Science Guy Bill Nye beseeches UMSL students to ‘Change the world’

by | Mar 19, 2018

The famous scientist shared research proving climate change and urged the UMSL audience to pursue science for answers and space exploration for a better understanding of Earth.
Bill Nye

Bill Nye addressed a packed crowd of UMSL students, faculty and staff Thursday night during his sold-out show at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. (Photos by Tyler James)

Bill Nye the famous “Science Guy” dared to say it Thursday night at the University of Missouri–St. Louis: “Climate change is real.”

Those controversial words, along with his support of space exploration, have set him on the road to preach science and inspire advocacy for the two research areas.

A receptive crowd of almost 1,600 at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center came to hear Nye’s sold-out evening presentation, which was the latest lecture in the Office of Student Involvement’s annual Speaker Series.

Around 1,600 people, the majority of them students, attended the event, where Bill Nye had the crowd laughing at his witticisms and – sometimes – corny science jokes.

“I have been with climate deniers, contrarians, who insist that because carbon dioxide is such a small fraction of the Earth’s atmosphere, it must therefore have a small effect on the world’s climate,” Nye said. “That is completely wrong.”

Beyond detailing how every human being’s diet relies on carbon dioxide-dependent plants that people eat or that other animals eat before becoming food for people, Nye spelled out a simple imbalance in the Earth’s system.

Earth has a fantastically thin atmosphere and an overpopulation problem.

“So that’s it you guys,” Nye said. “We have this thin atmosphere and 7.5 billion people burning and breathing it, and there we have it. We’ve changed the world’s climate.”

But in case there were any doubters, Nye offered up research by the National Science Foundation and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, who have teamed up to find evidence of climate change deep in the layers of Greenland’s ice.

They drill out long cylindrical samples of ice layers with air bubbles containing the ancient atmosphere. The bubbles formed after many snow falls accumulated on top of each other and compacted into clear ice. Using a mass spectrometer, the researchers determine the composition of the ancient atmosphere.

“They can do so because you can determine the temperature of the sea surface that made the cloud that made the snow that became the ice the way you could do it at home…by counting neutrons,” Nye joked.

When those findings are correlated with evidence from tree rings and pollen counts in the bottoms of undisturbed ponds, scientist can work their way back in time and plot the temperature of the atmosphere.

That plot, which Nye revealed to the audience, shows a constant temperature for centuries followed by a drastic spike upwards in the last 250 years.

“The world has never gotten this warm this fast,” Nye said.

He urged people to pay attention to the science and pursue solutions. Nye even pointed to Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which instructs the legislative branch “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.”

Nye was as animated and quirky as ever for the crowd of millennials, many of whom grew up watching his entertaining and informative “Bill Nye the Science Guy” show.

“It’s in the constitution! Science is important!” Nye said. “But we are living in extraordinary times with political leaders dominated by people who just don’t get it.”

And to that, Nye challenged the audience to change the world.

“This is it,” he said. “We need to think of ourselves as being in charge. ‘I’m just going to live on Mars’ isn’t an option. This is it. The Earth is where we’re going to make our stand.”

Which segued Nye to the second half of the evening devoted to the necessity of space exploration to better understand Earth.

CEO of The Planetary Society, Nye sees it this way; there are two questions everyone asks:

1. Where did we come from?

2. Are we alone in the universe?

“If you want to answer those two questions, you have to explore space,” said Nye, who believes it reasonable that people will find evidence of life in space during Millennials’ lifetime.

To make his case for exploration, he pointed to the Cassini mission, which returned an image a hexagonal storm on Saturn. The storm continues to perplex scientists who have no answers for its shape thus far.

“But someday we’re going to figure it out,” Nye said. “Some fluid mechanics person is going to think deep thoughts and figure out why it resolves itself into a six-sided shape, and it will influence the way we think about our life here on Earth and our weather and climate.”

“The other thing about this sort of exploration is there’s no direct return on investment,” he continued. “There’s no business case for taking this picture. Nobody’s going to make money flying to Titan. It’s just extraordinary. It’s using our intellect to find out about the cosmos and our place within it and what it means to be a living thing alive at this moment in time.”

He admits that feeling like a change agent can seem impossible considering human existence in proportion to the vastness that is the universe.

“But then people, with your brain, which is only this big, you can imagine all of that and know the specks and the cosmos and your place within it,” he said. “We can understand the importance of clean water, renewable electricity and access to the internet and education and whatever we want to learn, so together my friends, we can – dare I say it – change the world.”

Following his presentation, a UMSL student asked if Nye felt as if he’s changed the world.

“Here’s what I will say, people, I put my heart and soul into that science guy show,” he said. “I put my heart and soul into the books I’ve written, and you all are coming of age … so I’m waiting to answer that question.”

Marisol Ramirez

Marisol Ramirez