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Bill Nye Interview with Greener Living Today

Bill Nye is a scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor.
He is best known as the host of the children’s science show Bill Nye the Science Guy (1993–1997) and for his many subsequent appearances in popular media as a science educator.
Bill is host of the popular Planet Green series Stuff Happens, a program whose goal is to help foster a scientifically literate society that is aware of the effect their stuff has on the environment.
He recently agreed to be interviewed by Greener Living Today.

Greener Living Today:
What is your educational background?

Bill Nye:
I went to elementary and high school in Washington, DC. (Go Nationals! Also, I’d rather the Washington, DC Football Team had a different name.) I went to college at Cornell University. I was awarded a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, which includes plenty of math and physics. I have also had the remarkable honor of being awarded three Honorary Ph.D.’s, from three excellent schools: Rensselaer Polytechincal Institute (a perennial rival), Goucher College in Baltimore, and then several years later from Johns Hopkins University.

Greener Living Today:
Can you tell us how you started in television?

bill_nye_lg1Bill Nye:
After winning the Steve Martin look-alike competition in Seattle, I started doing stand-up comedy– while working at Boeing. I did not win the national Steve Martin competition. That guy actually kinda’ looked like Steve Martin, and he could play the banjo– out of my league. Soon after that, I was asked to do a series of television spots promoting the loop antenna. This may be an older reference lost on the younger readers. These antennae are nearly circular, about the size of a 45 rpm vinyl record. They serve as quarter-wave dipoles suited to bringing in UHF, or Ultra High Frequency, TV signals. PBS stations were among the first UHF channels. Now, we’re all rockin’ the glass and copper cables and the signals from space. I worked hard at working my way into television after that. I eventually landed a job on a local comedy show.

Greener Living Today:
How did Bill Nye the Science Guy® get its start?

Bill Nye:
First of all as many people have observed, I am not all that different from the Science Guy®. I point out however, that when I move my hands, you seldom hear the kung-fu swish sound effects that you hear on the show. I was writing for a comedy show, which started in Seattle, called “Almost Live” ( a better name than “3 hours old…” ). At its height, we taped it at 8:30 on Saturday nights; it aired before Saturday Night Live, three hours later. One afternoon, we needed extra material. A well-known woman named Rita Jenrette was going to be a guest on the show, but cancelled late in the week. The host of the show at the time, Ross Shafer said, “Bill, you could fill that spot. You could do that stuff you’re always talking about. You could be ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’ or something. Well, I did a version of a demonstration I had done dozens of times: the Household Uses of Liquid Nitrogen. Since we all have liquid nitrogen around, and so on…

Greener Living Today:
Have you had any involvement in projects outside of television?

Bill Nye:
I have written a few kids’ books. I’ve been a Professor at Cornell through an endowment from the Class of 1956 intended to bring “interesting” people to campus.
I am finishing my screenplay about Nathaniel Bowditch [BOU-ditch], the author of the definitive work on celestial navigation, a remarkable mathematician and linguist, who lived around the turn of the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Greener Living Today:
When did your Planet Green show, Stuff Happens, go on the air and how did you develop the green approach?

Bill Nye:
Stuff Happens was last year, 2008-2009. I believe any thoughtful scientist is deep-down an environmentalist. I had solar panels and a solar hot-water system before I crossed paths with the Planet Green people. We adapted an old idea that had been kicking around about the environmental impacts of everyday things, like coffee cups, for example.

Greener Living Today:
How do you prepare for each episode?

bill_nye_lg2Bill Nye:
As I often say, the most important thing to me is the writing, the ideas. I encourage everyone doing almost anything to spend time thinking before you start. We met in a nice office building in Burbank. I rode my bike to the meetings. We’d argue… er, uh, discuss topics and stories that had been researched by others at Planet Green in the previous months. I don’t think anyone, who started on that show, was around when we actually started actual production. We shot it in a little studio in Van Nuys, California. I have to drive out there, especially with a trunk full of labware. It’s in an industrial area featuring stone slab storage yards, plumbing supply warehouses, and strip clubs (?)…

Greener Living Today:
What are your views on global warming and climate change?

Bill Nye:
Climate change is going to affect everyone, who is still alive in 5o years. Global warming is important, but it’s not the whole story. It’s the climate shifts not just warming, especially with regard to local rainfall patterns, that are going to cause us so much trouble. I am disheartened generally by our sluggish response to the discovery of climate change. We’ve got going-on seven billion people trying to make a living on what’s proving to be a very small planet. I’ve been to the Ice Core Lab in Colorado. I’ve been to China, India, and Africa. I’ve studied the data and the models. In general, I’d say things are going to be somewhat worse than is often stated or presented by most scientists, who have to keep their reports measured and careful. To address climate change, I believe we need to do everything all at once. This is to say, we need to get moving on all the conservation and clean energy ideas we can as soon as we can.

Greener Living Today:
What do you think the future has in store for solar and wind power?

Bill Nye:
Wind and solar are the renewable sources of energy that are probably the key to our future. One sounds like a broken record (skipping CD? replaying file?). But we have five times the energy we need in wind. We have enough solar power to run our energy-intensive lives several times over. We have accidentally, or even naturally, developed an economy based on fossil fuels. We can change all that. Some innovators could get rich in the bargain. This gets into the question of the role of government. Does one have the right to pollute the air, especially if one’s business is literally keeping the lights on? Can we tell individuals what light bulbs they are allowed to use? It’s not clear, when put in these simplistic terms. But, it’s clear that industries and individuals do not regulate themselves especially well. Someone is going to try to graze an extra cow on the Commons, to use an old analogy. We need sophisticated environmental laws that are enforced efficiently. Would our American world be better off without seatbelts or unconverted car exhaust? These are examples of directing industries by means of regulation. The same is certainly possible for power companies, especially ones that are part of local governments.

Greener Living Today:
Do you think Detroit will catch up with the rest of the world in the hybrid and electric car markets?

Bill Nye:
They’re trying. In my experience our domestic automaker managers are part of a striking in-the-box culture. They seldom think out of it. As a patriot, I am hopeful. But as a guy who served as a consultant to a big automaker, I’m skeptical. The now legendary “Who Killed the Electric Car” movie gives one a glimpse. They just didn’t believe in it. Meanwhile, their customers were clamoring, pleading for them to produce more electric cars. I am driving an electric Mini Cooper. It is fantastic, but no one is sure about even the future of that car. Detroit has a chance so long as lot of the old school managers move on or get fired.

Greener Living Today:
Tell us about your home and what you’ve done to make it green.

Bill Nye:
I have 4,000 Watts of solar photovoltaic panels. Everyday, I sell electricity back to the city. At night, I buy electricity like anybody else. I feel great joy everyday as I watch my electromechanical electric power meter… run backwards(!). I have a solar hot-water system that uses the Sun to preheat the water that runs through two on-demand, or “tankless,” hot water heaters. There is a 1 ½ by 2 ½ meter (4 by 8 foot) solar collector on the roof plumbed into two heaters, one on each side of the house. This setup is a means to minimize or reduce the so-called “standby” water, the water that runs while you’re waiting for it to get warm. I have compact fluorescent lamps and light emitting diode (LED) lamps throughout. The main things though in energy saving are a thoroughly insulated attic and modern low-emissivity double-pane windows. Conservation: insulation to lower heat loss or gain, that’s where the money is.

bill_nye_lg3Greener Living Today:
How did the rivalry with Ed Begley, Jr. come about and who do you think is coming out ahead?

Bill Nye:
I informally invited Ed’s TV crew to come by and see the guys installing my solar panels. The producer Joe Brutsman was struck by what seemed to him to be a rivalry. Well, Ed and I have nurtured it. I’m coming after you Begley! He’s got this new gray-water recovery system that isn’t quite satisfactory yet. The reclaimed water is milky-looking and smells of chemicals. That’s a tough one to compete with… if he gets the kinks worked out. If the kinks never get worked out, well, he gave it a shot and I dodged a money-sink. With that said, I am at last installing a very low water use irrigation system for my newly xeriscaped (dry-plant landscape) yard. Take that Begley!

Greener Living Today:
Do you have any plans for future projects?

Bill Nye:
The xeriscape is the next thing. It includes two large buried rainwater distribution gravel-filled barrels fed by a new shade-providing porch roof and fancy gutters. When it rains here in Los Angeles, it really rains. Huge amounts of clean fresh water flow right out to sea. The goal is to make use of a great deal of the rain that falls on my roof before it washes away.

Greener Living Today:
Where do you suggest people start, once they decide to live green?

Bill Nye:
Insulation is the biggest payback. More efficient lighting is the easiest, fastest, and cheapest. Do a little bit to save energy every week. It adds up. I’ll just point out that the light-bulb idea is striking, almost weird. You replace a bunch of bulbs, and next month your bill is quite a bit lower, just like that.

© Copyright Bill Nye

You can find out more about Bill Nye by visiting his website located at:
http://www.billnye.com

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