Tucker Carlson is freaking out about something a professor said at a conference five years ago, as Tucker Carlson is prone to do. He also used those remarks to insinuate they’re about the future scientists want despite that being false, as Tucker Carlson is prone to do.
In a segment on Tuesday night, the Fox News host played a clip of Matthew Liao, a bioethicist at New York University, speaking at the 2016 World Science Festival. In it, Liao discusses using forms of what he calls “human engineering”—or genetic modification—to curb the climate crisis. The ideas are bad, but they’re utterly fringe. Activists are clamoring for transforming society, not individual humans. You’d never know that from watching the segment, though.
In one clip, Liao suggested that as a means of lowering meat consumption to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, we could find ways to artificially induce meat intolerances.
“Given that climate change is an existential threat that is limiting our time on Earth to 10 years or 12 years or six months or pick your exaggeration,” Carlson said mockingly, “It’s hard to imagine that a pill like that would be optional.”
In another clip from the 2016 conference, Liao said that since it takes more energy to transport large people than small ones, we could use human engineering to make people have smaller children. At this suggestion, Carlson went wild.
“All we need to do is experiment on human children! Then we can solve climate change,” he said mockingly while implying that climate change is a lie that’s part of a plot to shrink human babies.
To be clear, I agree that mandatory changes to human biology would be a bad thing. I’ll go on record and say that I am not down with people being forced to shrink their kids—bold statement, I know. Instead, I want policies that both lower carbon pollution and boost democracy, which are far more popular than some rando’s musings from five years ago. Of course, Carlson likes to pretend those don’t exist.
Carlson played these sensational remarks on his show and suggested that these ideas are part of “dangerous and potentially world-altering experiments ... going on right now,” but there’s no evidence that Liao’s ideas will ever be put into action. There are, however, mountains of evidence that the climate crisis is currently “dangerous” and definitely “world-altering.” Just look at the high temperatures—which scientists called “DEADLY”—that the West is seeing right now, or at what climate change has done to the Arctic.
Carlson’s clearly not interested in that evidence, though, because he’s consistently characterized climate science as a liberal conspiracy. Just this week, he had on a well-known climate denier who used to work at the energy giant BP.
Liao, perhaps not surprisingly, took issue with Carlson’s characterization. “For the record, I’ve never said that government should force people not to eat meat,” he said on Twitter. (It’s also worth noting that in a 2017 TED Talk, Liao talks not about mandatory pills, but about patches to curb meat cravings modeled after the nicotine patches that people use when quitting smoking. Decidedly less spooky.)
What Carlson is doing is exactly in line with new conservative attacks on climate action. Rather than portraying the issue honestly as one that will require systemic change, right wingers have used it to fan the flames of the culture war and pretend it’s all a ploy to control people’s lives. It’s a straight line from Carlson’s bad faith segment on one scientist’s statement from five years ago to the bad faith segments all over Fox and conservative media earlier this year about President Joe Biden’s non-existent plan to reduce meat consumption.
Carlson claimed that he’s concerned that these human engineering schemes and thereby climate policies as a whole are a threat to “democracy.” But what’s truly corrosive to democracy is the amount of oil money stopping climate action and stooges like Carlson lying in the service of those industries. The majority of Americans actually want stronger climate policies. The policies people want, of course, are things like public jobs programs that promote environmental conservation, not medicine that gives you a meat allergy.
For every sci-fi proposal out there to address climate change, there are a million more calls to simply regulate energy, sue polluting companies, and protect ecosystems. If we don’t take those kinds of actions, we’ll actually increase our risk of facing down more authoritarian policies, the likes of which Carlson is freaking out about. If Carlson really cared about democracy, he’d get on board with the science that clearly shows climate change, not a plot to shrink babies, is the real threat.