Mark Jacobson, the Stanford engineering professor who became the darling of the green Left by repeatedly claiming the U.S. economy can run solely on renewable energy, has threatened to take legal action against the authors of an article that demolished his claims last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The paper — whose lead author is Chris Clack, a mathematician who has worked at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado and now has an energy consulting firm — received coverage in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other outlets, including a piece from yours truly in this space. Clack’s paper went through rigorous vetting and numerous delays that lasted more than a year. Rather than accept any of the criticisms Clack and his nearly two dozen co-authors made, Jacobson responded with tirades on Twitter, EcoWatch, and elsewhere. He claimed that his work doesn’t contain a single error, that all of his critics are whores for hydrocarbons, and that, well, dammit, he’s right. Never mind that Jacobson overstated the amount of available hydropower in the U.S. by roughly a factor of ten and claimed that in just three decades or so, we won’t need any gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel because we will all be flying to Vegas in hydrogen-powered 737s.
But Jacobson has also made it clear that he’s considering litigation. After hearing rumors about his legal threats, I obtained redacted copies of two e-mails Jacobson sent to Clack and his co-authors last month. In one e-mail, sent June 27 at 6:11 p.m., Jacobson warned, “just to keep you informed, I have hired an attorney to address the falsification of claims about our work in the Clack article.” About an hour later, Jacobson sent another e-mail to them. It concluded with Jacobson saying, “Yes, and I have hired an attorney.”
No legal complaints have been filed yet. But by intimating legal action, Jacobson joins company with another thin-skinned climate catastrophist and hero of the green Left: Michael Mann. As readers may know, Mann, a professor at Penn State University — who, by the way, has a star turn in Leonardo DiCaprio’s new climate-disaster pic, Before the Flood — sued National Review, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Rand Simberg, and Mark Steyn for defamation in 2012. The suit demanded a jury trial, and the litigation is still pending. (For Steyn’s paint-blistering take on Mann and climate McCarthyism, read his 2015 Senate testimony.)
Mann’s litigation and Jacobson’s implied threat to sue show how influential, well-funded climate scientist-activists are resorting to bully tactics to try to intimidate their intellectual antagonists. Rather than engage in civil, fact-based debate about climate change and climate policy, Mann and his fellow travelers have engaged in public smear campaigns against other scientists.
For a comment on this, I contacted Roger Pielke Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado who has written extensively about climate issues. For his efforts, Pielke was the target of a years-long smear campaign that was engineered by John Podesta’s henchmen at the Center for American Progress. CAP’s Joe Romm, who refused to debate Pielke in public, published dozens of articles trashing Pielke. Later, a batch of Podesta’s e-mails, which were disclosed by WikiLeaks, showed Judd Legum, an editor at ThinkProgress (a CAP-affiliated site), bragging to California billionaire Tom Steyer that he and his colleagues, by trashing Pielke, had prevented Pielke from “providing important cover for climate deniers.” Pielke was also targeted by U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva, (D., Ariz.), who in 2015 sent a letter to the University of Colorado demanding to know how much money Pielke was getting from the oil-and-gas sector. (The answer: none.)
Jacobson’s implied threat to sue is “antithetical to what we should be doing, which is to have an open and honest debate,” Pielke said. “But for some reason, climate science, and even discussions about climate science, play by a different set of rules.” He continued, saying Jacobson has launched “an intimidation campaign to clear the field for his ideas. It’s an effort to silence experts when you can’t counter them on the merits.”
Clack was equally dismayed. “It’s unprecedented for a scientist to do that,” he told me. “We have not attacked him. All the vitriol has come from his side. We have only talked about the substance of the paper.”
Jacobson’s paper was filled with big claims and wagonloads of hopium.
Jacobson’s paper was filled with big claims and wagonloads of hopium. For instance, the Stanford engineering professor said that the U.S. could economically install nearly 2,500 gigawatts of wind capacity — about 1,700 onshore and 800 offshore. To put those figures in perspective, global wind-energy capacity now stands at less than 500 gigawatts, and global offshore wind capacity currently stands at about 14 gigawatts. The absurdity of those numbers – particularly given the growing rural backlash to the encroachment of Big Wind — is readily apparent.
Clack told me that he and his co-authors “are trying to be scientists and trying to understand what we can do, and do it. And not mess around and give people wishful hopes for things that won’t happen.”
Ah, but that’s just it, isn’t it? Jacobson, like Amory Lovins before him, became the green guru for 350.org, Sierra Clubbers, and anti-nuclear Prius drivers everywhere who never let basic physics and simple arithmetic get in the way of their worldview. By giving wishful hopes to green groups and a few dimwitted celebrities, Jacobson became their Pied Piper. And because Jacobson was from Stanford, he had the imprimatur of a respected university behind him. No disrespect to Arkansas State, but Jacobson would have had a different reception had he been teaching in Jonesboro.
Of course, Jacobson’s veiled threat to sue his critics may be just that. But for Clack, even the threat of litigation shows how public discourse has deteriorated. “I don’t see how he thinks any of this is helpful,” Clack told me. “It diminishes all of science the way he has behaved. It’s beyond the pale in my opinion.”
After talking to Clack, I e-mailed Jacobson asking if he is, in fact, planning litigation. He replied: “I have no comment except to say that any email you have obtained from a third party that has my words on it is copyrighted, and your printing any email of mine would be done without my permission and would be considered a copyright infringement.”
— Robert Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.