Bill Nye Visits UW-Madison: Let’s Talk Climate Change

The gates of UW-Madison’s Kohl Center were overwhelmed April 25, as students from every major and class lined up to see someone who, for many, was a childhood idol – Bill Nye. 

Most commonly known for his show “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” which aired throughout the 1990s, Nye has created a name for himself as an engineer and scientist who is passionate about all things related to science. In recent years, his work has been tailored to one subject in particular. 

The concern began with troubling signs of environmental degradation, rising sea levels, and increasingly warmer winters. The conversation gained traction with movements like the Green New Deal and the UN’s founding of the annual COP conventions. The political debate on potential solutions to this problem is now one of the first topics found on any politician’s campaign website. 

It appears that climate change is, by many accounts, this generation’s defining issue – something that Bill has made very clear in his latest work. From hosting the 2017 March for Science to testifying before Congress over the impacts of climate change on homeland security, he has worked tirelessly to bring climate change to the forefront of global discussions. 

Bill’s agenda has been dedicated to shining light on how and why climate change is worsening at an ever-increasing rate. His biggest focus, however, is not on the nihilistic attitude that many have lamented over feeling in regard to the current state of our climate. As Madison saw, Bill’s signature enthusiasm and optimism for science remained a focal point in his talk at the Kohl Center. 

The stage setup consisted only of two chairs and a table. The traditional podium often used by speakers at the Kohl Center sat forgotten beside the platform, replaced instead by a simple handheld microphone. Student tickets were sold out the day of release, but arriving at the stadium, it became apparent that only a quarter of the seats had been set aside for the night – those which had a direct and uninhibited view. The entire arrangement truly did make it feel exactly what the night had been advertised as – a conversation with Bill Nye. 

Bill’s attitude throughout the evening was no less relaxed. His distinct lack of arrogance or elitism made it clear that the climate change advocate harbored no superiority complex over his student audience. Perhaps this is what made the experience so engaging, or his message so influential. 

Many topics were touched on throughout the evening, but the overarching theme was clear. According to Nye, it is unrealistic to think that our society should be expected to give up the luxuries that we have all become accustomed to. The antidote is not getting rid of planes because of the carbon emissions they produce – we just have to find a way to make flying sustainable. The agriculture sector does not have to give up the efficiencies it has created, because it is the technological advances in producing food that have the power to solve other crises such as food shortages. Instead, we need to lean into the progress we have made in GMO crop production, which could hold the key to minimizing the carbon footprint of agriculture, says Nye. In essence, the solution is doing more with less

When the panel was opened to questions from the audience, many chose to ask about Bill’s thoughts on a variety of eco-friendly energy sources and technologies. From nuclear power to transforming the agriculture sector, students wanted to know which climate solutions Bill Nye approved. 

So what was his answer? Try them all! According to the scientist, there will be no one solution that fixes climate change on its own. In the end, it would come down to two important actions: finding new technology to replace our dependence on non-renewable energy sources, and placing restrictions on corporations that continue to use fossil fuels. If this sounds simple, Bill thinks so too.

In the end, Bill Nye’s bottom line was this: fixing climate change does not have to be incredibly complex. There are three key goals that we must strive for to save our environment: clean water, renewable electricity, and access to the internet. With those secured, everything else will fall in place. And with climate advocates like Bill Nye bringing passion and optimism to students just like us at UW-Madison, we are one step closer to saving our planet.

By: Fiona Hatch