Bill Nye has a message for Lewis County and its majority-unvaccinated population: “Science is in the Constitution.”
On a trip to Johnston Ridge at Mount St. Helens Thursday afternoon, the famous “Science Guy” pointed to Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which grants Congress the power “to promote the progress of science and the useful arts.”
Nye said he was familiar with the Twin Cities — especially the conservative Hamilton billboard, and the sturdy support for it, which often centers around the First Amendment. In a conversation with The Chronicle, Nye used “Mr. Hamilton” as a metaphor for conservative county residents, including those resistant to getting the shot.
“Mr. Hamilton, we’re all in this together. If you get sick and create the epsilon virus, it mutates in you, and you could kill all your relatives,” he said. “You could kill all the people that really believe in your billboards.
“People like to bust the founding fathers’ chops right now, but they had some good ideas. They realized the value of innovation. They realized the value of science to this new country’s economy and to the health and safety of its citizens.”
Nye added that he thinks he has more in common with “Mr. Hamilton” than not.
The “Science Guy” and educator made the trek up to Johnston Ridge Thursday as a joint effort with Gov. Jay Inslee to promote outdoor education. But the duo also took the time to speak with reporters about COVID-19. As the state continues to recover from the fourth wave of infections, the spread of more dangerous strains of the virus threatens more outbreaks.
For unvaccinated Washingtonaians, Inslee said, “the delta variant is chasing them.”
“Those who do not have the vaccination today have a target on their backs,” he said.
Later, Inslee addressed Lewis County’s relatively large unvaccianted population.
“COVID’s coming for them. COVID’s looking for them,” he said. “The more people who do (get vaccinated) in Lewis County, the less funerals we’re going to have in Lewis County, and that’s what we should care about.”
Currently, only 38.8% of Lewis County residents have initiated vaccination, compared to 55.7% statewide.
To a TV news camera, Nye also offered a harsher message, imitating crying like a baby in an attempt to mimic Washingtonians balking at the idea of getting inoculated or saying vaccine policies are unfair.
“It’s not fair to everybody else if you get sick and start spreading this. Because it will mutate inside you. That’s how we got from alpha, beta, gamma to delta variant,” he said. “So let’s cut it out, everybody. Get vaccinated.”
Nye — a former Boeing engineer — and the governor were joined Thursday afternoon by the Mount St. Helens Institute, an outdoor educational organization that has plans to expand their work on the mountain.
At the Johnston Ridge Observatory, overlooking the volcano’s blast zone, Katie Akers with the U.S. Forest Service talked Nye, Inslee and staff through the famous May 18, 1980 eruption, chronicling the massive lateral blast which created a 300 mph, 600-degree boom, taking out 230 square miles within minutes.
“Mount St. Helens always gets me,” said Nye, who said he remembers watching the eruption on the news from the Seattle area.
Throughout the visit, the duo said expanding outdoor education is critical in creating a generation with a deep connection to their environment and with the skills and knowledge to combat climate change.
Washington has the opportunity to follow Oregon state, Inslee said, in moving toward universalized outdoor education, often taking the form of days-long nature trips focused on science.
“Ultimately, we want to embed in our standardized Washington curriculum the ability, the right for every student to have an outdoor education experience,” Inslee said. “We want to make this equitable. We want nature to be a fairly-distributed asset.”
He pointed to the “Washington Outdoor School for All” initiative and funding in the state budget aimed at getting more kids the educational opportunities. .
“Outdoor school shouldn’t be a luxury,” said Ray Yurkewycz, Mount St. Helens Institute’s executive director. “It’s not just about going canoeing and camping and having those experiences. It’s about learning about science. It’s about building relationships and building community.”
The institute had its first school group stay overnight this week after a pandemic-induced pause. Now, it has plans to use private and public funding to expand its reach from 500 overnight kids per year to 6,000 by 2025.
The nearly $50 million project includes the construction of three new 10-room lodges, as well as 10 cabins to serve school kids as well as adults. It could result in an economic stimulus for the region, he noted.
As far as universalizing outdoor education, Mount St. Helens Institute Board Member Rex Burkholder noted that in 2016, Oregon passed a ballot measure to fund a week's-worth of outdoor school for fifth and sixth-graders.
“So the model’s there,” he said.