Bill Nye would like to change the world. Well, he’d like you to change the world with him. Recently named a centennial ambassador of the National Park Service, he’s now using his platform as everyone’s favorite Science Guy to educate people about climate change and get them interested in preserving their local parks.
So yeah, he’s basically Leslie Knope in a bowtie.
“We did 100 Science Guy shows and it was time to move on and up,” says Nye. “It’s been an evolution, a growth: the modern adult science guy as a spokesman for … science! For provable facts and observable things in nature.”
To help average folks know where go to get out in nature and observe those things, he’s championing the just-launched Find Your Parks initiative, which is aimed at expanding interest in our American treasures beyond the Baby Boomer generation and bringing a younger, more diverse group of citizens into the country’s parks. And for Nye specifically, the initiative is a way to educate people about the impact climate change will have on the natural landscape.
It’s a pretty cool gig for someone like Nye, and one he’s uniquely suited for. Here’s why he is the perfect real-life version of Parks and Recreation’s public space champion—and not just because his ambassadorship has the support of Find Your Parks honorary co-chair Michelle Obama. (Though that doesn’t hurt, either.)
He’s Not Afraid of Real Talk
With each month of drought that stacks up in the West and each massive storm that trashes the East, it’s becoming clear that our parks—much like our crops—won’t survive without our help. A big part of that is opening people’s eyes to the effects of climate change. “Glacier National Park will be Mudslide National Park, perhaps in my lifetime, unless we get to work on it,” Nye explains. “If we make choices not to preserve parks, not to set aside wild lands, we are making a choice that I think will be judged very poorly. ‘Why did you choose to let all that stuff go? Why did you choose to ruin things?'”
He’s Very Popular—On TV and Beyond
Most people know the name Bill Nye from the 1990s PBS show Bill Nye the Science Guy. The “Science Guy” thing is a moniker he took on as a contributor to the comedy show Almost Live! in Seattle, where he was working for Boeing. Eventually his “mechanical engineer by day, educational sketch comedian by night” situation lead him to becoming one of America’s go-to minds for explaining just what the hell makes this planet tick to the broadest common denominator of viewers. But over the past 25 years he’s been more than a TV host. He’s also been an author, an advocate for science education (particularly when it comes to evolution), and a regular on cable news and late night talk shows. He also pops up on the StarTalk podcast with Neil deGrasse Tyson and in selfies with people like Barack Obama. And if that resume doesn’t make him the perfect celebrity spokesperson, nothing does.
He Thinks Talking About the Environment Is as Important as Other News of the Day
If there’s one thing Nye is big on it is choice and agency. The environmental problems we face won’t solve themselves, and the best way to catalyze change, as Nye sees it, is to get people talking. Putting the focus on national parks is a way to incite discourse about our changing world and the effect we have on it as heavy-footed humans. “The big thing is just raising awareness right now,” he says. “The main thing you can do, and this is true for everybody, is talk about climate change. If we were talking about climate change the way we’re talking about ISIS, we could get things done much more effectively or much more quickly.”
Nye’s Ambitions Go Beyond Earth
Like fellow public science advocate Neil deGrasse Tyson, Nye is one of the inheritors of the legacy of astronomer, author, and original Cosmos host Carl Sagan, who Nye actually had as a professor at Cornell University. These days Tyson is hosting the rebooted Cosmos and Nye is CEO of the Planetary Society, which Sagan founded. In addition to answering a few dozen e-mails every day and making “some big sweeping executive decisions about the logo,” Nye views his CEO role as a charge to continue the work started by Sagan decades ago. “Any [computer] climate model that stands today is a derivative of, or uses many of the same assumptions and the same science as, those Sagan proposed in 1978, 1977,” says Nye. “In my way, I am carrying his message into the future.”
He’s Very Optimistic About What We Can Accomplish Together
As he takes up the mantle of centennial ambassador, Nye is waging a full-court educational press. First, there’s the book he’s currently working on that he describes as “an optimistic view of the future as we address climate change,” adding the inspirational footnote: “When I say ‘we’ I mean everybody, humankind. We can solve these problems. We can get this done.” And then there’s the feature film in the works about the same topic, which Nye says “will change the course of human history and all that, or maybe not. Maybe it just won’t lose money.” But whether or not Nye makes the next Inconvenient Truth or he goes straight to VOD, we can all be sure he will never stop fighting the good fight. “It will be very difficult for me to change the world just on my own,” Nye says. “But what we want to do is inspire people all over the world to change the world.”