street Media, and she wants you to check out this handy-dandy free guide for new (or aspiring!) vegans. If you like the work we’re doing, please consider joining our Patreon community for as little as $1.00 a week.