As this year’s Earthstock wound down Friday, Bill Nye the Science Guy told a sold-out crowd in the Student Activities Center Auditorium that students do not need to “do less” to change the world.
Instead, he said, invoking Nobel Prize winner Richard Smalley, “We need to find ways to do more with less.”
To illustrate his point, Nye showed the audience the four kilowatts of solar panels on his California rooftop, along with a Solatube dome and his electric car—well, he conceded, just pictures of those things. The Solatube redirects sunlight through a lens and into the house, supplying daytime lighting for free, even to rooms with no windows.
In addition, he touted another form of green energy: the wind.
“We have access to enough wind energy to power North America five times over,” he said. “The problem is transporting that energy.”
One way to meet the challenge could be juicing through a matrix of low resistance nanotubes. According to Nye, those tubes are tiny carbon pipelines developed by Smalley after he realized that what he thought had been space-born carbon monoxide was actually a dense form of pure carbon.
Carbon resurfaced several other times throughout the night. Carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas with the largest effect on global warming. Earlier in the day, Earthstock’s keynote speaker, Wally Broecker, stressed that the consequences of increasing—or even maintaining—our current carbon emissions has clear and present danger.
“We aren’t going to be able to change things just by curtailing our carbon,” Nye said. “It’s going to take a lot of big-picture thinking.”
One new big idea that Nye said he supports is what he called “bubblating.”
“Bubblating” is a method to increase the oceans’ albedo by filling the top layer with bubbles. Albedo is Latin for whiteness, and refers to the reflective properties of surfaces. In climate science, it mostly describes the ability for areas of the Earth to reflect solar heat back into space and combat global warming.
Ships sail every day, Nye said, and equipping them with pumps to aerate subsurface water could “significantly cause cooling.”
However, cooling is not easily within reach.
According to Nye, and the consensus of nearly all legitimate climate scientists, the current rate of change in global temperature is dramatically faster than it has been in studiable history.
“It’s not that the world hasn’t been warm in the past,” Ny said. “It’s the rate of change that’s the problem.”
The small but measurable increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide from .03 percent to .04 percent since the 1990s and the increase in storm activity and flooding directly coincide in most scientific models, according to Nye.
In addition, he said, the human population on Earth has more than doubled in the last half-century. If the energy they use comes from coal or other fossil fuels, it means more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
“That is just not good,” Nye said. He offered alternatives.
“We can get all the energy we want from wind and solar,” Nye said. But there is a problem in storing it. He added that new battery technology using molten metal could be part of the answer, and he urged the science and engineering students in the crowd to go forth and invent.
“With your brain you can reason and predict the future,” Nye said. “You can make things and solve problems … Science is the best idea we’ve ever had.”