An Evening With Bill Nye – Portland, Oregon

Last night I went to see Bill Nye Live in Portland. If you were at school in the 1990s, you probably recognise that name from the TV show ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’ – it ran between 1993 and 1998 saved many, many science teachers from terrible hangovers as Bill took over teaching for a lesson.

Now, Bill Nye is not only a science educator – he’s the CEO of the Planetary Society, he provided consultancy on scientific matters to Barrack Obama when he was in office (ahh, the good old days..), he’s written multiple books, and he’s even been on Dancing with the Stars. Most relevant to last night’s event is that’s he’s a board member of the Mount St. Helens Institute, a non-profit aiming to ‘advance understanding and stewardship of the Earth through science, education, and exploration of volcanic landscapes’.

Ticket sales for ‘Bill Nye Live: An Evening of Seismic Importance’ were in support of the Mount St Helens Institute, and on the 38th anniversary of its eruption, Bill Nye and the Institute aimed to educate and entertain on the topic of climate change, the effects of the 1998 eruption, and how we can all work together to, quite literally, save the world.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the event in terms of the level of seriousness in the way the content was presented – Bill Nye has always been funny, but this topic is serious, especially given that it was in honour of the 38th anniversary of the Mount St Helens eruption. 57 people died as a result of the eruption, so I was a bit weary of Bill’s jokey side.

To be honest, there were parts of Bill’s presentation that did make me feel a bit uncomfortable. I agreed with just about everything that he said, but the way that he repeatedly described the eruption as ‘amazing’, whilst only mentioning the victims of it once or twice, and in quite derogatory ways (Harry Truman was one resident who refused to leave despite being told to evacuate the Mount St Helens site; he was killed by the pyroclastic flow that overtook his lodge and buried the site under 150ft of volcanic debris), didn’t sit well with me. I get that he was playing things up for the audience, but Mount St Helens is less than 2 hours away, and given that the eruption was only 38 years ago, it’s feasible that people can remember the devastation that it caused; it seemed insensitive.

Mount St Helens before and after the 1980 eruption.

That said, overall I thought the event was really well done. The audience was very mixed – lots of families with very young children, large groups of adults and older couples wanting to learn more about the volcano, so I thought the way Bill managed to communicate such complicated science was brilliant. I’m not a geologist, and haven’t studied volcanoes since I was about 12 (I think it was in a Geography class with a teacher I didn’t like..), and I followed the graphs and statistics that were presented pretty easily. There was a young boy sat next to me who seemed to follow along easily enough too, and as we got up to leave I heard him say to his Mum, ‘how do you be a geologist then?’ which was a heart-warming end to the evening.

Find out more about the Mount St Helens Institute here, and watch Bill Nye’s latest Netflix series ‘Bill Nye Saves the World’ here.

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