Brendan DeMelle's blog

Tue, 2012-10-16 11:27Brendan DeMelle
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Delta Boys: Powerful Documentary Chronicles Niger Delta Oil Struggle

The next time I gas up my car, I will have a lot to think about after watching the new documentary film, Delta Boys, now available for digital download release starting today at Sundance and iTunes, and on DVD at Amazon.com.

The film chronicles the plight of the people of the Niger Delta in Nigeria, the fifth largest supplier of oil to the United States. Despite the wealth generated by this oil extraction, the majority of Niger Deltans live on less than a dollar a day and lack even basic public health and sanitation services.

Nigeria suffers the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez oil spill every year, as it has each of the last 50 years of oil exploitation. “The wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface,” in the words of The New York Times.

The film brings to light the Niger Delta people’s ongoing struggles against multinational oil corporations and one of Africa’s most corrupt governments. While most of the revenue from oil development flows to the Nigerian government in the form of royalties, in the rural Delta villages where the drilling actually takes place, there are no water or sewage systems, no schools, no hospitals, no adequate roads, and no real job opportunities outside of joining one of the rebel militias.

Meet the Delta Boys – armed rebels who zoom around the Delta in high-speed motor boats, sabotaging oil infrastructure, blackmailing the oil companies, kidnapping workers, and tapping into their pipelines to feed a lucrative but dangerous black market in oil they claim is rightfully theirs.

Mon, 2012-10-01 09:55Brendan DeMelle
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Cuomo Resets New York Fracking Review, "Consigning Fracking To Oblivion"

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced today that his administration is pushing the controversial decision on whether to allow fracking in the state back to square one. This encouraging move by Gov. Cuomo is sure to upset the oil industry, but it was the right thing to do given the enormous uncertainties surrounding fracking and unconventional energy development. 

The threats of water contamination, air pollution, climate-altering methane pollution and public health impacts posed enormous challenges for Gov. Cuomo, whom many see poised to make a run for the White House in 2016.

Had he rushed through approval of fracking, his political base - including tens of thousands of state residents vocally opposed to fracking - would likely question his ability to navigate even larger controversies and pressure from industry lobbyists.

While the fate of fracking in New York remains unsettled, The New York Times suggested today that Cuomo's decision to reset the regulatory review process has “created a sense in Albany that Mr. Cuomo is consigning fracking to oblivion.”

Sat, 2012-09-22 06:00Brendan DeMelle
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Robert Manne: How Vested Interests Defeated Climate Science

Watch this thoughtful presentation by Professor Robert Manne at the University of Melbourne earlier this summer. It's a concise review of the whole climate change denial movement as chronicled in Merchants of Doubt, Climate Cover-up and elsewhere. It lasts just over an hour, so make some popcorn first.

Thu, 2012-09-20 07:00Brendan DeMelle
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Deepening Doubts About Fracked Shale Gas Wells' Long Term Prospects

This month, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released its bi-annual report on how much natural gas has been produced in the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation which stretches underneath much of Appalachia. Investors were shocked because the production numbers seemed far lower than expected.  Watched closely by market and energy analysts, the report sparked a heated debate about the oil and gas industry's excited rhetoric about fracked shale gas as the cure-all to many of America's energy and jobs needs.

But the story quickly got complicated. The report was released despite lacking data from the state’s second largest driller, Chesapeake Energy, and state regulators never flagged the omission. The amount of gas flowing out of Pennsylvania had actually climbed dramatically.

It was a major flaw, and suddenly the searing spotlight of the media honed in on questions about whether regulators were keeping accurate track of how much gas the wells in their state really produce. How could they overlook such a massive error? Can the public be sure that the updated tally gives an accurate picture of how these wells are performing?

If regulators make mistakes in tracking energy production in their state, how reliable is the companion to that report, which tracks the toxic waste produced by these same companies?

Those are all valid questions that need honest answers. But the most important questions raised in the controversy were largely overlooked.

Mon, 2012-09-17 16:56Brendan DeMelle
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Virginia Judge Tosses Frivolous American Tradition Institute Lawsuit

A Virginia judge issued an order today putting an end to the American Tradition Institute (ATI) frivilous lawsuit that sought to compel the University of Virginia (UVA) to release the private emails of climate scientist Michael Mann.

Mann, author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, posted the news on his Facebook page earlier today:

Breaking: A victory for science! ATI loses ATI/UVa FOIA case. Judge issues final order. Affirms the university’s right to withhold scholarly communications and finds that the documents & personal emails of mine demanded by ATI were indeed protected as the university had contended.

I am gratified for the hard work and vigorous defense provided by the university to protect scholarly communications and raw materials of scholarship. Fortunately Virginia has a strong exemption in the public records act that protects research and scholarly endeavors. The judge ruled that the exemption under Virginia’s public records protecting information in furtherance of research on scientific and scholarly issues applies to faculty communications in furtherance of their work.

This finding is a potentially important precedent, as ATI and other industry-backed front groups continue to press their attacks on climate scientists through the abuse of public records and FOIA laws and the issuing of frivolous and vexatious demands for internal scholarly deliberations and personal correspondences.


The ATI litigation effort was led by Competitive Enterprise Institute senior fellow Christopher Horner, well-known to DeSmog readers for his anti-science activism.

Thu, 2012-08-30 18:42Brendan DeMelle
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Want to Communicate More Effectively? Buy Joe Romm's book Language Intelligence

If you are a blogger, a commenter, a tweeter, a public speaker or any type of communicator, you will benefit immensely from picking up a copy of Joe Romm’s fantastic new book, “Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga.”

DeSmog readers are likely familiar with Joe’s incredible work over at Climate Progress, where he and his team – including my new friend Stephen Lacey, another fantastic writer – expertly cover the politics and science of climate change and energy issues. A big part of the secret to the success of Climate Progress is Joe’s communications expertise.

Language Intelligence has garnered incredible reviews and praise from a who’s who of top communicators, from Van Jones to Bill McKibben, Representative Ed Markey to Michael Mann and John Cook.

DeSmog contributor Chris Mooney, who interviewed Romm about the book on his Point of Inquiry podcast, says of Language Intelligence:

Everybody who cares about why science doesn’t get through to the public should read it.”

Romm covers everything about effective communication, from the critical importance of metaphors (especially extended metaphors), language simplicity, repetition, using figures of speech, creating anticipation through foreshadowing, and other persuasive rhetorical techniques. As Romm explains so well, the key to effective writing is to engage the reader’s emotions, and work to inspire and activate your audience through honest and powerful communication.

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