In an unprecedented coordination, eight nighttime talk shows Wednesday each spotlighted the devastating effects of global climate change, with NBC's "Late Night" host Seth Meyers offering a topical parody of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire."
"This is how bad climate change is getting — wildfires in the West, floods in the East, freezing cold in Texas," Meyers, 47, began the bit, following clips of news reports of unusual and extreme weather scientists say is caused by rising temperatures due primarily to human burning of fossil fuels. "Billy Joel's going to have to write an update for 2021," Meyers continued, "and call it 'Actually We Did Start the Fire.' "
He then sang an a cappella parody to the tune of the 1989 No. 1 hit by Hicksville-raised music icon Joel. Replacing the song's litany of mid- to late 20th-century historical events, Meyers name-checked entities including technology billionaire Bill Gates, the TV series "Mare of Easttown" and "Ted Lasso," California Gov. Gavin Newsom, the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and others.
Only three lines referenced climate change: "Wildfires, power's down," "Tracks flooding, toxic air" and "Hurricanes, tornadoes."
Afterward Meyers quipped, "Say what you will: That's not a worse song than the original" — which aside from having topped the Billboard pop charts has remained influential enough that this year it inspired two online projects. The music video "The History of Scotch Whisky," from the website Whisky and Wisdom, repurposes the tune with lighthearted lyrics tracing Scotch from its disputed origins to the present. The history podcast "We Didn't Start the Fire" uses a term from the song in each episode as a springboard to discuss how that subject helped shape global events.
Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Joel is not involved in either online project, and has not commented publicly on the "Late Night" parody.
The other shows participating in Climate Night, created by former "Daily Show" executive producer Steve Bodow, were ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," Bravo's "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen," the CBS shows "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" and "The Late Late Show with James Corden," Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah," NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" and TBS' "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee."
The shows' guests included figures on the forefront of fighting climate change, including scientists Jane Goodall and Katharine Hayhoe, activist Greta Thunberg, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, and Gates, author of the recent, well-reviewed book "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need."