Bill Nye gives a presentation during a Planned Parenthood luncheon at the Marriott Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio on May 8, 2018. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Bill Nye approves of San Antonio’s local efforts to tackle climate change, but he doesn’t think a utility like CPS Energy should still be burning coal in 2040, as it has outlined in a preliminary plan.

The science-promoting celebrity sat down with the Rivard Report to discuss climate change and other issues after a talk Tuesday at the annual luncheon of Planned Parenthood South Texas, where he was the featured speaker.

Nye, who connected with millions of children in the 1990s as the host of Bill Nye the Science Guy in recent years has become one of the country’s chief defenders of science, at least on television.

Often taking a left-leaning stance on the issues he covers, Nye frequently appears on debates on cable news shows and last year launched Bill Nye Saves the World, a Netflix series for adults in which he and guests tackle often controversial topics ranging from gender identity to genetically modified foods.

At the luncheon, Nye wowed a receptive audience with his commentary that touched on climate change and women’s reproductive rights. The best way to address overpopulation and its effect on the environment, he argued, is to empower women and girls.

“When you raise the standard of living of girls and women, they have fewer kids, and the kids they have are better cared for,” he said.

Here’s what Nye had to say after his speech. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Rivard Report: What do you make of Texas’ relationship with science?

Bill Nye: It’s weird. Here’s “Houston, we have a problem.” They’ve got all these NASA centers that do these extraordinary things. Baylor University is cutting-edge in all sorts of research. I remember buckyballs were discovered by Rick Smalley, he was at Rice University.

It’s the same old thing we have all over the U.S. In the cities, where there’s metropolitan, cosmopolitan populations, people embrace science, they accept each other, live their lives. They don’t get bent out of shape.

RR: How about that the majority of students in Texas don’t really have sex education? Sixty percent of schools have abstinence-only sex education, the Texas Tribune reported last year.

BN: It’s ineffective. People whose sex education is abstinence often are called “parents.”

RR: How do you feel about this generation of students now compared to those you were reaching in the 1990s with your first show?

BN: I say all the time, the students in Parkland, Florida, at Stoneman Douglas [High School], when students of that age become voters, things are going to change in a weekend. They’re going to change in two presidential election cycles. [I’m] warning raving contrarians, “The young people are coming, look out.” They’re not in denial about climate change. They’re not in denial about women’s health issues.

RR: San Antonio is trying to do its own climate change plan, as many cities have. The first step is to try to build an inventory of where greenhouse gas emissions are coming from. Another step is to use climate modeling to try to predict where San Antonio specifically is going to go in the future. Does that seem like the right kind of thing to do, and can a city ever do it in the absence of federal action?

BN: Absolutely. The irony is these people running around being states’ rights advocates. Okay, careful what you wish for.

The example right now is California. California is the sixth-biggest economy in the world. It’s bigger than the economy of France. So what if California says, “We’re not going to let you sell cars here until you meet our emissions standards, because we’re a state and we have rights? We’re not going to buy cotton from South Texas unless it’s produced sustainably or in some more conservative water-use fashion?” Then what are you going to do, when the local people start taking these steps?

All politics is local, as the old saying goes, so more power to San Antonio, man. Put your feet down.

RR: The City owns its electric utility. So we kind of have a say in where we’re going to get our power from. But our utility just came out with a plan that says we’re still going to be burning coal in 2040.

BN:  I hope you don’t do that. Coal is the worst thing for the environment for us humans. The Earth is going to be here no matter what, people. What we want to do is save the Earth for us humans.

2040 is quite a while to still be burning coal on purpose in Texas. We have all these wind resources and all this sunlight. And yes, nuclear power sounds like a great thing, but the politics associated with it is such a drag. Nobody wants the waste. In the U.S., nobody’s really satisfied with the waste disposal procedure. The Navy’s very good with it, but still, when you have something that’s dangerous for 10,000 years, or even 300 years, it’s really quite a burden on the future.

RR: What do you think has made Americans have such a hard time differentiating between a true expert and a fake expert?

BN: The fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel industry has been very successful in introducing doubt – climate change is unproven, it’s like the weather. That’s wrong, and now you’ll see Exxon advertising their biofuels. Like, they’re finally figuring out they’re in the energy business, not the oil business.

RR: Do you think it’s worse now, the parade of fake facts and fake experts, than at other times?

BN: It’s the worst that it’s ever been. It reminds me very much of studying the former Soviet Union when I was in school. An organization tries to declare things to be facts  which are not facts.

People use the word Orwellian, based on George Orwell’s book 1984. And that’s what it is. But what’s built into the U.S. system is change. Change is built into the Constitution. So I predict that things are going to change fast.

RR: You quoted the Constitution today in your presentation.

BN: People forget! “The progress of science and useful arts,” right there. “Useful arts,” to me, is an 18th-century term for architecture, engineering, using science to make things. The founders, the people who wrote the Constitution, understood that.

RR: How is it talking about information that’s very dense or complicated on cable television?

BN: Climate change is not dense or complicated. There are 7.5 billion people burning fossil fuels and changing the composition of the atmosphere by a factor of a third in two-and-a-half centuries. That’s why climate’s changing; it’s not rocket surgery.

But I do wonder: The climate change contrarians have kids. And I’ve confronted them. I’ve confronted Marc Morano. I’ve confronted Joe Bastardi. And they’re a little freaked out, is what I’d say. They’re a little troubled by their life’s work.

Here in Texas, you’ve got some extraordinary lawmakers who have confused winning with doing the right thing. Just because you can win the debate doesn’t mean it’s a debate you should have won, in the best interest of your family.

RR: What’s going to be the legacy of U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, who’s part of our Congressional delegation here?

BN: Mixed, I guess. You know, he has a picture from the Hubble Space Telescope on his wall. Yet, he doesn’t want to fund, or acts as though he doesn’t want to fund, earth science – satellites, space assets used in earth science. I didn’t vote for him because I don’t live here.

He and I get along; I’ve spent time in his office. I pointed out to him that the flags out his window, the flags on the U.S. Capitol blow in opposite directions quite often. It has to do with the wind that swirls around the dome of the U.S. Capitol, which is a very large structure, wind-wise.

He told me that I was the first guy to notice that. I mention it because if you haven’t noticed that, Mr. Smith, what else have we missed? It’s right out your window.

RR: For people of San Antonio, if you had to pick one thing for them to ensure a secure stable future for themselves, what is the best thing?

BN: Invest in public education. We want science every day in every grade. And we want preschool for everyone.

These seem like obvious things, but it’s top-down. That is to say, once somebody decides we’re going to have science every day in every grade, then it’ll happen. Doing it organically [and] bottom-up is okay, but it’s not as effective as in a situation where you have governments running the school districts. The reason we have a government running a school district is reasonable, it’s how we get things done. It’s a republic.

I remind everybody that kids love science. If you’re a teacher, do science because kids have fun. Blow stuff up. Build stuff. Make things. Call that science, and then we’ll have a generation of people able to think critically.

When I was growing up, getting stuff out of the library was the skill that you had to learn. But now, getting access to information is easy. If you go on the web, you’ll find the atomic number of samarium. Nobody’s going to lie about the atomic number of samarium. We have to learn to sort that out from, “a presidential candidate is running a child slavery ring out from a pizza restaurant near the U.S. White House.” That’s not very likely.

Disclosure: CPS Energy is a Rivard Report business member. For a full list of supporters, click here.

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is the San Antonio Report's environment and energy reporter.