Steven Chu: Facebooking the nation

Can adept social networking and an interview with Jon Stewart stop global warming?

By Andrew Leonard
July 22, 2009 9:27PM (UTC)
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So maybe there is something to this social networking stuff after all. I went to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu's Facebook page with the intent of questioning whether such a stunt had any serious value in terms of pushing forward the Obama administration's energy and climate-change agenda. What does it mean that Chu had 2,137 "fans" when I first checked the page?

A half-hour later, I had signed up for a useful-looking Department of Energy RSS feed, marveled at Chu's virtuoso performance on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," and been mildly impressed at the quality of a comments thread on the topic of biofuels. Although I'm guessing Secretary Chu himself is not the person uploading videos of his lectures on miscanthus, that doesn't negate the fact that the page is already a reasonably substantive node in the energy policy universe.


As for influence, that's harder to judge. Reading the comments threads, one sees that the climate change deniers are just as active on Facebook as anywhere else. How does it help the chances of getting energy legislation passed by the Senate to learn that Chu's seen "Casablanca" a dozen times? And what should we make of his favorite quote?

William Faulkner on receiving the Nobel Prize: "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance."

To which I feel compelled to reply: Mr. Secretary, you still believe this after sitting through hostile questioning from Republican legislators who believe climate change is a hoax?

At the end of his interview with Chu, Jon Stewart told him that he was "the first Cabinet member I've met who seems alive." There's truth to that. Chu does not come off as a politician. He comes off as a scientist who believes the data support the theory that humans are causing destructive climate change. He believes we'd better do something about it. His Facebook page gets the message across.

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Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Environment Facebook How The World Works Jon Stewart