Jon Stewart Freaks-out on Environmental Conservation

November 13, 2009 at 11:36 am Leave a comment

… At least, that was my first impression.  Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show is undoubtedly one of my favorite and I believe one of the most effective political commentators “out there”.  However, in a recent interview with Super Freakonomics author Steven Levitt, he seemed to side with the author’s position advocating techno fixes in lieu of environmental conservation efforts (see video).  However, after listening to the interview more carefully, Jon’s position seems much more middle-of-the-road.  I think the questions he raises are worth responding to.

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Levitt argues from the economics point-of-view.  I should point out that conventional, modern economics can also be considered a “secular religion.”  And, while the label of economics carries a hefty validation to what it professes, there are growing doubts to many of its underlying assumptions and therefore its solutions.  And, while geo-engineering fixes to the carbon problem could be a “band-aid” as Levitt puts it, such techno-fixes ignore a reverence and respect for what we don’t know.  Modern, human history is riddled with examples of environmental interventions gone astray due to complete knowledge of the very complex systems which they attempt to influence.  In a way, conservation is humanity’s insurance policy.

In general, the conversations regarding global warming are filled with misinformation, bias, self-interest and a host of other nouns.  And, in this age of political, and media partisanship, it can be even more confusing to get to the crux of such big problems.  As an example, the arguments against building windmills range from endangering birds to being ugly.  Do you know how many birds die from flying into high rise buildings?  I don’t know the exact number either, but I do know it’s a lot.  And, while windmills may not beautify the landscape they occupy a small footprint and can be dismantled in the future when we do arrive at a better energy solution. I feel that many times people raise such arguments for the sake of being argumentative to resist change.  To me, choosing clean energy such as windmills is a testament to our respect for our environment and conservation is our effort to improve the quality of life for all our brothers and sister.  And, that my friend is a beautiful thing.

Jon raised an interesting point regarding “5000 years of human nature”.  I think it’s a very relevant point in considering these issues, but I’m wondering if the behavior he refers to is human nature or socialized behavior?  I would argue that human history has been plagued by scarcity and that has translated into competitive behavior.  But, I don’t think that behavior is necessarily human nature.  I believe that “deep down” if we can satisfy our own needs, it is human nature to have compassion for others.  And, today we are technologically at that point where we can satisfy everyone’s needs.  What we lack is the will to overcome the systems and learned behaviors that prevent us from creating a sustainable future.  While the link between global warming, resources use and social justice might seem to be unrelated, they aren’t.  And, with at least two billion people living in poverty, I believe it’s time the public begin understating this very real relationship.

Jon Stewart is brilliant in his ability to capture the essence of arguments in an entertaining fashion.  And, while Jon’s comments were disappointing, I think his remark is a reflection of prevailing societal attitudes and offers us an opportunity to more fully understand the challenges that humanity currently faces.  I would recommend that he invite William Rees of the University of British Columbia to counter Levitt’s arguments.  Dr. Rees created the Ecological Footprint and I think would be helpful in explaining the deeper issues at play in this discussion of global warming.

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Entry filed under: Economics, Environment, Life, People, Sustainability, Thoughts.

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