EESI Board Member John "Jack" Gibbons, who had been President Bill Clinton's chief science and technology advisor and a leading authority on energy efficiency, passed away on July 17 at the age of 86. He is the only person to have ever served as the chief science advisor for both Congress (1979-1992) and the White House (1993-1998).
Dr. Gibbons was a leading, and early, proponent of energy efficiency. He was convinced that technology could be used to reduce the impact of energy production and consumption on the environment, and he pioneered several studies on the question in the late 1960s—before the first oil shock made the need for energy conservation a given. In 1973, he became the first director of the Federal Office of Energy Conservation. He would later be awarded the Alliance to Save Energy’s first “lifetime achievement in energy efficiency” prize in 2007.
After a stint in academia, as a Professor of Physics and Director of the Energy, Environment, and Resources Center at the University of Tennessee from late 1974 to 1979, Dr. Gibbons made his way back to Washington to serve as the director for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). An independent, nonpartisan agency, the OTA analyzed legislation affecting science and technology for Congress. It was, in some ways, the Capitol's technology think tank, before being shut down in 1995 in an effort to cut spending.
Dr. Gibbons joined the Clinton administration in 1993, to serve as President Clinton's chief science and technology advisor. In that capacity, he coordinated the government's science and technology policy, and steadfastly defended federal research budgets. He was a member of the National Security Council, the Domestic Policy Council, and the National Economic Council. Former Vice President Al Gore, who worked closely with Dr. Gibbons during this time, said in a statement to Climate Progress, "It was Jack’s optimism and imagination that did so much to help the United States face the difficult issues of our time, including the climate crisis. He was utterly unique and irreplaceable.”
After leaving the U.S. government, Dr. Gibbons remained very involved in policy matters, and shared his expertise with Population Action International, the World Resources Institute (WRI), the Virginia Commission on Climate Change, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and of course EESI, where he served as a Board Member from 2008 to the day of his death.
Among many other distinctions, he received awards from the French, English, and German governments, NASA, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was particularly grateful when he received the Leo Szilard Award for Physics in the Public Interest.
Jack Gibbons was born in Harrisonburg, Virginia, on January 15, 1929. He graduated from Randolph-Macon College in 1949, and received his PhD in Physics from Duke University in 1954. His first job was as a nuclear physicist and leader of the nuclear geophysics group at Oak Ridge National Labs in Tennessee, where he studied the nucleosynthesis of heavy elements inside stars.
He is survived by his devoted wife of 60 years, Mary Hobart Gibbons; by two loving daughters, Dr. Virginia Barber and Mary Meyer (his third, Diana C. Gibbons, died in 2014); eight grandchildren; and his sister, Dr. Elizabeth Reynolds.
Author: Amaury Laporte