A few weeks ago, the Nathan Cummings Foundation hosted a debate on fracking. Dozens of environmental funders and non-profit leaders attended to see Michael Shellenberger of the Breakthrough Institute and Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) duke it out.
The debate — titled "The Striking Challenge of Fracking: Who Does it Benefit and Who Gets Hurt?" — was moderated by the Cummings Foundation's president, Simon Greer, who later put out a letter on his reactions to the debate. But surely the architect of this affair was Peter Teague, NCF's environment program director, who loves provoking a good debate and questioning conventional wisdom.
Greer's questions during the debate revolved around whether natural gas was a strong alternative to coal, how fracking would affect local communities, and how the United States should transition to new sources of energy. Sinding of the NRDC took a more negative view of fracking, voicing NRDC's preference for energy efficiency and renewables. Shellenberger, described as an "ecopragmatist," took a more moderate view, focusing on natural gas as an important transitional energy source away from coal and toward renewables.
It is perhaps important to note that the Breakthrough Institute, of which Shellenberger is the president, has been a longtime grantee of the Nathan Cummings Foundation. (Indeed, Breakthrough may be NCF's biggest grantee of all time, as we explain here.) Further, while Greer was quite diplomatic in his postdebate letter, it does appear that he leans toward a moderate view of fracking. Greer emphasizes the importance of getting energy "as cheap and clean as possible" to the two billion people around the world who are suffering because they are energy poor. Greer also emphasizes the importance of not allowing "our passions and habits to obscure our reason," but rather to be open to discussion and adjustments. Greer seems to gloss over the impacts of fracking and admits that he does not "know how much cleaner natural gas from fracking is when compared to coal." This seems to be important information that Greer should focus on obtaining.
In the end, Greer seems more concerned with energy access for the poor and helping communities near fracking plots. Grantees should take note of the Cummings Foundation's moderate stance toward fracking and its focus on alliance building. (See IP's analysis of NCF's climate work here.) Projects that take a hard line to fracking will likely not be as successful as those that focus on building partnerships, develop innovative research projects, and push the energy debate forward.