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Leon J. Schipper, 1947 - 2011

The following was published in a special issue of Energy Policy by Kirk R. Smith, MPH, PhD. The original publication is available for download at the bottom of this page. 

Lee Schipper, a co-editor of this special issue, passed away before it was published. Taken after a short difficult battle with pancreatic cancer, he was just 64. This issue is dedicated to his memory. 

Most recently, Lee was a senior research scientist at both University of California Berkeley’s Global Metropolitan Studies and at the Precourt Institute of Energy Efficiency at Stanford University conducting research and policy analysis on efficient energy use in transportation systems. He was co-founder of EMBARQ, the World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport, and remained as a senior associate emeritus. Over a highly productive career, he worked at the Energy and Resources Group at UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, the International Energy Agency in Paris, Shell International in London, as well as being Fulbright Scholar at the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics in Stockholm. He was a guest researcher at the World Bank, VVS Tekniska Foerening, the OECD Development Center, and the Stockholm Environment Institute. 

Lee authored more than 100 technical papers and a number of books on energy economics and transportation, including Energy Efficiency and Human Activity: Past Trends,Future Prospects (1992) with Stephen Meyers,Richard Howarth, and Ruth Steiner.He served on the editorial boards of five major journals and was a member of the Swedish Board for Transportation and Communications Research. For four years he was a member of the U.S. National Academy of Science’s Transportation Research Board’s Committee on Sustainable Transport and Committee on Developing Countries. He worked in IPCC’s Mitigation group (WGIII), for the third and fourth assessments, thus sharing the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. 

In Berkeley in the early 1970s, Professor John Holdren, now President Obama’s Science Advisor, was the first person to hire Lee as an energy specialist. He notes that ‘‘Lee was one of the first people to point out that people don’t want to consume energy, but they want to consume energy services, like transportation, comfortable rooms, cold beer and so forth. And that there was an enormous variation in the amount of energy needed to perform those services.’’ Lee broke into the academic big time in 1976, between the first and second international oil shocks, when he published an influential paper in Science pointing out that Sweden consumed far less energy per unit of economic activity than the United States did. Lee shifted his primary attention to transport in the 1980s and never looked back, becoming one of the premiere scholars in the field and a tireless proponent of sensible policies for public and private transport. 

Those are the facts, but now the person. 

Lee was a force of nature—an irrepressible fountain of energy, insight, humor, and intelligence. And a master communicator. Part of this was being an irrepressible iconoclast with a wonderful knack of turning a phrase to excellent effect. He could make the basically dry subject of energy efficiency become exciting in ways that engaged students, the media, and policymakers.Evidence for this was publishing 15 letters to the editor in the New York Times on energy efficiency—a nearly legendary achievement for any of us who have tried and failed to break into that venue. 

For example, in his view the ‘‘cash for clunkers" program—which offered rebates to people who bought a new car with better mileage than their old one—did little to save energy,although it may have reduced air pollution. In many cases,buyers used the rebate to buy something bigger and more high-powered than they would have otherwise.‘‘The effect is inverse of what we were hoping for,’’he said. 

He was also kind, generous, and unselfish with his friends and students and with the grace and self confidence to be curious and inquisitive about what others were doing. His email virtuosity was astonishing. No matter what time of day or night and no matter from what time zone I mailed, I could expect an instant response from Lee. Not always with attention to spelling, but usually with a pun. 

Lee was multi-talented beyond his science, being an accomplished musician with recordings on his resume. As a UC Berkeley student and vibraphonist, he led his jazz group to victory at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival in 1967. He would reprise the role as band leader with an ad hoc jazz group, Lee Schipper and the Mitigators, who performed primarily in conjunction with energy-related conferences. He was one of the world’s experts on Wilhelm Furtwangler, perhaps the greatest symphonic and operatic conductor of the 20th century, and collected one of the most complete sets of his recordings. Lee seemed to pick up languages effortlessly, speaking fluent Swedish, German, and French, and passable Norwegian, Danish, Spanish, and Portuguese. Even a bit of Russian. Most were learned on the run. 

He is survived by his wife Agneta and two daughters. Lisa works on adaptation to climate change with the Stockholm Environment Institute. After 13 years in Asia and Europe, she is back to Berkeley, where she lives with her husband, Markus Staas, an IT engineer. Julia, a public health specialist, and her husband, Ramon Munoz-Raskin, are in Bolivia, where Ramon works on transport planning for the Interamerican Development Bank. 

Lee was a one-of-kind personality and an indefatigable worker for transport sanity and a sustainable planet. We will sorely miss him. 

Apr 1, 2014, 10:38 AM