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John H. Cushman Jr.'s articles

Keystone & Beyond: Tar Sands and the National Interest in the Era of Climate Change

As the new Congress prepares legislation to approve the pipeline and force Obama's hand, we are reissuing Keystone and Beyond and making it free.

Jan 5, 2015

Editor's note: Keystone and Beyond: Tar Sands and the National Interest in the Era of Climate Change tells the definitive account of the Keystone XL saga.

Published last year, the book upends the national debate over the fractious project, tracing its origins to energy policy decisions made by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the earliest days of their administration, and to expectations about energy supply and demand that turned out to be wrong.

What was Bush's no-brainer has become President Barak's Obama dilemma, as he confronts a game-changing U.S. oil and gas boom and accelerating climate impacts his predecessors did not anticipate.

This week, as Congress prepares legislation to approve the pipeline and force Obama's hand, we are reissuing Keystone and Beyond and making it free.

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 InsideClimate News staff.

2014: The Year Climate Change Undeniably Arrived

Hottest year on record provided setting for conclusive scientific findings as mushrooming climate movement pressed world leaders to act.

Dec 29, 2014

It was January, and tennis players at the Australian Open were suffering through the scorcher that would be the year 2014.

They threw up and they fainted from the record-setting heat. They put on ice vests. The soles of their sneakers and the bottoms of their water bottles softened as the mercury marked 109 degrees Fahrenheit. They were knocked flat by the longest Melbourne heat wave in a century.

The new year seemed to be welcoming the world to the new normal.

GOP Election Rout Delivers Blow to U.S. Leadership Role on Climate Change

Deck in Congress is stacked in favor of fossil fuels, throwing Obama’s climate agenda in doubt during his lame-duck years.

Nov 5, 2014

Additional reporting for this story was done by ICN reporters Katherine Bagley, Elizabeth Douglass, David Hasemyer and Zahra Hirji. Graphic by Paul Horn.

The role of the United States in confronting the global climate crisis has been cast into serious doubt after an election that stacked the deck in Congress in favor of fossil fuel industries. Republicans seized firm control, and added several new senators who deny that climate change is a problem.

A solid majority of voters who spoke to exit pollsters said they regarded climate change as a significant matter, but most were on the Democratic side. By a huge margin, Republican voters said the opposite. And in state after hotly contested state, they elected their own to the Senate.

As Oil Prices Erode, Tar Sands Become Riskier Investments

Research group says 90 percent of Canadian tar sands investments need oil prices above $95 a barrel to make economic sense.

Nov 5, 2014

As oil prices sagged again on Monday to a four-year low, the Carbon Tracker Initiative said the recent downward spiral "changes the whole dynamic" for Canada's tar sands production.

The "vast majority" of potential capital expenditures on tar sands projects that are still in the earliest phases of development would require such high oil prices that they are "particularly risky," the group said.

Hundreds of billions of dollars could be spent on projects that are underway or in development, Carbon Tracker said. At least two-thirds of the tar sands enterprise is at risk if current prices persist, or if they drop even lower.

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.