Environmental advocate, television host, licensed mechanical engineer, and creator of an award-winning syndicated television show, Bill Nye is also a widely read author (most recently, he penned Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation and Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World). Lately, he spends much of his time challenging climate deniers and science illiterates. Currently, Nye serves as CEO of The Planetary Society, which sponsors projects to seed innovative space technologies and advocates for future space exploration, and has a line of limited edition Nick Graham bow ties, with 10 percent of sales supporting the organization.
Adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts are encountering effects of climate change firsthand – from the melting Arctic and Everest to coral bleaching in the tropics. What will they see in the coming months?
I was at Glacier National Park a few weeks ago, and the official line is that the glaciers will be gone by 2030. But the 10 or so rangers I spoke with all said no, they’ll be gone in five years. Glacier National Park will be named after historical topography. The glaciers will be gone in less than 10 years, and that’s an effect you would notice, especially if you have expectation of seeing glaciers in Glacier National Park.
You’ll also see acres and acres of dead trees, killed by pine bark beetles because the beetles are not getting killed in the winter months.
The whole thing about climate change is the speed with which it is happening. This is what people really have trouble with, the rapidity. You could go somewhere now and go back in three years and see changes. Those rangers are seeing the park change year by year.
Will climate change open up new parts of the world to explorers or close off others?
The big thing is the Arctic. People will be able to go from Siberia to Eastern Canada without traditional trouble with the ice. Loss of ice and snow is the main deal around the world.
Desertification, changing forest into deserts, might close off some areas. Some islands will be underwater, because the ocean is getting bigger — when things get warmer, they expand. It is sad, but it is the way of the world, and humans brought it on because, well, we are so hilariously human.
Do you see adventurers and explorers as stewards of the planet? In what ways?
The old saying is take only pictures. Pack out what you pack in. The little things that we do — not recycling a water bottle, using more water than we need while shaving or showering — are important. It is a habit; get in the habit of not wasting things.
But, in my opinion, we need big ideas. Wind turbines off the U.S. coast, photovoltaic panels all over West Virginia. We need to supply the internet to villages in West Africa, powered with solar panels in space. This is all do-able, and there are so-called business cases for some of it. But it is going to take the cooperation of governments around the world, supported by taxpayers and voters.
We have someone running for President of the United States, arguably the most influential person in the world, who says he doesn’t believe in human-caused climate change. That is a big thing to overcome, but I’m not saying it can’t be done. I want to emphasize that we need big ideas. The small steps I associate with ecotourism and, for lack of a better term, environmental snobbery, those are good and important things. But the big things are big changes, especially in energy production, specifically electricity. Electricity is magical, with it you can do astonishing things.
Is it imperative that we explore beyond this planet, or should we be focusing on Earth instead?
My friends, you have to do everything all at once. If you were a politician and someone said, "Do you want to save the rainforest or build a new stadium somewhere — or let’s say Rio, do you want to have an Olympics or clean up the water?" You want to do both. Everything, all at once. And you want your policies to be consistent — when you build that stadium you want it to be environmentally responsible.
We want three things for everyone in the world — clean water, reliable electricity, and information via the internet or whatever the next version is. That is what we want. Is that so wrong? Whatever you are doing, whatever you are constructing or taking apart, whatever tour you go on, be consistent with that.
And we want to raise the standard of living of women and girls so the population of humans steadily and manageably decreases. That is the number one way to reduce the world population of humans.
What can adventurers, outdoors enthusiasts, citizens of the world do about climate change?
Vote. That’s what I tell everybody. Jeb Bush, a government employee in Florida for a long time, recently told newspeople he is not going to vote [in the presidential election]. I say, dude, duuuuude, dude, dude. I give that four dudes. That is just really not paying attention.
You have a friendly competition with Ed Begley to reduce your carbon footprint more than he does. What specific things can people do to reduce theirs?
Ed is kicking my butt now. He moved about a mile away and took a house apart and rebuilt it all groovy and green. So I have a tough row to hoe. Nevertheless, I’m installing new rain barrels and a rain recovery system. The other big change I may make is my water heating. These are cool problems to have. It is a process, I emphasize that to everybody. My house was built in the 1950s.
If you are a home owner, replace your windows with more efficient windows. It costs about as much as a car to do that, and while your car lasts five or maybe 10 years, the windows work for 50 years, and you save all this money in the meantime. Plus, your house is cooler or warmer and quieter.
Then, have reflective or white roofs to the extent possible, or at least roofs that aren’t as dark.
If you’re an apartment dweller, turn the thermostat up in summer and down in winter and don’t waste water. Turn lights off. Why do you want lights on when you come in the apartment? I spend a lot of time in hotels, and I come into hotel rooms and all the lights are on. Really?
You have to be optimistic. You have to believe you can solve these problems or you will not solve them. So let’s go everybody, let’s save the world.