Powerful interests: fracking and Sandra Steingraber

This is an interesting interview posted at Sage Magazine (Yale). I heard Dr. Steingraber speak a few weeks ago in Cambridge on her work in New York as an activist against fracking. Since I was also recently in northern B.C. talking with people there about similar technologies and their responses to environmental risks, it caught my interest.

Powerful Interests: A Conversation with Sandra Steingraber

By Jason Daniel Schwartz

Sandra Steingraber, PhD is an ecologist, writer, speaker, and cancer survivor who left an academic job in 1994 to pursue advocacy full-time. Heralded by the Sierra Club as ‘the new Rachel Carson,’ and recently named by Utne Reader as one of the ’25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World,’ she has recently taken up the fight against hydraulic fracturing in New York state, writing vigorously against it in her column at Orion magazine. She is the author of six books, including Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis and Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment. The latter was made into a critically-acclaimed documentary by Canadian filmmakers Chanda Chevannes and Benjamin Gervais. The film will be making its American broadcast premiere on Outside Television on November 22 at 8 and 11 PM EST.


Sage: In the film, and again in your recent pieces in Orion about fracking, you challenge the tendency among researchers to call for evidence, to see more data, before society acts. How do you see this manifesting in environmental challenges?

Sandra Steingraber: There’s an internal conflict, I think, of two conservative strains within science, both of which I believe in. First, scientists would rather err in saying “we don’t know” than claiming they’ve made a discovery they have to retract. I really believe in that—I’m very skeptical when I see suspicious data. But then there’s this other strain in public health that says that when people are put at risk of injury or death, you have to err on the side of removing them from harm’s way early. The default should be action, and you don’t need absolute proof for it. We managed to avoid a cholera epidemic in the 19th century in the United States in a way that the Europeans did not because we guessed—correctly—that shit in the drinking water was a causative agent, even though we didn’t prove that until years later.