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Sept. 21, 2021

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Gov. Inslee meets with Bill Nye at Johnston Ridge

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Gov. Jay Inslee, left, attaches a "Washingtonian" pin to and Bill Nye's shirt during a visit to Johnston Ridge Observatory Thursday.
Gov. Jay Inslee, left, attaches a "Washingtonian" pin to and Bill Nye's shirt during a visit to Johnston Ridge Observatory Thursday. (Courtney Talak/The Daily News) Photo Gallery

MOUNT ST. HELENS — A governor and a science guy walk in front of a volcano. The rest of the conversation was no joke.

Gov. Jay Inslee and Bill Nye “the Science Guy” held an event Thursday at Johnston Ridge overlooking Mount St. Helens. The two spoke about their shared interests in outdoor education, addressing climate change and increasing the number of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The governor also gave Nye a pin and named him the honorary Washingtonian of the Day for his work as an inspirational local science figure.

The major point of the two’s appearance was to demonstrate the success that outdoor education could have. Inslee said that hands-on outdoor lessons, whether at a small pond near the city or at irreplaceable locations like Mount St. Helens, could spark a major interest in science and education among kids.

“It’s safe out here both to get us healthy and safe to understand the importance of following good science, not denying good science,” Inslee said.

Nye’s status as a famous scientist and Washingtonian helped drive home the message. Nye has lived in Washington for more than 40 years, after first being hired as an engineer for Boeing. One of Nye’s first jobs in television was hosting an educational short film for the Washington State Department of Ecology in 1989.

The Bill Nye the Science Guy show was produced by KCTS-TV, the public broadcast service in Seattle, and filmed much of its 100-episode run in Washington.

“The Delta variant, climate change, taking care of each other and redistributing wealth so that everybody has a high quality of life. We’re all in this together, so let’s get out there and save the world!” Nye said.

Inslee said he met Nye in 1998, when he was first running for the House of Representatives and Nye was at the height of his show’s popularity. He said the two went kayaking along the Washington coast and have remained in touch since because of their shared interest in science.

“He’s such a vibrant person. Sometimes science can seem really gray, but Bill has done so much to make that exciting. He’s also perpetually optimistic about what science can do,” Inslee said.

Inslee and Nye have not appeared at many events together, although Nye briefly appeared in the video announcement for Inslee’s 2020 presidential campaign.

The two special guests had front seats to an abridged presentation from the staff of the Mount St. Helens Institute and the Johnston Ridge Observatory. Karissa Lowe, a Cowlitz Tribe member who serves on the board of the Mount St. Helens Institute, spoke about the tribe’s historic connection to the region.

U.S. Forest Service ranger Katie Akers led the main presentation about the history of the 1980 eruption and the changes that followed. Akers said that seeing the return of trees and natural growth to the volcanic region during her years working there gave her a reason to feel optimistic coming out of the coronavirus pandemic.

“When it kind of seemed like your world was being shaken all the time, I could always remember the lesson I learned from Mount St. Helens, which is life is resilient and it keeps going,” Akers said.

Inslee and Nye also fielded questions about the current state of the pandemic

Inslee said he was happy with the success the state’s “Shot of a Lifetime” had in increasing the number of COVID-19 vaccinations. He added that no discussion of returning to universal mask mandates or lockdowns was needed as long as the vaccine campaign continued.

He and Nye both expressed the need for even more vaccinations to take place in order to reduce the chance of another, worse variant. Inslee compared people who have not been vaccinated yet to “bioweapon laboratories” that could create new strains.

“The Delta variant will find you. If you’re not vaccinated, it will find you,” Nye said.

The Johnston Ridge Observatory and the Coldwater Science and Learning Center have been closed to the public for more than a year because of the COVID-19 restrictions. Operations are expected to return later this summer.

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