Clad in his signature multicolored bowtie, Bill Nye kicked off his visit to UTPA Tuesday, April 1 with a blend of comedy and science aptitude. As the second speaker for the 2013-14 Distinguished Speaker Series, the first being columnist Ruben Navarrette, Nye spoke to a packed Field House about the necessity of science.
One of Nye’s main talking points concerned the changing climate of Earth. According to the 58-year-old Cornell alumnus, Earth’s carbon dioxide levels have increased significantly since 1997.
“Everybody in this room, or almost everybody, was alive, when that number changed from .03 to .04 (percent),” said the former star of Bill Nye the Science Guy, which aired from 1993-2011. “In your lifetime, the Earth’s atmosphere has gone up a third.”
To better illustrate the significance of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, Nye explained it in terms of the atmospheres on Venus and Mars. Both planets possess atmospheres that are made up of more than 95 percent carbon dioxide. As a result, both celestial objects have climates much different from Earth, and much deadlier.
“The clouds are made of sulfuric acid,” Nye said of Venus’ environment. “The reason Mars is the way that it is and the reason Venus is the way it is, is largely because of carbon dioxide.”
What is worrisome, according to Nye, is that increased levels of the gas result in the thinning of the atmosphere and this can lead to problems for humanity. The population increased to 3 billion when the scientist was in third grade. Now, it stands at more than 7 billion.
“The world’s population has more than doubled in my lifetime,” said the author of numerous children’s books, including Bill Nye The Science Guy’s Big Blast Of Science. “So the atmosphere of the Earth is thin, it’s got enough carbon dioxide to keep us warm. But now we have 7 billion people using it. Every single thing you ever do affects everybody in the whole world. We all share the air. There is nobody who doesn’t breathe the air.”
Nye has contributed to climate change discussions in the past. In January 2012 the scientist wrote the foreword for Michael Mann’s The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines. Based on the findings of a 2001 report by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of the United Nations, the book uses the “hockey stick,” a chart showing global temperature data over the past one thousand years, as the crux of its argument. The graph illustrates the rising temperature and the increased rate at which it is occurring due to carbon dioxide levels.
The theory has faced scrutiny as recent as May 2013, with doubters arguing that it was too simple and that uncertainties in historical climate readings were disregarded to make the chart more dramatic. But opposition aside, Nye still supports the theory.
“It’s not the temperature of the world as such, it’s the rate, the speed at which is changing,” Nye said at the presentation. “That is our problem. And by our problem, I mean your problem.”
In addition to climate change, Nye also spoke about his continuing debate concerning creationism being taught as science. In February, Nye debated Kevin Ham, founder of the Kentucky-based Creation Museum, about the origins of life. Ham argued that the Earth was created 6,000 years ago and that the Bible tells factual information about the origins of Earth and life.
“They want to teach creationism in schools,” Nye said during the question-and-answer session at the end of the presentation. “That’s fine, if they want to teach it as philosophy or history of myths. If you want to teach creationism as part of that, that’s fine, but it’s not science.”
Isela Lopez was one of the more than 3 million people who tuned in to the debate earlier this year. The business management major, and fan of Nye, entered an essay contest to have dinner with the celebrity prior to the presentation.
“I’ve loved Bill Nye since I was young,” the sophomore said. “Every Friday I would watch him in elementary. I have Bill Nye to thank for most of my science knowledge.”
While Lopez is not pursuing a science degree, she believes the presentation for the Speakers Series was relevant and important to everyone.
“I know I’m not a scientist, I don’t understand as much as I wish, but I know science is everywhere,” Lopez said. “Even though science isn’t my calling, people who have that power to study that, should be able to pursue it, and someone like him coming here to talk to us…it must mean a lot to them. It even means a lot to me and I’m not a science major.”
This idea was reinforced by Nye’s closing statements.
“That is the essence of science. It is inherently optimistic,” he said. “To celebrate the joy of knowing, that joy of discovery that is deep within us. It’s what drives us. You can, dare I say, change the world.”