by NICK BUCHANAN
Let’s take a short trip down memory lane to grade school – more specifically, those few days every year when the teacher was absent. To replace that day’s scheduled lesson, a substitute teacher would haul in the tube television strapped atop a wheeled utility cart and press play on a very specific videocassette – one that began with a blaring theme song that spawned a chorus of chanting fourth graders: “Bill! Bill! Bill!”
For current college students, the love for Bill Nye the Science Guy, a live-action children’s comedy show that packaged science lessons into quirky, fast-paced shticks, is arguably one of the most ubiquitous elementary school memories. Bringing the title persona himself out of the television and onto the stage, a neighboring university in Tiffin allowed its students the chance for a nostalgia blast as young adults by inviting Bill Nye to speak to the campus on Jan. 25.
Nye was invited to Heidelberg University as part of its HYPE program, a mandatory first-year experience program for new students, and is one of six keynote speakers to be featured throughout this academic year. Astronaut James Lovell, activist John Prendergast, and sportscaster Pam Oliver were among those who spoke on campus last semester.
Much more than a children’s television personality, Nye is also a graduate of Cornell University, the chief executive officer of the Planetary Society, and a progressive activist for renewable energy and space exploration.
Allison Burd, the president of Heidelberg’s student senate, said in her introduction that the HYPE program means to instill six core skills: collaboration, communication, conflict management, job search skills, values, and work styles. The lattermost category was what Nye was to address, but within the first few minutes of his speech, he jumped into a discussion on climate change instead.
“2016 is the hottest year on record. Every year is the hottest year on record. I know it sounds like fun, but this could be really serious business,” he said. “The world has never gotten this warm this fast. […] In my opinion – which, as you know, is correct – we have to get to work on climate change.”
Later in his presentation, after speaking a bit about his travels to Greenland and his work with space programs, he drew attention to a small white speckle on a photograph taken from the perspective of the Cassini spacecraft as it reached the south pole of Saturn.
“The Earth is right there – it’s one dot. That’s everybody you’ve ever met. That’s everything you’ve ever eaten. It’s on that one dot. Everybody who’s ever run for any government is on that dot. We’re all from that dot. There is no place to go, you guys,” Nye said, stressing the importance of the preservation of our planet out of necessity.
Holding firm that Earth is the only planet capable of sustaining human life and must be protected, he criticized a lofty proposal from Elon Musk, the chief executive officer of Tesla Motors, to send shuttles of 100 people each to the planet Mars.
“Now, that all sounds very cool and romantic, like some sort of extraordinary, fabulous camping trip,” he said. “But you guys, when you get to Mars, there’s not only nothing to eat, there’s hardly anything to drink. This third one, you’ll notice right away: There’s nothing to breathe. Like, if you open the door, you’ll die in a few seconds – and that sounds fun.”
His eco-conscious messages came just days after President Donald Trump, who doesn’t believe in climate change, issued a gag order upon the Environmental Protection Agency, restricting issuance of press releases, public statements, or social media interaction. Though Nye never mentioned Trump, his environmentally unfriendly politics, or his gag order explicitly, he presented a map that represented the outcome of the 2016 presidential election – had only Millennials voted.
“The electoral map would have looked very different, and the progressives would have won without much difficulty,” he said. “So you guys are going to be taking over the world, and I want you to become not Generation X, not Generation Y, not even Millennials. I want you to be Generation S – for science. I want you to make scientifically informed decisions when you vote.”
Referring to the stories of his parents – his father, a World War II veteran who was held as a prisoner of war in Japan for four years, and his mother, a classified codebreaker during the same war – he stressed the importance of progressive minds to shape history. As he drew to a conclusion, Nye quoted the inscription of sundial instruments (or “gizmos,” as he called them) on Mars rovers.
“On the last of the four sides, it says, ‘To those who visit here, we wish a safe journey and the joy of discovery,’” he said. “And that, my friends, is the essence of this business: It’s the joy of discovery. Our ancestors who did not feel the joy of discovery are not really our ancestors. They got outcompeted by the other guys and gals who wanted to go over the next hill and see what was on the other side – and learn about new stream flows, and new plants to grow, and new things to eat, and new things to discover. Those are our ancestors. This joy for discovery is deep within us, and I want you all, as part of ‘Generation Science,’ to celebrate this.”
As he closed his presentation, he left one last declarative call to action: “With your brains, my friends, you can – dare I say it – change the world.”
Despite his polarizing topics of conversation, the audience stood collectively in his honor, without any vocalized opposition, as he pulled out his iPhone and began to take a panoramic picture of the crowd from his place on stage.
“I did expect him to talk about climate change, because that’s his biggest project right now,” said Chelsea Jones, a Heidelberg University student who normally does not attend events on campus but was drawn by the name Bill Nye.
Although Nye’s divisive, politically charged topics of conversation strayed far from the day’s itinerary, Jones said that she felt his presentation came full-circle and radiated a message of positivity.
Like Jones, fellow Heidelberg University undergraduate students Lauren Gruber and Rachel Peters align with Nye’s views on climate change and enjoyed his presentation.
“I kept waiting for him to go into the topic, like, ‘this is my work style,’” said Gruber, a self-proclaimed ‘90s kid who was excited to see one of the prominent figures of her childhood. “So it wasn’t what I was expecting, but nonetheless, I really liked what he had to say.”
Gruber was optimistic about the student body’s reception to Nye’s messages, citing some uproar from the audience when a moderator tried to prohibit Nye from taking questions in the name of time constraints. Peters, meanwhile, remained hopeful that anybody in the audience who may have disagreed with his opinions on climate change could find a few points of interest to take away from the speech.
“I’m sure that there were some science majors that were probably a little bit annoyed,” Peters said. “Either way, he’s just pushing the idea that we can always make things better. And regardless of your feelings on climate change, a greener Earth is always a good solution.”