With his signature bow tie and nerdy science jokes, Bill Nye visited campus to share a humorous lecture with a crowd of over 2,000 Mines’ students, faculty and alumni. While Nye spoke about everything from sundial science to his recent trip to Greenland, his biggest message encouraged today’s engineers to use science to save the world from climate change.
“The reason the earth’s climate is changing is pretty simple,” he said, discussing just how thin the earth’s atmosphere is. Nye also illustrated how quickly earth’s population is exploding and how hot the earth’s climate is trending.
“When I look at these challenges [climate change], I think of my parents,” Nye explained. He recounted the story of his parent’s involvement in World War II; his father was a WWII veteran eventually taken as a POW in Japan, and his mother performed classified work with the Navy as a code breaker. Nye emphasized the tremendous amount of effort and world cooperation that winning the war required.
“Everybody got involved in World War II, everybody,” he stated. “In 20 years, they changed everything.” Nye explained that addressing climate change will require the same level of involvement, and laid out specific goals of getting clean water and internet access for everyone on earth, using wind and solar power for energy, and improving battery technology and electric vehicles.
While his message was serious, Nye incorporated many of the humorous elements characteristic of his popular TV show, including three new words (cerulescence, xanthadescence, and orangidescence), a moment of running around stage and screaming, and plenty of “dudes” and “whoas.” There was also a surprise birthday call to Neil deGrasse Tyson, which naturally turned the audience’s attention to the cosmos.
“With all this earth-bound trouble that you guys are going to resolve, I want us to remember that what makes this nation worth defending is what we do in the big picture,” Nye explained. While he currently serves as CEO of the planetary society, Nye’s fascination with space has deep roots. As a student at Cornell University, Nye took a course taught by Carl Sagan, who helped found the planetary society in 1980.
“The reason I got involved with the planetary society is because space exploration brings out the best in us,” Nye stated. He discussed the inherent optimism of space exploration and used a diagram of space to illustrate the sheer size of the universe.
“It’s up to us to take care of ourselves,” he said. “With your brain you can understand all of this. With your brain you can know the cosmos and your place within it. And with our brains, my friends, working together we can…dare I say it…change the world!”
See also: Featured Interview with Bill Nye