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John H. Cushman Jr.'s articles

Stakes Higher Than Ever, Climate Summit Aims to Be Turning Point for Global Action

There are ample grounds for pessimism and opponents of action, but the urgency of keeping warming within 2 degrees Celsius is greater than ever.

Sep 12, 2014

A United Nations chief dismayed at the lack of resolve toward the climate crisis; a daunting deadline for negotiating a new treaty; 125 or so heads of state; a sprawling agenda of fossil fuels, food, forestry and finance; a train of think tanks hauling gigabytes of green data; countless teach-ins, press conferences, art shows—plus tens or even hundreds of thousands of activists marching through midtown Manhattan, demanding action now.

Are these Climate Week events the makings of a turning point in the world's effort to escape the risks of climate change, or a formula for futility? 

There are ample grounds for pessimism as preparations begin for the September 23 UN summit on climate change, being held in New York City. But that doesn't make it any less urgent for negotiators trying to keep the world from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius, that elusive diplomatic grail.

Government Auditors Say 'Social Cost of Carbon' Is by the Book

Year-long probe gives no new ammunition to outspoken critics in Congress who requested the audit.

Aug 26, 2014

Government auditors have taken a close look at a disputed calculation used by federal regulators to assess the long-term costs of carbon pollution. Their verdict: It was all done by the book.

The hotly contested economic calculation, known as the "social cost of carbon," or SCC, sailed through a review by the Governmental Accountability Office, whose audits often feature scathing criticisms of the bureaucracy.

The GAO's report was purely descriptive—dissecting, step by step, the process that bureaucrats used to develop and update the SCC over the years. "Evaluating the quality of the approach is outside the scope of this review," the GAO demurred.

The review was requested by several of Congress' most outspoken critics of the administration's methods, who have called the SCC's development "a black box."

Climate Contrarians Overrepresented in Media Coverage, New Survey Finds

Scientific survey finds media may be skewing its coverage of climate science by seeking out views of a small minority who questions man-made warming.

Aug 11, 2014

There is an overwhelming consensus among expert scientists studying climate change that man-made pollution is the main cause of global warming. But the media may be skewing its coverage of the issue by persistently seeking out the views of a contrarian minority, according to a new study.

In an opinion survey of nearly 1,900 scientists, 90 percent of the respondents with more than 10 peer-reviewed articles to their name "explicitly agreed with anthropogenic greenhouse gases being the dominant driver of recent global warming," the study found.

It was written by scientists in the Netherlands and Australia, and published in Environmental Science and Technology.

Keystone Could Add 400% More CO2 Than State Dept Estimated

'Our simple model shows that...the pipeline's effect on oil prices could substantially increase its total GHG impact,' finds a peer-reviewed study.

Aug 11, 2014

Building the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian tar sands oil to refineries in the United States could add more than 100 million additional metric tons of carbon dioxide to world emissions—four times more than the maximum estimated in the State Department's study of the project's environmental impact, according to a new study.

The reason, said two researchers from the Stockholm Environmental Institute in the journal Nature Climate Change, is that extra oil flowing onto world markets through TransCanada's pipeline would lower world market prices enough to stimulate extra consumption of oil.

Refining and consuming that extra oil would, in turn, increase greenhouse gas emissions.

This was a factor that the State Department never considered in its voluminous study of the Keystone XL, they said.

Keystone XL: Bush's No-Brainer, Obama's Dilemma

New book published by ICN traces pipeline’s origins to earliest days of Bush-Cheney era, and shows how KXL has become a test for Obama’s climate legacy.

May 8, 2014

Editor's note: Today InsideClimate News is publishing a new e-book, Keystone and Beyond: Tar Sands and the National Interest in the Era of Climate Change.

It is available for one week as a free download here.

A year in the making, the book was written by John H. Cushman, Jr. who worked in the Washington bureau of the New York Times for 27 years before joining the ICN staff.

"Keystone and Beyond" provides the most definitive account yet of the Keystone XL pipeline saga. It also upends the national debate over the pipeline by tracing its origins to policy decisions made by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the first months of their administration, and to expectations about energy supply and demand that have turned out to be wrong. The result of an exhaustive re-examination of the historical record, the book is enhanced with infographics, photos, audio and video.

Below is an excerpt of the first pages of the book, which is available for FREE on our free ICN app. "Keystone and Beyond" can also be read in any web browser.

Click here to get the book now.

The Thinking Behind 'Keystone and Beyond': Author's Note

Author of new ICN book explains why and how he used the past to illuminate Obama's historic Keystone pipeline decision, and what he learned.

May 8, 2014

Editor's note: Today InsideClimate News is publishing a new e-book, Keystone and Beyond: Tar Sands and the National Interest in the Era of Climate Change. A year in the making, the book was written by John H. Cushman, Jr. who worked in the Washington bureau of the New York Times for 27 years before joining the ICN staff.

More than a year ago, when the publisher and editors of InsideClimate News asked me to write about President Obama's looming decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, my evening reading happened to be Neustadt and May's political science classic, "Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers."

The 1986 book by two Harvard scholars, required reading for presidents and their advisers, uses case studies to show how presidents ought to approach important decisions. In brief, it should be done not with a short list of options already in hand, but with a timeline of events retracing the history that brought them to the brink of decision.

Presidents should ask, "What's the story?" Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May wrote. "When did it start?"

In particular, they advised that "putting all presumptions on the table and then testing them is one defense of laymen against experts."

As a layman besieged by experts weighing in on the Keystone XL debate, I saw before me a mountain of contradictory analysis and heard a cacophony of firmly voiced assertions from all sides.

In Northern Gateway Pipeline Decision, Economics Trumped All Else

Canadian panel approves Enbridge's tar sands pipeline to Pacific Coast. If the project goes ahead, it could have ramifications for the Keystone XL.

Dec 19, 2013
Demonstrators protest against Northern Gateway pipeline

WASHINGTON—An independent Canadian federal panel on Thursday approved Enbridge's proposal to build a new pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to the British Columbia coast, a significant gain in the industry's long campaign to find export markets for the nation's abundant but carbon-heavy form of crude oil.

The panel set 209 conditions on the project as a way to overcome environmental and safety concerns. Even that, it said, would not guarantee that there would be no environmental harm.

But its central message was that the economic interest in building the line was paramount—"that Canadians will be better off with this project than without it."

"We are of the view that opening Pacific Basin markets is important to the Canadian economy and society," the panel declared. "Societal and economic benefits can be expected from the project.

Need for More Tar Sands Imports Called Into Question With Latest U.S. Energy Data

In 2040, domestic crude oil output will still be higher than it is today. Will the country's shifting energy picture affect Keystone XL's prospects?

Dec 17, 2013

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Energy Department has sharply cut its forecast for crude oil imports in the next several years, saying that domestic oil will replace imports at a much faster rate than it expected just a few months ago.

Imports in 2016 will be one million barrels a day lower than it projected in April, the department's Energy Information Administration (EIA) said Monday in its preliminary annual energy outlook for 2014 and beyond.

"With growth in both oil and natural gas production, we see the U.S. moving closer toward self-sufficiency, and there are some very interesting economic and geopolitical implications to all that," said Adam Sieminski, the EIA's administrator, at a briefing.

The rapidly changing energy picture could relieve some of the pressure on President Obama to approve one major new conduit for crude oil imports, the Keystone XL pipeline. If built, the project would carry 860,000 barrels a day of crude oil, mostly from Canada's tar sands, to U.S. refineries on the Texas coast, starting as early as 2016.

Obama's New Special Adviser Is Outspoken Foe of Keystone XL and Tar Sands

'Oil extraction from tar sands is polluting, destructive, expensive, and energy intensive,' John Podesta said in a speech in 2010.

Dec 10, 2013
John Podesta

WASHINGTON—By asking John Podesta to come to the White House as a special counselor at a time of turmoil and tough choices, President Obama has created an unusually close tie to an outspoken critic of the Keystone XL pipeline and the Canadian tar sands it would carry.

Podesta is a Washington policy insider who was Bill Clinton's chief of staff and whose Center for American Progress, or CAP, is an influential voice of liberalism. He has kept climate change high on his agenda for years and will continue to do so in the White House, reported The New York Times, which broke the news of his new assignment.

His arrival comes just as the decision on TransCanada's proposal to build a controversial pipeline to deliver tar sands crude from Alberta across the midsection of the United States approaches a critical turning point: the completion of a final environmental impact statement by the State Department. That will be followed by a crucial 90-day period in which Obama must decide whether the pipeline is in the U.S. national interest.

Global Boom in Coal Plants Begs for Carbon Capture Solution

The CCS drumbeat builds during Warsaw climate talks, as data reveal nearly 1,200 coal-burning plants are on the drawing boards amid record warming.

Nov 22, 2013
Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon

The smoldering debate over whether coal has a future in a low-carbon world has flared up with new intensity in Warsaw, the site of this month's annual United Nations negotiations toward a global climate treaty.

With world coal use growing at a staggering pace, top climate diplomats have used the global stage to take a much more aggressive stance against the coal industry. They are demanding that companies move quickly to leverage technology to capture and bury their planet-heating emissions or risk putting the world on a dangerous and irreversible path.

In a stern address to the World Coal Association on the sidelines of the summit, Christiana Figueres, head of the UN's Climate Change Secretariat, made several demands of industry: leave "most existing reserves in the ground," shut down the dirtiest coal-fired facilities and use carbon capture and storage (CCS) on "new plants, even the most efficient."