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John H. Cushman Jr.'s articles

U.S. Oil Exports Would Worsen Global Warming, Government Auditors Say

Looked at from the vantage point of the climate crisis, GAO report discussing several benefits of lifting the oil export ban is more disturbing.

Oct 20, 2014

Allowing United States oil producers to export crude would not only sway markets at home and abroad, it would also worsen global warming and present other environmental risks, the Government Accountability Office said in a new survey of experts.

"Additional crude oil production may pose risks to the quality and quantity of surface groundwater sources; increase greenhouse gas and other emissions; and increase the risk of spills," said the report.

That finding dampened what otherwise read as a win-win conclusion—that oil producers would get higher prices, production would rise and consumers would pay less at the pump if exports were allowed.

Canada-Australia 'Axis of Carbon' an Obstacle to Climate Pact

Their prime ministers mince no words in their disdain for putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions to protect their fossil fuel exports.

Sep 23, 2014
Tony Abbott, Primer Minister of Australia, at the World Economic Forum in 2014.

The flags of all its member states flutter outside the United Nations as world leaders gather for a summit meeting on September 23 to help shape a global treaty confronting the climate crisis. But not all of those nations have caught the same wind.

Neither the prime ministers of Canada nor Australia will speak at the summit, and the subordinates they have sent will not be offering the kind of “bold” new steps that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is seeking on the way to a treaty in Paris late next year.

Instead, these two governments, with their energy-rich domains sprawling across opposite ends of the earth, will present strikingly similar defenses against what much of the rest of the world is offering. And their stance is earning them opprobrium among advocates of strong and immediate action.

While a consensus is forming around setting a price on carbon and urgently converting to a carbon-free economy, Canada and Australia have turned themselves into an axis of carbon. If they attract others, this axis could become a potent force standing in the way of progress toward a universally binding pact.

NYC Climate March Tops Expectations

At Columbus Circle marchers flowed by at a rate of about 10 per second.

Sep 21, 2014

InsideClimate News spent Sunday covering the People's Climate March. This story was last updated at 4:45 PM.

NEW YORK—They took the A train—or the B, C, or D, or the 1 or the 2. They piled off buses and ambled across Central Park. All along the Upper West Side, from Columbus Circle at 59th for at least 30 blocks north, the crowd poured in for what organizers had billed as the biggest public demonstration ever to push for action on the climate change crisis.

By midafternoon on Sunday, it was clear that prediction had been fulfilled. The crowd was so thick, and moving so slowly, that marchers at the rear of the line were fretting that if they made it in time to their bus pick-up spots on 34th Street it would be a miracle indeed. They had more than 50 blocks to go, and there were an estimated 310,000 people in front of them.

The marchers had started to assemble in mid-morning, and all afternoon they marched, danced, chanted, jostled and cheered themselves along.

At Columbus Circle they flowed by at a rate of about 10 people per second for hour after hour, holding signs and boogying to brass bands. Thirteen blocks uptown at 72nd Street pedestrian gridlock reigned supreme, as people who had hiked across Central Park lined up, waiting to join those already packed in place.

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.