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Summits on Tenth: A Conversation About Fracking

Natural Resources Defense Council's Kate Sinding and Breakthrough Institute's Michael Shellenberger tackle the issue of fracking.

AlterNet has partnered with the Nathan Cummings Foundation to produce Summits on Tenth, a new video series featuring conversations that challenge conventional thinking on the issues you care about. In our second installment, “The Striking Challenge of Fracking: Who Does it Benefit and Who Gets Hurt?” Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute and Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council present strong — and sometimes opposing — points of view on this complicated topic.  The event was moderated by Simon Greer.

Below is a transcript from the event. You can view the complete video, as well as an 11-minute highlight video and responses from other experts here.

MODERATOR:  Kate Sinding is a senior attorney and deputy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's New York Urban Program.  Her primary focus involves ensuring the proposed natural gas drilling in the northeast is subject to the most stringent environment and health protections.  

Michael Shellenberger is an author, environmental policy expert and the president of the Breakthrough Institute, which is a long-time grantee of the Nathan Cummings Foundation.  Co-editor of “Love your Monsters” and “The Death of Environmentalism,” Michael, and his co-author Ted Nordhaus, were described by Slate Magazine as modernists or ecopragmatists.  Welcome to both of you. 

KATE SINDING:  Thank you.

MICHAEL SHELLENBERGER:  Thanks for having us.

MODERATOR:  For many of us, our views on tough issues like fracking don't just come from what we've learned in a book.  They come through our lived experience.  So I wonder if we might ask you, first Kate and then Michael, just to say a word or two about how did you develop a passion for the environment, what got you to this work.  Sort of personally, why are you here tonight?

MS. SINDING:  Sure.  Yeah.  I think my interest goes back to the way that I was raised.  My parents were both in the foreign service and so I was raised largely abroad which gave me an opportunity to experience a variety of cultures and natural - develop a real passion for different kinds of natural environments.  I was always told I should be an advocate or, most specifically, a lawyer, growing up.  And I fought that as I guess any good arguer would until it became inevitable.  

And then deciding that I was going to bring those skills to work on the environment specifically came into play between college and law school when I spent some time in Los Angeles.  And it was actually experiencing the transition from the clear skies of the winter to the smoggy summer that it really came home to me that that's where I wanted to put my energies.

MODERATOR:  Thanks.  Michael.

MR. SHELLENBERGER:  Well, I grew up in a small town in Colorado where, in fact, there's a lot of natural gas activity going on.  And I spent a lot of my childhood in the mountains hiking and skiing.  And then I was a very political young man in my adolescence.  And I wanted to experience the Nicaraguan revolution.  So in 1988 when I was 17 I went to Nicaragua and lived with families there, one family in particular. Most of them - I mean, everybody I lived with was using for wood for fuel.  And I got to see up close both how harmful that is to the health of women that cook over woodstoves all day long and also how degrading it is the forests in the nearby region when you're dependent on wood for your fuel.  So for me, that nexus between social justice and environmental quality was really clear from a pretty young age.  

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