Bill Nye the Science Guy Is Glad People Think He’s Satan

In a revealing interview, the environmental advocate talks about global warming investment tips, his favorite part of the Bible and his political aspirations

Illustration by Anthony Garner

Imagine Bill Nye with a dark beard. He looks somewhat like Abraham Lincoln: the lanky, bow-tie wearing science educator has a long face with prominent, expressive eyebrows framing deep-set eyes. Mr. Nye, who recently wrote Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World, also shares a gift for retail campaigning. He kibitzes with several tourists the other morning outside the Hayden Planetarium. Two sisters toting toddlers approach him. Mr. Nye grabs one of the moms’ iPhones, snaps a selfie and wishes his fan a hearty “Carry on!” As the sisters walk away, he calls out to one toddler, “Nice shoes, Moira!”

What sectors would you invest in to take advantage of climate change? Wind turbines and the people who construct them. I strongly recommend that people invest in companies that build seawalls required to deal with the incoming ocean. The reason the ocean is incoming is because it’s getting bigger. The ocean gets bigger when it gets warmer. As they say to the deniers, you can shoot the messenger, but it’s not going to help you; the ocean is still getting bigger.

For the record, are you Beelzebub? ‘Not as far as I know. Now, keep in mind that I’m not convinced there is a Devil.’

There’s a famous SNL sketch spoofing the Michael Dukakis-George Bush debate. Mr. Dukakis, played by Jon Lovitz, says to the audience, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.” Sometimes when you debate creationists and climate change deniers, you seem amazed by your opponent’s stupidity. Not stupidity, just willful ignorance.

Did you read the Bible in preparation for your widely watched debate with Ken Ham, the advocate of creationism? No, because I tell you what, that guy, my opponent is so fluent in the Bible. There’s an old saying in English, “quoting chapter and verse,” but he literally can do that, so I wasn’t going to debate him about the Bible. Regardless of what the Bible says, and it’s translated in English 5,000 years at least since it was written—regardless of what you may interpret it to say—the earth is not 6,000 years old. The Earth cannot possibly be 6,000 years old. That’s ridiculous.

I was just wondering if you ever read the Bible and if there’s a passage you enjoy? Oh yeah, I read it twice. The one thing that I really embrace in the Bible is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The golden rule is just a fantastic idea.

Given your defense of evolution, you receive many insults. One website starts off, “Now we aren’t saying that Bill Nye himself is a card-carrying Satanist…” For the record, are you Beelzebub? Not as far as I know. Now, keep in mind that I’m not convinced there is a Devil. So, I don’t know if anybody really works for him or her. That stuff—that just shows that I’m getting under somebody’s skin, so that’s good. 

A record number of Americans now accept humans cause climate change. Just 16 percent don’t. But the issue ranks low as a concern. Can you explain the disconnection? The U.S. is not leading in addressing climate change and developing large-scale renewable energy sources, and so the world’s not following. I strongly believe that with the right incentives and leadership, we could change the world.

You have a unique ability to explain big ideas in sound bites. Have the Democrats recruited you to run for office? People ask me about that continually, but the Democrats have not recruited me.

You are not saying no? I’m not saying no. But no one has actively recruited me, and I have, the term used to be, a checkered past.

Bill Nye with fans outside the American Museum of Natural History.
Bill Nye with fans outside the Hayden Planetarium. Photo by David Wallis for Observer.

Checkered past? I’m not a successful “family man.” If someone approaches me, I will give it some thought.

I’m approaching you. President Nye, congratulations on your inauguration. What’s the first thing that you will do? Establish a fee and dividend system for fossil fuel use and carbon dioxide production, and we cannot ever—oh, no—we can’t use the word tax because taxes are evil, bad taxes. What’s that guy’s name? Satan. Satan produces taxes, but with that aside, we could have a fee system, so that when you produce carbon dioxide, you would pay, at first 10 percent per ton—per ton—of carbon dioxide, which would amount to about 10 cents on a gallon of gas. I’d work very hard to incentivize  renewable energy. It has been shown quite reasonably, we could power all 50 states with wind, solar, geothermal and tidal energy. And we could do that within the next 15 years. Fifteen years is nothing! 

What’s a simple thing readers can do to be more environmentally conscious? Here’s what I want everybody to be doing right now: talk about climate change. If we were talking about climate change, in the same way we talk about …

Abortion? Abortion—the unfortunate events in Chicago and Baltimore. If we were talking about those in climate change, in the same way we talk about those, or Kim Kardashian’s features, We would be getting to work.

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Bill Nye the Science Guy Is Glad People Think He’s Satan