Hey Bill Nye! What Can One Person Do to Save the World?

Can one person save the world? This week, Bill Nye finds hope in middle-school student Victoria, who asks what she can do to pull her weight in our current environmental crisis.

Victoria: Hi there Bill. My name is Victoria. I am a middle school student from Washington state. Environment is quite humid right now and it's time to make a change, but a lot of people don't see the threat or they don't want to make a change. My question is how can we to prepare the planet and what actions we can start right now to save the world? I know it's hard but I just hope that you can give some clues. Thank you very much.

Bill Nye: Victoria. Victoria. You are the key to the future my friend. So here's the thing, you live in Washington state. I lived in Seattle for many years. I love Washington. Go Seahawks. I'm right there my friend. Go Mariners. Now, you are in middle school. You are the future. People will tell you that but they're not kidding. So what we want you to do his influence your parents and make sure they vote. Voting is the most important thing for us, especially this year.
And I want your parents - I want you to encourage your parents to take the environment into account when they pick people to vote for. Now you're Governor, Jay Inslee, he's an acquaintance of mine and he's a big environmentalist. He wrote a book, Apollo's Fire, and so on. It's about the future of what people are doing to take care of the environment and have energy produced, electricity especially, renewably without having to burn fossil fuels. So it's up to you to influence your parents. Yes, very important to recycle your plastic and your paper. And also in Washington state, I'm not sure exactly where you live but you can recycle your food waste along with your yard waste and that becomes compost, which nourishes our farms, which in turn produces food, part of the mythic cycle of life. So you can encourage your parents to do that, but we need big ideas, big changes.

In Washington state there's enormous opportunities for wind turbines and enormous opportunities for photovoltaics, for solar cells that take sunlight and make it right into electricity, especially in Eastern Washington. So you can be part of that. And you're in middle school, that is a turning point for most people in their science education. So I hope you, Victoria, will apply yourself in science class, in biology, physics, chemistry, and there's probably another class you might have about planetary science or astronomy or earth science. And the other thing Victoria that is really important, especially for girls, is algebra. And I just want to tell you algebra is this way to think. It trains your brain to think in this way that enables you to imagine things, to accept that you don't know the answer but you're going to find it. And so I really encourage you - I just tell you that I took algebra you just have to practice. There's no way around it. You just got to do it over and over until you get comfortable with it. And you can do it. And by the way when you're a girl in middle school you're kind of better at everything than the boys. Now that will change in the next four or five years; you'll even out. But right now just go with it my friend. Go with it. Make sure you learn algebra and learn science so that you, if you choose to be a scientist or better yet an engineer, which is a profession in which you use science to solve problems and make things, that you can lead the world in these new technologies. But right now do those things at home that make an important difference at home, recycling; not wasting energy; not wasting clean water, and make sure your parents take the environment into account and make sure they vote. Thank you Victoria. Go get 'em!

This week, Bill Nye dishes out some warm and fuzzy feelings (served on a bed of seriousness) through a kind and inspiring response to Victoria, a middle school student from Washington state who is looking for some clues about how to counteract climate change, and make an individual stride towards a better world.


As an immediate and urgent action, Nye encourages Victoria to talk to her parents and express what her concerns and passions are, and ask them to vote in state and federal elections – especially right now, more than ever – for the candidate with correct view on the reality of climate change and a science-literate plan to address the crisis.

In the longer term, Nye says it’s all about Victoria getting the most from her education and really applying herself to her classes, particularly science and algebra, which he says will train her brain into ways of thinking that are crucial to problem-solving should she choose to have a career in science – or even better engineering, taking after Nye himself – where she would be in a position to implement research and positive environmental change.

There is a role model living in Victoria’s state and he just so happens to be the governor, Jay Inslee. Inslee co-authored a book with Bracken Hendricks called Apollo’s Fire, about the future of energy production, and how the world can develop inventive alternatives to fossil fuels. Inslee and Hendricks look at the dreamers who are experimenting with mirrors and liquid metal to squeeze electricity from sunshine, those geniuses who are using waves off the U.S. coast to power appliances, and the entrepreneurs who are leading the charge on batteries that can sustainably run vehicles and one day homes and businesses. It’s an inspirational read for any curious mind and, in the authors' own words, it gives an optimistic view "of a renewed environment; millions of good jobs; and stronger, more secure communities can be the spark that unites a truly common movement."

For those of us out of school, Nye’s message still applies – vote responsibly, educate yourself continuously, take the smallest measures from reducing consumption to recycling correctly, and contribute to big, world-changing ideas in any way you can, whether it’s something you can do directly here and now, or a way you can inspire the next generation to be thoughtful, sharp-minded innovators of the future.

Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.

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Image: SRF
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The death of Old Yugoslavia

Image: public domain

United Yugoslavia on a CIA map from 1990.

Wars are harder to finish than to start. Take for instance the Yugoslav Wars, which raged through most of the 1990s.

The first shot was fired at 2.30 pm on June 27th, 1991, when an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army took aim at Slovenian separatists. When the YPA retreated on July 7th, Slovenia was the first of Yugoslavia's republics to have won its independence.

After the wars

Image: Ijanderson977, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

Map of former Yugoslavia in 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence. The geopolitical situation remains the same today.

The Ten-Day War cost less than 100 casualties. The other wars – in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo (1) – lasted much longer and were a lot bloodier. By early 1999, when NATO had forced Serbia to concede defeat in Kosovo, close to 140,000 people had been killed and four million civilians displaced.

So when was the last shot fired? Perhaps it never was: it's debatable whether the Yugoslav Wars are actually over. That's because Kosovo is a special case. Although inhabited by an overwhelming ethnic-Albanian majority, Kosovo is of extreme historical and symbolic significance for Serbians. More importantly, from a legalistic point of view: Kosovo was never a separate republic within Yugoslavia but rather a (nominally) autonomous province within Serbia.

Kosovo divides the world

Image: public domain

In red: states that have recognised the independence of Kosovo (most EU member states – with the notable exceptions of Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia; and the U.S., Japan, Turkey and Egypt, among many others). In blue: states that continue to recognise Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo (most notably Russia and China, but also other major countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Iran).

The government of Serbia has made its peace and established diplomatic relations with all other former Yugoslav countries, but not with Kosovo. In Serbian eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was a unilateral and therefore legally invalid change of state borders. Belgrade officially still considers Kosovo a 'renegade province', and it has a lot of international support for that position (2). Not just from its historical protector Russia, but also from other states that face separatist movements (e.g. Spain and India).

Despite their current conflict, Kosovo and Serbia have the same long-term objective: membership of the European Union. Ironically, that wish could lead to Yugoslav reunification some years down the road – within the EU. Slovenia and Croatia have already joined, and all other ex-Yugoslav states would like to follow their example. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have already submitted an official application. The EU considers Bosnia and Kosovo 'potential candidates'.

Kosovo is the main stumbling block on Serbia's road to EU membership. Even after the end of hostilities, skirmishes continued between the ethnically Albanian majority and the ethnically Serbian minority within Kosovo, and vice versa in Serbian territories directly adjacent. Tensions are dormant at best. A renewed outbreak of armed conflict is not unthinkable.

Land for peace?

Image: BBC

Mitrovica isn't the only area majority-Serb area in Kosovo, but the others are enclaved and fear being abandoned in a land swap.

In fact, relations between Kosovo and Serbia have deteriorated spectacularly in the past few months. At the end of November, Kosovo was refused membership of Interpol, mainly on the insistence of Serbia. In retaliation, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on all imports from Serbia. After which Serbia's prime minister Ana Brnabic refused to exclude her country's "option" to intervene militarily in Kosovo. Upon which Kosovo's government decided to start setting up its own army – despite its prohibition to do so as one of the conditions of its continued NATO-protected independence.

The protracted death of Yugoslavia will be over only when this simmering conflict is finally resolved. The best way to do that, politicians on both sides have suggested, is for the borders reflect the ethnic makeup of the frontier between Kosovo and Serbia.

The biggest and most obvious pieces of the puzzle are the Serbian-majority district of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, and the Albanian-majority Presevo Valley, in southwestern Serbia. That land swap was suggested previous summer by no less than Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic, presidents of Kosovo and Serbia respectively. Best-case scenario: that would eliminate the main obstacle to mutual recognition, joint EU membership and future prosperity.

If others can do it...

Image: Ruland Kolen

Belgium and the Netherlands recently adjusted out their common border to conform to the straightened Meuse River.

Sceptics - and more than a few locals - warn that there also is a worst-case scenario: the swap could rekindle animosities and restart the war. A deal along those lines would almost certainly exclude six Serbian-majority municipalities enclaved deep within Kosovo. While Serbian Mitrovica, which borders Serbia proper, is home to some 40,000 inhabitants, those enclaves represent a further 80,000 ethnic Serbs – who fear being totally abandoned in a land swap, and eventually forced out of their homes.

Western powers, which sponsored Kosovo's independence, are divided over the plan. U.S. officials back the idea, as do some within the EU. But the Germans are against – they are concerned about the plan's potential to fire up regional tensions rather than eliminate them.

Borders are the Holy Grail of modern nationhood. Countries consider their borders inviolate and unchanging. Nevertheless, land swaps are not unheard of. Quite recently, Belgium and the Netherlands exchanged territories so their joint border would again match up with the straightened course of the River Meuse (3). But those bits of land were tiny and uninhabited. And as the past has amply shown, borders pack a lot more baggage in the Balkans.

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