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The Onion or Fox News: Who Had the Better Solar Satire Story?

Shibani Joshi works to keep a straight face on Fox News | Screen capture via Media Matters/YouTube

Fox News and The Onion each offered up a story on solar electricity recently, and it's interesting to compare the two. One of the pieces was so laughably inaccurate it could only have been satire. And the other was by The Onion.

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The Onion's February 7 piece, entitled "Hungover Energy Secretary Wakes Up Next To Solar Panel, was a light-hearted poke at the departing Secretary of the Department of Energy, who was Photoshopped into an awkward scene involving a commercial photovoltaic panel. Like much of The Onion's work, the joke mainly consists in the piece's title and first sentence: "Sources have reported that following a long night of carousing at a series of D.C. watering holes, Energy Secretary Steven Chu awoke Thursday morning to find himself sleeping next to a giant solar panel he had met the previous evening."

Much of The Onion's recent work has been far more pointed. Not so much with this lighter and sillier piece, likely far more appreciated by Secretary Chu (and his kids) than your typical reader of The Onion.

In this instance, we're going to have to award the Solar Satire award to Fox News Business talking head Shibani Joshi, who this week credited Germany's solar lead over the United States to a hitherto unrecognized climatological phenomemon: Deutschland's sunny, tropical clime. Here's the Fox and Friends segment, caught by our colleagues at Media Matters:

The exchange takes place at the end of the clip. Here's a description, courtesy Will Oremus at Slate:

"The industry's future looks dim," intoned host Gretchen Carlson at the beginning of the segment... She and her co-host went on to ridicule Obama's "failed" solar subsidies, adding, "The United States simply hasn't figured out how to do solar cheaply and effectively. You look at the country of Germany, it's working out great for them." Near the end of the segment, it occurred to Carlson to ask her expert guest, Fox Business reporter Shibani Joshi, why it might be that Germany's solar-power sector is doing so much better. "What was Germany doing correct? Are they just a smaller country, and that made it more feasible?" Carlson asked.

Joshi's jaw-dropping response: "They're a smaller country, and they've got lots of sun. Right? They've got a lot more sun than we do." In case that wasn't clear enough for some viewers, Joshi went on: "The problem is it's a cloudy day and it's raining, you're not gonna have it." Sure, California might get sun now and then, Joshi conceded, "but here on the East Coast, it's just not going to work."

Oremus did ReWire the favor of digging up the precise map from the National Renewable Energy Labs we were looking for to explain Joshi's joke:

Solar intensity in the US and Germany, compared. | Image: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

We're afraid this satire might be lost on those Fox News viewers who are unfamiliar with the world outside the U.S. For their benefit: Germany has less sun than anywhere in the U.S. outside of Alaska and the Puget Sound. Germany has more solar than we do because they have more sensible subsidies for solar than the U.S. does, paying people like you and me to install it rather than limiting most subsidies to large companies.

Even though we've just ruined the joke by explaining it, we've got to give Fox News the edge over The Onion for the sheer bravado of their work here. Who said solar power couldn't be funny?

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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I live in Seattle and was told by a solar installer that we get 15% more sunshine than Germany. Solar has taken off in my city.