Is Jon Stewart Dropping the Ball on Climate Change?

Jon Stewart and co. appear on TreeHugger with some frequency. And that's mostly because the Daily Show has a uniquely powerful way of connecting with its audience -- when the crew chooses to take on green issues like climate change, the BP spill, or so forth, people pay attention. But a new report from the Yale Forum of Climate Change and the Media asserts that by failing to exhibit certain scientific rigor, Stewart is perpetuating misconceptions about climate change and failing to successfully challenge beliefs about climate denial. The lead researcher concluded by saying that she was "disappointed" -- is Stewart dropping the ball on climate?

Here's the meat of Yale Forum's analysis:

Although the show deftly highlights the follies of politicians and television news networks, it is prone to inaccuracies of its own in the nuances of climate science. A Yale Forum analysis found that Stewart and the show's other correspondents have repeatedly -- and mistakenly -- conflated the ozone hole and climate change. At times, Stewart has appeared uncharacteristically timid in questioning guests about climate science. Meanwhile, the show's coverage of the University of East Anglia/Climatic Research Unit 2009 e-mail controversy likely reinforced public misunderstanding of the issue.
Note that the analysis has plenty of nice things to say about Stewart too -- particularly about this bit where Steward lampoons the Bush administrations' repugnant approach to its own scientists findings on climate:

Yale's chief criticism is that Stewart stand to be a little more familiar with the current body of climate science. But that's sort of the great problem with climate change -- just about everybody could stand to be much more familiar with the science. Yes, Stewart and co. make some fleeting, jokey references to ozone and global warming that aren't accurate, but the show's chief aim is comedy, not science news. If it's funnier in a given situation to make an ozone crack about global warming, they'll do it -- you probably would too.

And yeah, I was kind of bummed when Stewart repeated Fox News' line on the hacked climate email non-scandal. But again, he was processing what the media trend of the day was, and looking for jokes -- and since all those lines were taken out of context, it's easy to see why these statements looked damning (remember, this was when the story first broke). But it's not Stewart's job to investigate them -- it's to joke about them. Which he does. And at the end, he even comes up with a reasonable conclusion, given the circumstances:

And yeah, it'd be nice if Stewart were up on his climate science to the point where he could debate climate deniers who come to his show loaded with memorized talking points about global cooling and sun spots and so forth. You know, sleazeballs like this guy:

But again, he's a talk show host. There's a lot going on in the world, and it's impossible to thoroughly understand the background of all of it. It's the wrong idea to be disappointed with Stewart -- instead, we should view the occasional climate confusion exhibited by the Daily Show as, generally, the ideal response to the great complexities inherent in climate. In the video above, Stewart can't call on the science to defeat skeptic Horner's claims -- so he uses common sense to point out that just because people might want to curb carbon emissions, that doesn't make them business-hating communists. That business and climate concerns can coexist. Same with the emails: he didn't have the details as to whether the inflammatory bits were cherry-picked -- but he had the common sense to say, 'of course this doesn't mean climate change is debunked'.

If anything, we should be glad that despite the fact that Stewart may not understand global warming as well as scientists do, he champions the very act of being reasonable about climate in the face of heated opposition. He offers a model that his many supporters may indeed emulate -- we can't realistically ask that all US citizens read every IPCC report, but we can encourage them to use common sense to deflect the many assaults lobbed at climate by industry interests and opportunist pundits and politicians. And that's the sort of thing that Stewart excels at.

More on Jon Stewart and Climate Change
Rand Paul & Jon Stewart Explain Why Environmental Laws Are So Important (Video)
Jon Stewart On Copenhagen, Limos, and Climate Deniers (Video)
Jon Stewart Takes on "ClimateGate"

Tags: Global Climate Change | Humor | Television | United States

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