For kids growing up in the ’90s and early 2000s, there was nothing better than walking into class and seeing a TV rolled to the front of the room. If you were in a science class, there was no doubt you were about to witness the captivating experiments of William Sanford Nye, a.k.a. Bill Nye the Science Guy.
With a new generation of fans, thanks to Netflix’s Bill Nye Saves the World, the quirky man in the lab coat continues to spends his days proving that “Science Rules!” He also recently brought his wisdom to the WE Day California stage.
“This is the most exciting time in human history,” Nye declares from his dressing room, backstage at the Los Angeles Forum. “We’re realizing—really for the first time—that we’re all one species living together in one place, on one planet.”
Nye’s current focus on modern day social issues is what drew him to WE Day, where he is met with the same chants of “Bill Bill Bill Bill!” that have greeted him since becoming a household name over 20 years ago. As a lover of knowledge and a passionate environmental advocate, WE Day and the youth-led social impact it celebrates speak to Nye’s long career as television’s favorite unofficial STEM educator. As for the young people he shares WE Day with, he’s banking on them to usher in big change. He’s beaming as he declares, “I’m excited for the future.”
Whether it’s students encouraging environmentally sustainable practices through WE Go Green or supporting access to clean water by way of WE Walk for Water, the impacts made by these incredible change-makers using WE Schools service-learning curriculum represent the innovation he’s dedicated his life to seeding.
Significantly, Nye’s lifelong love of education goes beyond textbook pages and classroom walls. Just as service-learning encourages youth to take tangible action on local and global issues, Nye’s lessons have always addressed real-world problems with interactive solutions.
As the CEO of the Planetary Society—an organization founded by Carl Sagan, Nye’s Cornell professor and mentor—this WE Day guest speaker helps to advance space exploration and planetary science by advocating for funding, developing new technology and, as always, educating people around the world about the wonders of science and the cosmos. “The process of discovery has changed the way everybody feels about being a living thing in the cosmos,” he says between bites of ME to WE chocolate. “If we were able to discover life, or evidence of life, like some fossilized bacteria, it would change the course of human history. It would be profound.”
Clad in his signature white lab coat and colorful bowtie (albeit with a blue WE Day twist), Nye is how I remember him from his PBS days, but also different; his hair is a little grayer, there’s more sarcasm to his humor and his distaste for science skepticism is a little more forthright: “The fossil fuel industry has been working so hard to introduce the idea that scientific uncertainty, plus or minus 2 percent, is the same as plus or minus 100 percent. And that’s wrong.” Even still, he's very much the crowd-rousing Science Guy that inspires audiences to trust in the facts.
“If there’s a gap between scientific consensus and public understanding it’s because the governments of the world are being run by people my age.”
Given how urgently the environment needs our protection, Nye’s sterner stance on science skeptics is warranted. This reality has prompted Nye to express his support for the Green New Deal—proposed legislation to combat climate change and economic inequality through measures such as expansion of the Clean Air Act and a ban on crude oil exports—while also leading him to formally debate all those whose beliefs he sees as threatening science education.
Positive change, though, is on the horizon. In the opinion of Nye, transformative growth around pressing issues like climate change will come as more young people step into leadership roles. “If there’s a gap between scientific consensus and public understanding it’s because the governments of the world are being run by people my age,” he explains. “When the governments of the world are run by young people, all of this will change. To find a climate change denier, it’s almost always an old person.”
Participating in events like WE Day is invigorating for Nye. Sharing a stage with fellow WE Day California speakers, like seven-year-old STEM advocate Brielle Milla, gives Nye hope for what lays ahead for humanity. “The world is going to change and the students here are the people that are going to change it.” Given Brielle is already reaching audiences around the world as a regular on Ellen, there’s no doubt that, like Nye, the budding scientist is using her public forum to prove science really does rule and sparking incremental change with every STEM convert she inspires, just as her predecessor continues to do.
By the end of our interview, it’s clear the effect WE Day has had on Nye. The optimism of his young audience is projected in his own summary of the day’s events. “Here at WE Day it’s all about the young people who have done cool things and good deeds,” he concludes. “You guys will change everything.”
Zoe Demarco is a writer and production manager for WE Stories. A third generation journalist, she has a natural curiosity for other people’s lives.