Jim Tranquada

Using his trademark mix of erudition and dry humor, Bill Nye the Science Guy urged a standing-room-only Occidental College crowd to change the world by helping to develop new solutions to global warming in his April 10 Phi Beta Kappa lecture.


"The evidence that the earth is warming is overwhelming - overwhelming," said Nye, citing a wide range of scientific data during a passionate and entertaining presentation before a packed Alumni Auditorium. The impact of a rapidly growing world population on Earth's remarkably thin atmosphere - what Carl Sagan likened to a coat of varnish on a classroom globe - "has changed everything," Nye said.

Ancient air samples trapped in polar ice, decades of measurements of the temperature of surface ocean waters, the retreat of glaciers and the polar ice caps, data from volcanic eruptions - all point to the inescapable conclusion that the Earth's atmosphere is warming, said Nye, a Cornell-trained mechanical engineer who wore a bow tie but traded his on-camera white lab coat for a dark suit.

As a result, "we've got to do more with less," said the Emmy-winning science educator, offering a number of examples where the rising generation could change the world for the better. "If you guys could design a better battery for electric cars, you will change the world - and get rich. Crazy rich. You will crush Bill Gates. So please get that done."

Flashing a photo of a McDonald's price list that offers hamburgers for 49 cents and salads for $4.99, Nye cited the dramatic difference as an opportunity to change the world through policy-making. "Somehow we accidentally made it cheaper to raise beef than raise a salad," he said. "This isn't a science or engineering problem, this is a human interaction problem. I want you to fix it. This weekend would be nice."

As always, Nye leavened his message with humor. Speaking to an audience that included fifth graders and septuagenarians, he made algebra jokes, discussed how bees fly and how sundials work, dissected the aesthetics of wind turbines, made fun of professors who use laser pointers, and emphasized the importance of good aim in space exploration - digressions that always managed to circle back to his main point.

"We have to change the world," he said.

Nye's talk was presented by the annual Occidental College Phi Beta Kappa Speakers Series, underwritten by the Ruenitz Trust Endowment. Previous speakers have included social critic Jonathan Kozol, philosopher Judith Butler, and medical activist Paul Farmer.