Bill Nye on How to Avoid War, Make Science Fun and Fight for a Better Tomorrow

Bill Nye hosts a National Park Foundation 'View-A-Thon' at Mashable in New York City on November 29, 2016. Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images/National Park Foundation

Last Thursday, Bill Nye was standing outside the White House in the sun, one in a crowd protesting President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement. By Sunday, he was sitting onstage in a chilly New York City convention hall promoting his newest children's book.

The two events may seem at odds with each other, but they're all part of the scientist's plan to make sure the next generation of Americans understands the world around them. And while Nye is quick to note that Jack and the Geniuses, his middle-grade series written with Gregory Mone, isn't political, he is hoping it has a chain reaction.

"What we want to do is get kids excited about science," Nye tells Newsweek. "So in the future we will at least have scientifically literate voters, but perhaps we'll have more engineers and scientists for a better tomorrow."

Related: Bill Nye's new show couldn't come at a better time (it also looks amazing)

Nye has spent decades pursuing that goal. In the '90s, often decked out in a lab coat and a bow tie, he famously hosted the kids' show Bill Nye the Science Guy, and in 2010 he took over leadership of the Planetary Society, a nonprofit that advocates for space research. Earlier this year, he co-chaired the March for Science just before the release of his new Netflix show, Bill Nye Saves the World.

Now he's making a foray into fiction. Amulet Books released Jack and the Geniuses: At The Bottom of The World in April, and the sequel, Jack and the Geniuses: In the Deep Blue Sea, is scheduled to come out in September.

Kids: "Even if you feel like you can't outthink them, you can always outread them." #JackAndTheGeniuses

— Bill Nye (@BillNye) May 3, 2017

Both revolve around Jack and his foster siblings Ava and Matt solving problems and having adventures alongside inventor Hank Witherspoon as they head to locations like Antarctica and Hawaii. Nye and Mone include a whole lot of science—the first book even features a density project for readers to try at home—but they also keep the tone lighthearted.

They can't afford not to.

"On the television shows, it has to be entertaining first, or nobody's going to watch it. And with the book, it's got to be entertaining first," Nye says. "In the big, big, back, background, ground picture, there's three things we want for everybody in the world: clean water, renewably produced, reliable electricity and access to electronic information—to the internet, or whatever the internet comes to be called in 20 years."

Newsweek sat down with Nye and Mone Sunday at BookCon, a two-day event presented by ReedPOP at the Javits Center, for a conversation about smart voters, reading and Nye's role as a science education icon. Here's a sample of what they said.

On why it's important to have "scientifically literate voters"

Nye: So that we can make good decisions, especially about the environment. We have 7 and a third billion people in the world. Pretty soon we're going to have 9 and maybe 10 billion people, and they are all going to want to eat and not have wars. For that, we have to provide for everyone, and that's going to take agricultural innovations, and innovations in the way we produce electricity and distribute it. A very important aspect of that is raising the standard of living of women and girls, because when you raise the standard of living of women and girls, they have fewer kids. The kids they do have have more resources; they prosper. This is all part of ... why we write these books: to get that done, and, well, maybe it'll be fun, too.

The demonstration began after today's announcement. People are concerned about the lack of US leadership jeopardizing the whole planet.

— Bill Nye (@BillNye) June 1, 2017

On the intended takeaway for readers

Mone: The characters are intensely curious kids. So the readers...end up being just a little more curious about the world or the way things work—not just the way the world works, but the way gadgets work. There's a character in here, Ava, who's always taking things apart to see how they work and puts them back together. A couple kids might break their parents' vaccuums or take apart the printer to find the electric motors inside, but that'll be good. We apologize in advance to those parents.

On Nye's reputation and being called "the goofy, dad-like figure in the science community"

Nye: I would prefer to be the uncle-like figure. I don't want to get in the way of somebody's dad.

Mone: It would be strange to be the father of 10 million children.

On the intersection of science and politics (or lack thereof)

Mone: These aren't political books. I want to be clear: Science should not be political. Science is science. It should be its own thing, and I think that's one of Bill's big messages. What we're doing with [the books] is we're inspiring an interest in science and how the world works.

"Half the world are women, so let's have half the scientists and engineers be women" - @BillNye #TheBookCon

— ABRAMS Kids (@abramskids) June 4, 2017

On the writing process

Mone: We gelled really well. Bill has some stylistic rules and tics that I love and agree with, and occasionally I'll miss one ... My favorite was no kids can say they're bored.

Nye: No one's allowed to say they're bored. If you're bored, it means generally you are boring. Generally. The world is a pretty interesting place, especially if you've got access to the internet and you're walking around on the ice sheet in Antarctica.

On the best part of the books

Nye: Writ large, pun intended, I like the story. The story's very cool to me ... I like it when the snow goer flies. And I really like the big ideas. In the first book, they find a way to desalinate sea water. In the second book, they find a way to get energy from temperature differences in the ocean consistent with the second law of thermodynamics. And in the third book, they use space assets, satellites, to find their way in the jungle. It's cool.

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