Late night hosts tried to solve the climate crisis (spoiler: they didn't)

Seth Meyers/Twitter

The weather this summer has been, uh, terrifying. Extreme heat boiled the normally-cool Pacific Northwest. Two hurricanes flooded New York City's subway system, creating somewhat of an underground tsunami. Wildfires once again raged across the West. Climate change is no longer a threat of the distant future. Its effects are already here, and they're only going to get much worse.

Most young people are feeling incredibly anxious about this grim future, and our dread is compounded by the sense that there's not much we can do to mitigate the damage — unless world leaders, major corporations and other powerful global entities take drastic action. The ultimate feat is going to be convincing them to prioritize people over capitalism. Hahahahahaha.

Amid this not-at-all funny and extremely dire situation, late-night comedians banded together to raise awareness about climate change. Stephen Colbert, James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah and Samantha Bee all participated in Climate Night on Wednesday, dedicating a portion of their respective shows to the most pressing global issue facing humanity.

Late-night rarely jokes about climate change. The excuse is that the end of the world isn't particularly funny. Instead, a lot of hosts are still dwelling on Trump and America's tenuous grip on democracy. But as Kimmel put it last night: "The pandemic, systemic racism, income inequality, immigration, gun violence — but here’s the thing. If we don’t address climate change, none of those issues will matter at all. The car is going off a cliff and we’re fiddling with the radio."

Colbert made a quip about how climate change won't be solved by a handful of comedians: "Crisis solved — just as surely as when all those celebrities sang 'Imagine' and ended Covid," he joked. But the guy who came up with Climate Night — comedy veteran Steve Bodow, the former executive producer of Netflix's Patriot Act and The Daily Show — believes making big changes is easier when people aren't afraid to talk about daunting issues. "Laughing at a problem can help make the problem seem less intimidating — maybe even more solvable," Bodow told CBS. "And, god help us, late-night TV is a place where a lot of people do get a lot of information."

As we saw on Wednesday, some tactics for making climate change entertaining work better than others. The standout of the night (no surprise) was Full Frontal With Samantha Bee. She started and ended her show with a bit about powering the episode with "the world's strongest renewable resource: Sam's quads," showing an increasingly exhausted Bee riding a stationary bike affixed to a generator. Full Frontal delivers smart, impactful comedy on the regular, and Bee dedicated the bulk of her broadcast to America's crumbling water infrastructure. "That’s led to catastrophic flooding and sewage overflows around the country. And not just in the liberal urban hell holes you’d expect, but also in the red states that God doesn’t hate," she quipped.

The biggest letdown was Trevor Noah's scattershot segment about the "weird little things" climate change is altering about our world. He did a strangely long bit about the potential extinction of sea turtles. You see, sand temperature determines the sex of their offspring, and hotter beaches are leading to mostly female turtles, so Noah made a ton of jokes about the few males being exhausted from having sex all the time. He also cited studies about how hotter temperatures lead to humans having less sex and fighting more. Noah also linked the Taliban winning in Afghanistan to climate change, joked about how beards and burqas are uncomfortable in the heat, and used a fake Arabic accent to mimic an Afghani person asking the Taliban permission to wear shorts. For a guy with a track record of saying pretty wise things about other social issues, like police brutality and racism, it was disappointing to see him fumble the ball on climate change.

Climate Night was a fine idea, but it'd be better if late-night made global warming a central topic on a regular basis. The news cycle is so fleeting, entertainers in all mediums should talk about climate change often enough to keep it top of people's minds. It's probable that things will only get worse unless huge swaths of the world's population start demanding that the people in power make big changes to the way the world currently works. If laughter can somehow spark the outrage and motivation needed to save the planet, late-night should really go for it.