"Remembering Alex Farrell, the passionate analyst"
I was shocked when I read the news about my friend and colleague:
Alexander E. Farrell, an associate professor in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, who worked closely with state government over the past year to chart a course to reduce California’s carbon emissions, died earlier this week at his home in San Francisco. He was 46.
You can read the full obituary here. You can watch a video of him discussing the California low carbon fuel standard (LCFS), which he helped develop, here. He was director of the UC Berkley Transportation Sustainability Research Center, and, as you can see, he was both passionate and analytical, eloquent and scientific.
I was doubly shocked when I found out that he “had taken his life,” as one of his recent coauthors, Michael O’Hare, blogged –
Yesterday everyone associated with the Energy and Resources Group gathered to try to make sense of it and we failed completely. The afternoon before he died he was emailing people about plug-in hybrid batteries. No-one saw it coming, no-one remembered a conversation or a hint that he was in despair or depressed about anything.
I certainly did not see it coming. Sure, this can be a tough field to work in — coming to grips with humanity’s apparent disregard for the health and well-being of future generations. But I mostly heard a lot of optimism from him, since he was a leader on analyzing solutions and providing serious policies in the one state in this country that is taking climate as seriously as it deserves.
I have known Alex for many years, since June 2003, in fact, when he coauthored an article for Science, “Rethinking Hydrogen Cars,” (subs. req’d), and I emailed him, since I was researching a book at the time. He was superb at quantifying the difficult to quantify, and I cited him in my 2004 book as follows:
A June 2003 analysis in Science magazine by David Keith of Carnegie Mellon University and Alexander Farrell of U.C. Berkeley put the cost of carbon dioxide avoided by fuel cells running on zero-carbon hydrogen at more than $250 per ton even with optimistic fuel-cell costs.
He quickly became a friend and colleague, one of the very few people in the energy field whose judgment I trusted implicitly. I knew him as a brilliant and thoughtful analyst who cared a great deal about this planet. I lectured at his class once, and I invited him to join a hydrogen project I was working on for the National Science Foundation.
A couple of years ago we discussed co-authoring a piece on the carbon impacts of unconventional oil, but typically, I ended up writing about it in my book (and later my blog), while he did the hard analytical work for peer-reviewed publication that I have cited again and again.
I really don’t think I can do a better job of describing him than reprinting what O’Hare wrote:
Alex was only in his mid-40s and high on a steep upward professional path with no inflection point in sight: a key player in California, nationally, and internationally on the most important issue of the current era, and a model of scholarship and commitment for public officials, students, and peers. His death is not only a frightening and painful experience for everyone he worked with but also bad news for ERG, Cal, California, the nation, and the planet.
I spend almost all my time among really smart people and I take it for granted that I can learn something from any of them. We’re all pretty good at defending our positions. Arguing with Alex, however, was a higher-level experience, because while he would roll over for nothing without evidence and some good science, it was obvious that he would rather be forced to change his mind than to change yours. Working with Alex we could all feel ourselves getting better at what we did.
He was an Annapolis man whose career began as an officer in nuclear submarines, and his management style evidenced the best in the military tradition, by which I do not mean command-and-control hierarchical authority, I mean leadership and understanding that the duty of officers is to be sure their troops have what they need to figure out what would advance the mission, and to do it. I wish I could ask him for some guidance on what to do when the captain is shot off the bridge while action is underway; now we have to improvise.
My mother has often said to me that no one is indispensable, but some are irreplaceable. If anyone was both, it would have been Alex. He will be missed.