Anyone who’s seen “Bill Nye the Science Guy” — everyone who attended grade school in the mid-’90s, and any student since who had their science teacher call in sick — knows from its theme song that “inertia is a property of matter.”
Inertia is also a property of Congress, as the Science Guy himself knows by now. Nye testified Tuesday before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery, once again raising the alarm over the approaching dangers from climate change.
“When it comes to climate change, we need big ideas, huge ideas,” Nye said, appearing virtually but still sporting his trademark bow tie. “Recycling water bottles alone will not address climate change or prepare us for disaster.”
In the years since his wildly popular children’s educational show ended, Nye has become a leading defender of science against those who question evolution or humanity’s contributions to climate change. The author of over a dozen books and CEO of the Planetary Society, Nye has made countless media appearances to urge Americans to embrace the scientific method and accept the findings from climatologists, ranging from cartoons to a profane sketch on HBO’s "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver."
Speaking to Roll Call in 2017, Nye expressed a hope that he wouldn’t have to press Congress to take action on climate change. “I hope people figure it out sooner or later,” he said. “My understanding is there are a great many conservatives in both houses that are waiting for their opportunity to, as the saying goes, hold hands and come out in favor of climate change legislation and regulation.”
But in the years since, Congress has yet to move decisively to address climate change. While some Democrats have proposed a Green New Deal — which Nye has endorsed — Republicans have scoffed at the idea of spending trillions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Tuesday’s hearing was held as President Joe Biden and Senate Republicans negotiate a large infrastructure and jobs spending bill that would dedicate billions to reducing America’s carbon footprint. If those talks break down, Democrats are expected to push the package unilaterally, using budget reconciliation to evade the Senate’s filibuster.
Tuesday’s hearing wasn’t as flashy as Nye’s show — there were no quick cuts, sound effects, pun-filled skits, or experiments you can do at home. Unlike his “Pollution Solutions” episode, Nye did not literally stand on a soapbox to beseech his audience to clean the planet, but he was no less imploring Tuesday.
“This is only going to get worse,” Nye said. “We’ve got to stop putting greenhouse gases in the air, and we have to come up with new ways of generating electricity that is affordable and reliable.”
While some Democrats at the hearing echoed Nye’s points about reducing the root cause of climate change that has driven an increase in extreme weather events, Republicans mostly argued that hurricanes and snowstorms are nothing new and that all we can do is prepare for them with stronger, more resilient infrastructure.
Ranking member Kat Cammack, R-Fla., argued against imposing more stringent pollution controls on U.S. industries when China is the leading polluter in the world. Nye responded that this was even more reason for America to take the lead in developing renewable energy.
“I understand your concerns about competition from China, but this idea that if you give something to somebody it means you’ve taken it from somebody else — this zero sum idea — is not going to work in the long run because we all only have one atmosphere,” he said. “So, let’s be leaders. I’ll advocate again for wind, solar, geothermal energy, heat storage. And I would like us to take some risks and invest in fusion technologies. This could, as I like to say, change the world.”