Remember when Tucker Carlson claimed climate activists want to shrink America’s kids? Well, buckle up: The Fox News host aired another nonsense climate segment on his show on Monday evening, during which his guest mused that the Left could have “climate vaccines” and Carlson—surprisingly—pitched an idea that we have endorsed on this very website. Because I’m a saint, I watched it all so you don’t have to. Let’s get started!
The segment starts with an old trope: private jet use by liberal politicians. This time, it was Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg’s turn into the hot seat. For his opening monologue, Carlson launched into an extended riff comparing Buttigieg’s (relatively tame) focus on carbon emissions in transportation to a religion in which, in Carlson’s mind, Buttigieg is a central, priest-like figurehead. “Our climate, who art in heaven,” is one of Carlson’s jokes here. Doesn’t quite work, Tuck—think you should send that one back to the writer’s room.
The gotcha here, of course, is that Buttigieg, like basically every other high-powered individual and politician, uses private jets for some of his travel. “Reverend Pete is the Jimmy Swaggart of climate clergy,” Carlson says, comparing him to the popular and disgraced 1980s televangelist. He goes on to name and shame other “climate activists” for flying private, including Jeff Bezos and Taylor Swift. Not sure if Swift has ever actually done any climate advocacy beyond simply existing as a Democratic voter, but it’s true: Taylor had a problematically large carbon footprint from her private jet use this year.
“The real crime here is against the climate,” Carlson says. “None of these planes that Pete Buttigieg were jetting around in were solar powered. Not a single one ran on a windmill, or recycled French Fry oil.” (I’d love to see a windmill on a plane, but I digress.)
Carlson then does something shocking: He actually shares real statistics on the emissions from private jets and how carbon-intensive private flights are. Hearing actual facts on Tucker Carlson is kind of like seeing a dog driving a car, but as damaging as private jet use is, I somehow don’t think Carlson is actually worried about this issue.
He then does something even more shocking and appears to advocate for abolishing private jets altogether—an idea we’ve written about favorably on this website before. “Anyone who claims to be serious about fighting climate change,” he says, “should demand, tomorrow morning, a federal law against private air travel.” I agree! But this feels like a trap.
All that actual data and nearly enlightened rhetoric, sadly, was just to drive home his real point, which was that “the climate movement is about creating a permanent caste system” allowing rich and powerful people to continue to emit CO2, which, in Carlson’s estimation, isn’t truly a problem. So close to getting it, Tucker, and yet so far.
That was all a little too easy to follow, but don’t worry: Carlson then introduced guest Joe Bastardi, author of books with titles like The Weaponization of Weather in the Phony Climate War and a history of bad scientific takes. Bastardi is a meteorologist by training, although he’s long been a tool of the right-wing for-profit weather machine, working first for denial-lite service AccuWeather before starting his own private weather forecasting company. He’s also a Fox News climate-denier regular: In September, the network had him on to rant about climate change and Democrats during Hurricane Ian.
I’ll post a transcript of Bastardi’s comments here, because they’re not easy to paraphrase:
Carlson: I’m not sure you buy the whole program that they’re laying out here, but let’s say for a moment that you did—that you really thought carbon emissions were causing climate change, and it was not just one of the many cycles this Earth has seen over the past 20 million years. Let’s say you believe that. Why wouldn’t you be mad at Pete Buttigieg and everyone else who flies private?
Bastardi: Well, I don’t know. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought today, because I had to drive from Iowa City all the way to Pittsburgh, and when I went by South Bend, oddly enough it hit me. There are three possibilities here, in my opinion, just looking at this, okay.
First is, they’ve all got climate vaccines. We don’t know about them, but unlike the covid vaccine, they actually work, so whatever they do, they’re immune from it. So that’s a possibility. That’s a long shot.
The second, Tucker, is, that if bad weather stops air travel, and it stops car travel, if you can cause more bad weather, right, then guess what? Everybody can’t drive. For instance, next week, and the week after? Watch how much bad weather comes into the United States. It’s going to be the coldest, snowiest period around the Christmas time since 2000. So we’re gonna see planes, and trains, and all these other things shut down. So if you just dump all this CO2 in the atmosphere, your assumption is, hey, CO2 causes bad weather, if I could cause more bad weather, then guess what? Other people won’t be able to fly, and we’ll have less CO2 emissions.
I know that Bastardi is making jokes here, about vaccines and people who still fly but talk about the need to cut our CO2 emissions, with a side of some weather control conspiracies. The jokes are bad and difficult to follow, and I guarantee some Fox News viewers will take him literally.
Then he gets to his real point, which is scarcely more coherent than his jokes:
Bastardi: Or the third possibility, exactly what you said: it’s a phony climate war, it’s fraudulent. When we talked back in July, we talked about how it’s going to get cold earlier this year across the United States, that has nothing to do with CO2, what it has to do is the natural cycles of the weather, and what happens is these people are taking advantage of people who fall prey to this, and this is what they’re doing. There’s no logic or reason for it except they are trying to establish a caste system that destroys the greatest experiment of freedom and individuality, which is this country.
Carlson agreed. “If you really believed that carbon was a pollutant, you’d be planting pine, and spruce, and hemlock, and evergreens across the United States,” he said. “But they’re cutting them down to make way for highways and dollar stores.” (I’m not sure which point in the Biden administration’s climate plan says to “cut down trees for dollar stores,” but okay.)
I don’t write about this stuff to make everyone feel like they’ve lost grip on reality, although I’m happy to have you join me in feeling like your brain is melting out of your ears. Carlson is an incredibly influential figure in Republican politics and a juggernaut of conservative cable news. Wild, nonsensical shit with zero basis in science or reality is a good look at how the Republican party is pitching climate science to its base. And there are seeds of tired rhetoric in the slop served up here: the idea that climate regulations are Communist, the familiar Republican obsession with trees being a fix-all climate solution, the comparative lack of focus on actual science—a hands-off “we don’t know what CO2 is actually doing, but regulations are bad” kind of approach. (Even Bastardi’s jokes about weather control are close to some Q-Anon conspiracies members of Congress have espoused.)
And let’s not ignore how other kinds of right-wing propaganda are being woven into these climate segments. Bastardi’s vaccine joke, which he repeated later on Twitter, was no accident; it’s clear he’s testing out the ways that he can capitalize on covid misinformation fervor. One of the chyrons that flashed during the segment was “‘DETRANSITIONED’ NAVY SEAL TALKS TO TUCKER,” and his mocking tone as he mentioned Buttigieg’s travel for “LGBTQ+ advocacy” was another dogwhistle. It’s a reminder that the special interests invested in slowing down climate action have their hands in a lot of other political issues, too.