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Bill Nye’s Climate Scouts: Our Great Green Hope

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Tuesday November 23rd, 2010 | 1 Comment

photo: Chabot Science Center

First off, the scary and bad news: During a speaking engagement at the University of Southern California last week, Bill Nye collapsed. He was reportedly mid-sentence when he collapsed, and though he tried to continue his talk, his speech became strained and he eventually left the stage. We’re sending him good vibes and hoping he’s on the mend.

You know Nye, most likely, from his science-is-fun TV show called Bill Nye The Science Guy. But Nye is now turning his energy in a new, science-is-fun-but-also-proves-that-we’re-in-trouble theme. In other words, he’s now Bill Nye The Climate Guy. And he’s bringing his message to Bay Area kids (and grown-ups) through Bill Nye’s Climate Lab, a new exhibit at the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland.

I visited the exhibit on November 20, its opening day, and came away from it with a renewed sense that our future generations might just save us–assuming we bribe them.

I jest. But the way that the Climate Lab exhibit works is to encourage visitors to become Climate Scouts, and that involves visiting as many of the exhibits in the lab as possible and then accruing points by interacting with them. At the same time, they’ll learn about the ways in which scientists have uncovered disturbing climate trends, globally, and also about the ways in which scientists, engineers and planners are developing solutions that should help stem climate change.

There are some really fun exhibits, such as one in which visitors create a wave in a water tank, generating enough energy to turn a turbine, which, in turn, powers a light. A wind energy exhibit works in a similar manner. Visitors can also design their own energy-efficient vehicle and learn about smart grid basics. Would these kids visit these exhibits on their own volition, if Bill Nye himself (well, ok, via video) wasn’t urging them on to do so and offering them rewards (certificates, praise, mostly) for doing so? I doubt it.

I watched kids sprinting from one exhibit to another, trying to cram as much of what they were reading and doing into their noggings as quickly as possible. See, the challenge to become Climate Scouts by collecting solutions (a clever code name for “points”) generated a palpable sense of competition. Everyone wanted to collect more solutions than the kids around them.

I was busy picturing them growing up into climate scientists and policy wonks and electrical engineers.

One could argue that all this learning might not sink in, if collected so quickly, but I’d argue that all exposure to this kind of learning is good exposure. Plus, it doesn’t stop when kids leave the Chabot Science Center, because the website billsclimatelab.org allows visitors to log on from home and review what they’ve learned and done while at Chabot, thereby taking the message outside the four walls of the science center.

UPDATE: We heard from the folks at Chabot, who say they spoke with Bill Nye recently and he is doing well. He attributes his incident at USC to having been exhausted from a very busy travel and work schedule, as well as a missed meal. So eat your veggies, kids.

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  • Brandon

    Education is absolutely key to confronting the climate problem– it is only one step but it’s probably the most important. I haven’t seen the exhibit but I hope that there are at least parts of it that discuss the impacts of individual choices and consumption.

    Of course, any energy policy that depends on people (kids, especially) consciously making choices to behave in less-wasteful ways is a pipe dream. There’s precisely one way to reduce fossil fuel consumption and that is to increase the price of fossil fuels to bring them more in line with their social cost.

    If today’s 10 year olds take this premise to heart when they turn 18, we might have a shot.

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