Van Jones and Steven Chu to Speak at FutureFest

In an announcement at the State of the Association address, ASSU Executives told students that Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and former Special Advisor to the President Van Jones will be speaking at Stanford in the upcoming months. Steven Chu will speak at noon on March 8 in an event offered exclusively to the Stanford community. Van Jones will speak at the ASSU Executive’s FutureFest on April 17.

According to ASSU President David Gobaud, Steven Chu’s speech on March 8 will be “the kick-off event that ignites the discussion leading up to FutureFest.”

In an ASSU update email, FutureFest was called a “campus-wide festival that aims to inspire students and create concrete goals for sustainability at Stanford.” Putting on the event will be the Green Alliance for Innovative Action (GAIA), a new ASSU Executive initiative that promotes sustainability efforts through coordination between all of the sustainability groups on campus.

The festival will include Van Jones’ speech, a multimedia exhibition featuring student groups’ projects, the creation of a document outlining Stanford’s sustainability goals, and a concert. GAIA co-chair Sonali Chopra said the document created will be a “concrete outcome” of the festival. It will outline “Stanford’s vision for sustainability and energy issues for 2020.”

Chopra said GAIA’s goal with FutureFest is to “change the way people perceive sustainability.” She hopes the event will draw the interest of people who usually don’t care about sustainability issues. To that end, the name of the event was changed from GreenFest, as it was called in past years, to FutureFest. Sonali also hopes to draw people with promotional videos and with the promise of a concert to cap the event.

But Van Jones’ speaking appearance will not be without some controversy. Jones served as the Special Advisor for Green Jobs on President Obama’s cabinet from March to September of 2009. He resigned after intense pressure from commentators, mainly Glenn Beck, who revealed that Jones had signed a petition questioning the Bush Administration’s foreknowledge of 9/11. Other concerned citizens were alarmed by a speech in which Jones referred to Republicans by an expletive and to his involvement in Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement, a radical Bay-Area group.

Despite Jones’ tendency to polarize opinion, as of yet there seems to be little contention over his planned speech. Gobaud stated, “No one’s been upset. Everyone’s been extremely excited. We’ve had massive student support from the administration and students.” Leah Thomas, a Green Living Coordinator for Cedro House, said that she was excited Jones is coming to campus because she respects what he believes.

But some students have expressed concern. Kenny Capps, a member of the Stanford Conservative Society, questioned Jones’ radical past. Capps stated, “I’ve never been a fan of Van Jones…but he’s probably qualified to talk about sustainability.”

Gobaud believes that the number of people who come to the event will show that Jones is credible. Aside from his scrutinized past, Jones advocated for civil rights and environmentalism before going to the White House. He founded both the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and

Color of Change, a group pushing for increased representation of African-Americans.

Steven Chu has a less polarizing past. He taught physics at Stanford in the 1990s and received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in cooling atoms with lasers. As someone who supports the theory of global warming, Chu is an advocate of alternative energy sources, specifically nuclear.  He often warns that America is falling behind in the clean energy race. He  has even predicted a future economy based on glucose, where plants grown in the tropics would be converted into glucose and then sent around the world as a biofuel.

Chopra states that one of GAIA’s main goals is the integration of the sustainability initiatives on campus. She credits weekly meetings and constant communication with tremendously helping the various sustainability groups on campus coordinate their efforts to participate in FutureFest and other initiatives. Gobaud reminded readers that “this [GAIA] isn’t something that’s going to go away at the end of the year.”

The ASSU Sustainability Executive Team has also been busy with practical implementation of sustainable methods of living. For instance, waste in the Axe and Palm and the Treehouse back patio has been reduced to 0% through composting initiatives implemented this year.

For Gobaud, FutureFest is all about “changing people’s lives or people’s habits…creating green jobs, and creating new opportunities for people who don’t currently have jobs.”

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