Vinod Khosla on Mark Jacobson

Note: In the interest of fairness, I will post a response from Mark Jacobson tomorrow.

In response to my recent essay, Vinod Khosla and The Truth, I got a response from Mr. Khosla in which he said that my source had not reported the facts accurately. Mr. Khosla and I ended up exchanging over 20 e-mails over this (we also covered a lot of old ground, and some of the e-mails were very frank). Mr. Khosla’s response was “off the record”, but I told him I would be happy to let him respond on the record. After cobbling together a response from various e-mails, I sent it to Mr. Khosla to make sure it accurately represented his position. He made a couple of corrections, and then sent the following statement (followed by a statement by the NRDC):

My talk was inaccurately reported as I never said Mark was funded by Exxon. I am also happy to tell you about the history of Mark’s interaction with me.

I am careful to say “I don’t know what Mark’s intent is but there are good people with good data, good people with inaccurate data, and bad people with bad intent who selectively use data. Many such efforts are funded by the oil industry (I seldom define any one company, especially if I don’t know for sure, fear of being personally sued. I have a lot to lose).

As to Mark Jacobson I have not read his paper but I did read the New Scientist description. “we would have 185 fewer deaths from a current total of 10,” “mostly in smoggy Los Angeles”. Which model is accurate enough to predict deaths at better than 2%? Also his data on smog does not match actual data of smog days in places ethanol is used. How accurate is this model? The NRDC specifically sent out a “debunking Mark Jacobson” memo. Why would an environmental organization disagree with him? He has heckled me at my speeches for a while and when somebody asked him why he told them that he was upset that biofuels were taking away funding from wind research. I cannot verify this statement but that is what I was told. I will suggest that my skepticism is justified especially since I am presuming (but don’t know for sure) that he started heckling me before he started working on this latest model. I see this kind of thing all the time with people from various research institutions, much like tobacco funding was directed at “pro-tobacco research results” for decades.

Vinod Khosla
Khosla Ventures

He also included a response by Roland Hwang of the NRDC:

NRDC Statement on New Study of Ethanol (E85) Impact on Air Quality

April 26, 2007

NRDC believes there should be no rush to judgment on the impacts of ethanol used as high blends (E85, 85% ethanol, and 15% gasoline) on air quality based on a new study by Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford University.

We urge Dr. Jacobson to join with NRDC, air pollution regulators, and scientists to clear the air regarding his statement that concludes that E85, “a high blend of ethanol poses an equal or greater risk to public health than gasoline.” This conclusion is at odds with previous studies and emission data from modern vehicles running on E85, and even appears to be at odds with the conclusion from his own study.

NRDC recommends the following to clarify the results of this paper and the air quality impacts of ethanol used as high blends:

First, NRDC recommends that a team of leading vehicle emission experts review the existing data on emissions from E85. Based on this review, if the panel believes the emission scenarios in Dr. Jacobson’s study are incorrect and/or additional sensitivity runs are necessary, air pollution regulators should re-run the air pollution model to develop a broader scientific consensus of the impacts on air quality.

Second, based on the results from the above work, we urge the CARB, US EPA, automakers and the ethanol industry to commit to additional testing of E85 vehicles if warranted. If such testing results indicate a need, we call upon CARB and US EPA to immediately set tighter emission standards on E85 vehicles to protect public health.

We look forward to working with Dr. Jacobson and vehicle emission experts to clarify and improve the quality of information being provided to policymakers and the public on this important issue of the pollution impacts of E85.
Roland Hwang, Vehicles Policy Director
111 Sutter Street, 20th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104
tel: 415-875-6100
fax: 415-875-6161

I have no comments on this. I just wanted to give him the chance to tell his side of the story. As I have said, my issue was not with the study itself. I don’t know if it is accurate or not. I do know that in the original press releases that Roland Hwang did acknowledge that Mark Jacobson is one of the best atmospheric chemists in the country. But my issue was that I felt Mr. Khosla was once again being loose with the facts, and we discussed this in some detail in our e-mail exchanges.

3 thoughts on “Vinod Khosla on Mark Jacobson”

  1. I’m going to re-evaluate my wholehearted support of the NRDC. Ethanol does little to offset habits of overconsumption while doing plenty to destroy the environment.
    Corn Ethanol is a greenwashing sideshow to benefit oversubsidized agriculture (ADM, Cargill) and the VCs who condone this corrosive pipe dream.

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