Bill Nye Gets Serious About Climate Change

Bill Nye has appeared on television to challenge climate change skeptics. He’s also been busy on other climate-related fronts. One of them is the creation of a new permanent exhibit at the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland that opened this weekend.

He’s traded in his “Science Guy” moniker for a new “Climate Guy” tag. (Don’t worry he still has the bowtie.) The exhibit, Bill Nye’s Climate Lab, is a hands-on display of the causes and effects of climate change geared towards 8-14 year olds. Exhibition Manager Tamara Schwarz said the goal of the exhibit was not only to be hands-on but fill a niche missing in many climate change exhibits: offering hope.

So how do you offer hope when the subject can seem so hopeless? Make them a game of course. When you enter the exhibit, you get a unique Climate Scout ID. As you move through the exhibit, you can use the ID at check-in points to vote on solutions to climate change. From reducing waste to

building a more energy efficient home, these solutions are concrete and easy to grasp. Finding a solution gets you virtual points. At the end of the exhibit, you get a certificate with your point total. I’m planning to frame my certificate next to my diplomas.

The game doesn’t stop when you leave. The exhibit, which was developed over three years by the Chabot Center, Nye, and an advisory panel of nine leading climate scientists, also has an online component. You can log onto the related climate change site and continue your mission as a Climate Scout.

The Climate Lab exhibit is science-heavy but not overbearing. In fact, while it’s geared to explain climate change to kids, it will certainly help adults understand some important though less-talked about concepts. For example, one of the first displays defines albedo and explains its role in regulating climate in 38 words. (Its essentially reflectivity. If it decreases, the Earth warms up because it absorbs more solar radiation.)

Displays also show local actions to monitor the effects of climate change and address the causes and how you can be part of them. Highlights include a program in Ottawa to reduce auto traffic and citizen scientists watching birds migrating through their backyards. The exhibit also touts its climate change-friendly bona fides from being built by recycled and FSC-certified wood to using Energy Star computer monitors.

The exhibit opens just as a new UC Berkeley study shows that people are more likely to dismiss climate change if it’s presented a harsh light. The study concludes that “Fear-based appeals, especially when not coupled with a clear solution, can backfire and undermine the intended effects of messages.” Bill Nye’s Climate Lab is a model in exactly how to avoid doing that. Climate change communicators, take note.

Photo courtesy: Chabot Space and Science Center and the author.