Bill Nye: Other countries more curious about science than U.S.

Bill Nye left engineering to bring his blend of education comedy to a Seattle TV show where he regularly conducted wacky experiments. He later hosted the popular PBS series, "Bill Nye the Science Guy." He covered everything from atoms to the atmosphere, and won 19 Emmys along the way.

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He's been an outspoken advocate for science and the urgent need to tackle climate change. His new book is "Everything All at Once: How to Unleash Your Inner Nerd, Tap Into Radical Curiosity and Solve Any Problem." 

On "CBS This Morning," Nye said a curiosity about science is important because mankind has the ability to shape and improve the Earth, just as mankind has the ability to make things much worse.

"It's important to keep in mind, right now, humankind moves more soil and rock than nature does," Nye said. "Our influence on the Earth is extraordinary, and so along with that comes a responsibility. The reason the climate is changing is because of humans. So we want to take responsibility of that and make the world better for everybody."

When asked if other countries are more curious about science than the United States of America, Nye replied, "Right now, yeah." He acknowledged, though, that the best of the best still want to come to the U.S. because of the research being done here at a high level.

"Could we lose that?" asked co-anchor Charlie Rose.

"Well, sure. If you like to worry about things, you're living in a great time."

In "Everything All at Once," Nye writes:

"[Changing the world] requires rigorous honesty about the nature of our problems. It requires creative irreverence in the search for solutions. The process of science and natural laws don't care about our politics or preconceptions. They merely set the boundaries of what is possible, defining the outer limits of what we can achieve -- or not, should we shy away from the challenge.

"Fortunately, there is a large and growing clan of people who think that way, who love nothing better than using the tools of reason to solve the most unsolvable-looking puzzles. We call them 'nerds'…"

Co-anchor Gayle King asked, "What is it about the nerd brain, that you think is something we should all try to strive for?"

"Just in solving problems, by thinking rationally about problems, enables you to get better answers than just relying on your instincts," Nye said.

He alluded to the current health care debate in Washington, which has focused much less on the actual potential of reducing health care costs than on the political gamesmanship of the fight over coverage and tax cuts.

"One of the things I talk about in the book is the upside-down pyramid of design," Nye said. "What happens at the beginning changes everything. So [in] the health care debate I would say, as a citizen, we are looking at two different views: One is, let's provide health care to as many people as we can afford; the other is, let's provide health care to everyone. It's almost the same, but not quite the same. So if you start with those two different ideas, you're going have a lot of trouble.

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Bill Nye the Science Guy.

CBS News

"So, yeah, the technology to reduce health care costs is available. And by the way, you [also] have to protect electronic information if we're going to rely on it in this extraordinary way the way we do today. And that is also a solvable problem."

"What you're talking about, it seems to me, is not so much science per se, but the creativity of problem-solving," said Rose.

"And also believing that you can solve the problem. The premise in science, everybody, is that we can know nature, that we can understand things. If you go into it, We can't figure this out, we can't possibly …, then you won't!"

Regarding climate change denial, Rose asked, "Why do you think there are so many people who are reluctant to accept what others believe science tells them?"

"It's closing your eyes to a situation you don't wish to acknowledge," Nye said, adding, "There's been an extraordinary effort by the fossil fuel industry to suppress the facts of climate change.

"But our claim on the engineering side is, there is enough energy in sunlight, wind, and a little bit of geothermal, a little bit of tidal energy to run the whole place right now renewably, if we just decided to do it."

And change can be brought in a short time span, Nye said. 

"My grandfather went into World War I on a horse," he said. "He rode a horse. I guess he was not the world's greatest horseman but he did it, he lived through it, rode around at night around trenches in the dark. But nobody rides a horse now for a living. People don't get around on New York City on horses. Everything changed in two decades. So let's change everything. We can do this, people!"

       
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  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.