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Bill Nye Transcript

Mary Hamula | 2/12/16 8:46am
| Updated 2/12/16 8:46am

Bill Nye Interview Transcript: February 9th, 2016

American Word-Mary Hamula

Q: How do you decide which bow tie to wear each day?

“It’s a great question, and it’s getting harder and harder, because I have more and more of them. It’s very troubling, but I get through it. You start out with what suit or sport coat you want to wear it with, and you work your way to bow ties. Now, first to admit sometimes I start with a bowtie. First to say. And then I gotta work the other way. Now, just trying to break it up tonight, just trying to move it along, I am only carrying one of my new lines, from my new line of bowties. And I did this with a designer named Nick Graham, and you’ve heard of Nick Graham because he was the guy who came up with Joe Boxer. That was his brand, did very well with that for many years, then he sort of retired, and he’s back in the fashion business and we crossed paths and he said ‘You ever done bowties?’, but there’s only twelve of them, and four of them are the planetary society theme so it’s a little limited, I’ve been wearing the same ones over and over again for the last month or so. so this is, this is a planetary society bowtie, but it’s not a Nick Graham bowtie. Do you see what it says, it says, ‘New York, Outer Space, and London.’”

Q: How do you deal with and confront or handle climate change deniers?

“I’m working on it! The first thing is just why, why? Why don’t you believe in climate change. And I, I reject the idea that there’s a conspiracy of scientists getting government money, it’s just not reasonable. Conspiracy theories are, in general, lazy. If only there were, you know, four or five dozen people running the whole world, all we’d have to do is find them and then we could just change things. But it’s not, there’s more than that. It’s not really a conspiracy. So I, I work on it. Especially this year it’s really important, climate change is a huge issue because of the national election of the world’s biggest economy, the United States.”

Q: Many young students studying science say you are kind of like a father figure to them, and the one who first got them interested in science. How do you feel about being such an influential figure to our generation?

“It’s amazing, it’s very gratifying, And as I say all the time, I don’t think I get it. Like, the scope of it, the scale of it, is overwhelming. SO many people come up to me and express that, ‘the reason I’m an engineer,’ ‘the reason I’m a physician,’ ‘the reason I’m a’ whatever, ‘you were my childhood,’ and I go, ‘really?’ I put my heart and soul into the thing, you know what I mean, I worked as hard as I possibly could at that time, and I’m very gratified. I’m overwhelmed. Verklempt!”

Q: What’s your best piece of advice for college students who want to make a difference?

“Vote. No question. Vote vote vote. And if you’re, I mean, almost everybody’s 18, there’s just a trace percentage of people who are 17 next November right, some prodigies who got into college. Vote. If young people who are concerned about the environment vote, we will change the world! And yes, you don’t wanna throw away plastic water bottles, and yes you don’t wanna run errands by yourself in your sport utility vehicle to buy chocolate in Baltimore or whatever it is, but the single thing you can do this year especially is vote.”

Q: What was collaborating with Steve Aoki like? Why did you decide to dive into the world of music?

“It’s fun, c’mon it’s fun. We’re gonna do ‘Neon Dream’, we’re going to talk about the atomic number of the Noble Gases. It’s gonna be nothing but fun. He’s popular, he’s a big deal just mixing music. They made a big deal, I was watching the news this morning about Mark Ronson, you know Uptown Funk, it’s kind of the greatest song ever, kind of. I would love to do a song that cool, well I certainly strive to do a song that cool. You know they were gonna call it ‘Just Watch,’ for a while they weren’t going to call it Uptown Funk? I mean, dude, c’mon. I mean, I think they made, the two of them made the right decision.”

The Eagle-Jillian O’Donohoe

Q:Were you always interested in science?

“As far as I know, I was interested in science since I was 3. It might’ve been sort of 3 ½. I got stung by a bee, and it surprised me. And of course I was so upset, I was young. I was three, I was very upset! My mom put ammonia on it, you know what I mean, people still clean windows with ammonia, before Windex was everywhere you’d buy a bottle of ammonia and mix it with water to clean glass. And it had a skull and crossbones on the bottle, and I was terrified, but it made the sting feel better, and it was magic. I remember I watched bees a lot, I spent a lot of time watching bees.”

Q: Is there someone who inspired you?

“Oh I had a whole bunch of really good teachers. I remember Mrs. McGonagall in second grade made an oasis in an aquarium and I thought that was pretty cool, where underground water would flow to make a wet place, that was very cool. And then, I had a great sixth grade teacher, Mr. Lawrence, I had a great physics teacher Mr. Lang, and I had a good chemistry teacher, Ms. Rushka, and Mr. Morris for math, these people were all hugely influential, Mr. Barnes, hugely influential. So, I had a lot of good teachers. And then I had Carl Sagan when I was in college, for astronomy, that was life-changing.”

Q: Why have you decided that climate change is the biggest issue, why is it so important to you?

“Because if we don’t do something about it, the quality of life of people like you will be very low, much lower than mine was when I was your age, let alone your kids, their kids, will have tremendous trouble if we don’t address climate change as soon as possible. Cause we have human population growing at an extraordinary, literally an exponential rate. And so there’s 7 billion, 7.3 billion people today, there will be 9 billion by 2050, maybe 10 billion by 2060. And all those people are gonna wanna eat something. You have to grow enough food for them, somehow. And if the climate changes dramatically, we won’t be able to farm in the traditional ways, pests will be a huge issue. Parasitic, parasites, diseases will be on crops, it’ll be a huge problem, and we don’t have an infrastructure. Let’s say you start growing crops in Saskatawan instead of Nebraska. There aren’t roads and highways and trains to ship that, not right now. It’s been the last 200 years, developing all that infrastructure. And that’s in North America, let alone the developing world where Islands are underwater, coastal towns are being flooded. It’s a huge problem people!”

Q: Going back to what you were saying about climate change, and about farming and agriculture, where do you stand on GMOs and genetically modified foods?

“Oh I’m not opposed to genetically modified food. But we don’t want to have industrial scale farming practices that are not sustainable in the medium term. What we have, we have accidentally created a food system in the U.S. that rewards overproduction of corn and soybeans and does not have a lot of diversity in the field, and it’s hard for poor people to get high-quality food. So we can change that, it’s a sort of something that happened, I won’t say accidentally, but the farm lobby has been very successful and the congressmen and senators from those farming areas have not been inclined to promote diverse agriculture, but this a solvable problem. We can do this. But genetically modified plants, in general, are pretty good, because it’s very straightforward to prove that they’re safe to eat, we have, the expression, “lab rats.” The thing is now, they have been able to show that you can also predict what will happen in the ecosystem, because you know the genes so well. Literally 10 million genes, you can assay genes 10 million times faster than you could even 10 years ago, 10 to the seventh. Because the machines are so sophisticated, the agents are so well developed, so readily available. So it’s not the genetically modified food that’s troublesome, it’s the industrial scale farming that is subsidized in a way that is not in everybody’s best interest. Solvable problem! Policy problem, more than a science problem. It’s hardly a science problem, it’s a policy problem.”

FOLLOW UP: I guess I’m just interested because I’m also a vegetarian, so does going not even entirely meatless but eating less meat, does that play any role in the health of the environment?

“Well it certainly should, one would expect it to. So we have in the United States, this not especially well regulated, I would say not especially well thought through practice of the confined animal feeding operation, the CAFO. The CAFOs that I’ve run across are really bad. Destroy the streams, destroy the soil, all the food for the animals has to be brought in, they’re kept confined and animal diseases get easily transmitted, the farmers or the ranchers overuse antibiotics to allow themselves to confine the animals that way, and the environmental effect has been bad. Again, the science of it isn’t that hard it’s the policy. If we regulate farming, just a little bit, or ranching, just a little bit, you could avoid confined animal feeding operations. ‘Well you wouldn’t make as much money,’ it would be different. And what we want, what we wanna do is have high quality food for everybody. And that doesn’t mean high quality protein every day at every meal for everybody. You guys are nodding along. So once again, the science I think is pretty well understood of that kind of agriculture, of animal husbandry. We’re just, through lack of regulation, have enabled raising animals on an industrial scales, which promotes disease and overuse of antibiotics, affecting local water supplies and so on.”

Q: What is one of the greatest trends, or areas of research, or ideas that you kind of see happening in science today?

“Well, better batteries. If we had more sophisticated batteries that were higher energy density, cheaper to manufacture, easier to recycle, and were affordable and could be shipped, and they were not dangerous to handle, it would change the world.”

FOLLOW UP: So is that something that you would wanna see happen?
“Yea, but there are companies working on vanadium air batteries, organic or carbon based batteries and so on, lithium air batteries, the possibilities are huge. But we don’t have enough engineers or chemical engineers or material scientists working on this to have it be commonplace yet, this new style of batteries or family batteries. It’s not commonplace yet, but you gotta figure it’s coming. The amount of money we’ve made is enormous.”

FOLLOW UP: Developing such a battery, what would the benefits of it be?

“Well it would electrify all ground transportation, that’s the goal. So that all trains, cars, trucks, buses, everything that runs on the ground would run on electricity and that electricity would be produced renewably, and we’d store it in these new fabulous batteries. That you’re going to report on. And promote.”