On February 22, 2018, Stanford University civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Z. Jacobson voluntarily withdrew his $10 million libel lawsuit against an academic critic and the National Academy of Sciences' ("NAS") official journal for publishing a report disputing his research on renewable energy sources in the United States. Professor Jacobson sued NAS and Vibrant Clean Energy CEO Christopher Clack, the lead author of a paper that rebutted Professor Jacobson's research on the future of renewable energy. Professor Jacobson's paper claimed that it is "technically and economically feasible with little downside" to transition to 100 percent renewable energy sources in the United States by 2050. NAS's journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences ("PNAS"), published Professor Jacobson's original report in December 2015. Thereafter, PNAS published its critique of Professor Jacobson's research, written by Mr. Clack and 20 coauthors. That paper claimed that Professor Jacobson's paper "used invalid modeling tools, contained modeling errors and made implausible and inadequately supported assumptions." Professor Jacobson's suit alleged, among other things, that the backlash and disparaging media attention to his work following the Clack rebuttal damaged his reputation.
Professor Jacobson's suit is one of a growing trend of other recent lawsuits arising out of the debate on the science of climate change. The withdrawal of it leaves for both another day and another court to get involved—and potentially declare sides—in the dispute about different aspects of the science of climate change. Inevitably, the court in Professor Jacobson's suit would have been required to evaluate the specific issues raised by both his article and Mr. Clack's rebuttal to it, which would have required the court to opine on weighty issues about the science of climate change and the potential transformation of the world's economy through the use of renewable energy—something no court has yet been required to do. With no sign of the intensity of the climate change science debate subsiding, it is likely other suits of the same kind will be filed by those who find criticism of their views actionable.