Blue Growth: The Need for Fish Farms

A Response to Breakthrough’s Essay on Next-Generation Aquaculture

There is no question that any major increase in global fish production will need to come from aquaculture. It is true that all forms of food production come with environmental costs, but fish outperform livestock on many metrics of environmental impact. They also come with significant health benefits. Looking forward, farmed mollusks, which require no feed, freshwater, or antibiotics, may offer unique opportunities for capitalizing on these gains.

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Commercial Spaceflight

Case Study No. 1 in How to Make Nuclear Innovative

What will it take to bring 21st-century innovation to the nuclear industry? How to Make Nuclear Innovative, a new Breakthrough Institute report, makes the case for an entirely new model of nuclear innovation based on lessons drawn from some of the most innovative industries in today’s economy. This case study, the first in the series, explores the recent history of commercial spaceflight, and the path NASA has taken to stimulate private-sector activity, in order to extract lessons for the nuclear industry and its public-facing institutions. 

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Responses: Plenty of Fish on the Farm

Dane Klinger, Kim Thompson, and Ray Hilborn Respond to Breakthrough Essay

As part of Breakthrough's Future of Food series, we have invited experts on food, farming, livestock, and resource use to respond to and critique our research essays. We hope this will be the starting point for an inclusive, productive, and exciting new conversation about 21st-century food systems. You can read the responses to Marian Swain’s essay on next-generation aquaculture below.

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The Ghosts of Aquaculture’s Past Haunt Its Future

A Response to Breakthrough’s Essay on Next-Generation Aquaculture

Public discourse around aquaculture tends to focus on poor practices and mistakes of the past rather than on improvements and potential for the present and future. It is imperative that we focus on the innovation available to move this industry forward, rather than dwelling on the past and missing out on opportunities to ensure a healthy and sustainable food future.

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The Value of Sector-Wide Diversity

A Response to Breakthrough’s Essay on Next-Generation Aquaculture

Aquaculture is a diverse industry, and our capacity to maximize its potential will likely increase with an equally diverse approach to development. Concurrent research and development of a wide range of technologies will allow aquaculture to thrive across a range of environments, adding to the resiliency of the sector as a whole.

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Balancing Clean Energy Costs and Green Jobs

Green Growth Reconsidered

What’s more important—creating jobs in the energy sector or creating jobs in the rest of the economy? In some cases, energy transitions can do both, when new energy technology both results in expanding employment within the energy sector and drives economy-wide job growth as well. But that’s not always the case. In an interesting new post on “green jobs” at the Haas School of Business Energy Institute blog, Andrew Campbell points out that we frequently highlight the jobs created by the growth of clean energy while ignoring those that have been lost.  

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Plenty of Fish on the Farm

Why Clean Energy Is Key for Next-Generation Aquaculture

Demand for seafood is growing, but many wild fish stocks are already under strain from overfishing. Instead of harvesting more wild fish, aquaculture—or fish farming—is poised to dominate the future of seafood production. While intensive commercial fish farming has taken a toll on the environment, causing habitat loss and pollution problems, next-generation aquaculture systems have the potential to resolve many of these problems by moving fish farming into indoor tanks or offshore fish farms in the open ocean. More energy, however, will be required for these technologies, meaning that a sustainable future for seafood will depend on cheap, clean, abundant energy.

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Energy Access or Energy for Development?

Aim Higher

By Emma Brush and Alex Trembath

Obviously, universal energy access is a worthy goal.

But the problem with “energy access” is that, as a problem definition, it elides many of the challenges communities face. About a third of those who subsist on wood and other forms of biomass do in fact have some access to electricity; the far larger problem is that they remain isolated from modern fuels, infrastructure, and economic opportunity.

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Solar in California

Pushing Boundaries and Testing Limits

Solar power in California continues to grow. But as California becomes one of the first regions in the world to get over 10% of its annual electricity from solar, it will also be the first to hit major obstacles to continued growth of solar generation. Utility-level solar, mostly photovoltaic and also some concentrating solar, constituted nearly 10% of raw electricity generation in California in 2016. When distributed solar is taken into account, this figure rises to 13%. This is an impressive achievement for the growing industry, and well above the national average of about 1% solar on the grid.

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More than Share-Spare Philosophies Needed

A Response to Breakthrough's Essay on Wildlife and Farmland

Land sparing and land sharing may appeal as concepts, but they have yet to result in sufficient outcomes from a conservation standpoint. Price and Kniss argue that we'll need to expand our understanding of agricultural biodiversity and productivity, and include farmers and producers in our discussions, if we want to secure resilient, conservation-minded policies for our farms.

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Demand-Side Interventions

A Response to Breakthrough's Essay on Wildlife and Farmland

While the land-sparing/land-sharing debate drives much of the discussion around food production and conservation, Kremen argues that its emphasis on the supply side oversimplifies the issue and distracts from the solutions at hand. A demand-side approach, in contrast, would turn the focus away from yields and toward attempts to minimize consumption, waste, and inequity. Such reductions, in turn, could yield huge dividends for both humans and wildlife.

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The End of the Nuclear Industry as We Know It

Toward a 21st-Century Model of Nuclear Innovation

News last month that Westinghouse is facing crippling losses due to cost overruns and delays at four new nuclear reactors under construction in the US are but the latest evidence that the nuclear power industry in developed economies is in deep trouble. China, South Korea, and Russia continue to build new nuclear plants. But in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan, the nuclear industry, as we have known it for over a half-century, is coming to an end.

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How to Make Nuclear Innovative

Lessons from Other Advanced Industries

What will it take to bring 21st-century innovation to the nuclear industry?

How to Make Nuclear Innovative, a new Breakthrough report, makes the case for an entirely new model of nuclear innovation. Instead of conventional light-water reactors financed and constructed by large incumbent firms, the advanced nuclear industry will be characterized by innovative reactor and plant designs, new business models, and smaller entrepreneurial start-ups.

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Video: Wildlife and Food Production on Farmland

In a new essay in The Future of Food series, Breakthrough's Linus Blomqvist unpacks the trade-offs that arise between agricultural productivity and farmland biodiversity. While opportunities do exist to make more room for wildlife on high-yield farms, it remains essential to think globally when it comes to food production and conservation. 

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Cities: A Climate Solution?

New Analysis Shows California Can't Meet Climate Goals Without Denser Cities

California cannot meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets without increasing density in already-developed cities, according to a recent analysis by the LA Times, the California Air Resources Board, and BuildZoom.

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Food Production and Wildlife on Farmland

Can We Have It All?

What kind of agriculture most benefits biodiversity? In recent years, few questions have animated conservationists and land-use scientists more than this one. Rightly so: agricultural expansion and intensification are leading causes of wildlife declines and habitat loss, and with rising demand for agricultural products, pressures are set to mount even further.

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The Shrinking Footprint of American Meat

A Response to Breakthrough's Essay on Meat Production

In “The Future of Meat” Marian Swain draws attention to multiple factors that combine to determine the impacts of meat consumption on natural resources. Swain identifies area of cropland for animal feed as a key impact. Using the “ImPACT Identity” we can dissect causes of changes in the number of acres of cropland employed to satisfy the American appetite for meat.1 Our formalism requires some simplifications and assumptions about the path from field to plate, but the result robustly indicates the power of five trends.

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Losing Ground in the Amazon

Deforestation uptick raises questions about sustainable intensification

Perhaps the most depressing GIFs I’ve seen are the ones showing the time-lapsed encroachment of deforestation into tropical rainforests. Seen from space, deforestation looks like matte brown polygons marching across a landscape of deep green. On the ground, it looks like farmers chopping down trees, burning them to clear the area, and planting crops like soy to sell for export.

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Another Record Year for Nuclear Power

2016 Adds 9.5 GW of Global Capacity

Last April, Will Boisvert noted that 2015 was a record year for new nuclear power around the world, with more reactors added than in any year since 1990. But 2016 proved to be an even bigger year for nuclear power, with ten reactors coming online around the world, adding 9.5 gigawatts (GW) of capacity. This was the largest annual addition of nuclear power since 1990, and the largest two-year addition of nuclear power since 1989-90.

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Doomsday-Sayers

Ecomodern Dispatches

“Historically, our fascination with the End has flourished at moments of political insecurity and rapid technological change,” writes Evan Osnos in a recent feature on “elite survivalism” for The New Yorker. We are, it is safe to say, certainly in the midst of all of the above. Not only has the US been downgraded from a full to a “flawed” democracy, but the Doomsday Clock has struck once again, moving us 30 seconds closer to midnight as a result of “humanity’s most pressing threats: nuclear weapons and climate change.”

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2017 Breakthrough Senior Fellows Announced

Five Leading Scholars Join Breakthrough

A leading agronomist addressing food demand and ecological protection. A renowned agricultural economist grounding the food and farming debate. An incisive thought leader on global governance and development in the face of wicked challenges. A nuclear engineer at the forefront of nuclear innovation. And a historian committed to countering the dogma of conventional narratives. The Breakthrough Institute is proud to announce Kenneth Cassman, Jayson Lusk, Samir Saran, Rachel Slaybaugh, and Maureen Ogle as our 2017 Senior Fellows.

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How Much Does Material Consumption Matter for the Environment?

Can we reduce environmental impact even as countries grow wealthier? Is consumption inherently tied to impact? These are core environmental questions facing us today, hinging on the notion of “dematerialization,” or the reduction of the amount of raw materials needed to make useful products. If we can dematerialize the economy, the argument goes, we might also be able to mitigate our impact on the environment.

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Exit, Voice, and Loyalty

Ecomodern Dispatches

Whatever the upheavals of 2017, environmentalism doesn’t look to be engaging its many existential crises any time soon.

As Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Olivier De Schutter, and Ricardo Salvador insist in Civil Eats, the collective issues of “the good food movement” have simply become all the more high-stakes, and the need for coalition-building among progressives all the greater. “It is not so much confrontational as pragmatic to say that it really is us against the plutocracy and its apologists,” they conclude.

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Avoiding Backfires in Brazil

Simon Hall responds to Breakthrough’s Future of Meat

Global demand for beef is exerting significant pressure on important ecosystems. The fate of these regions will likely depend on how we approach the transition towards more intensive production systems. Will we capitalize on opportunities for sustainable productivity gains or will we allow our efforts to be undermined by backfiring outcomes? 

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The Year of Great Transformations

Top Breakthroughs of 2016

“If you haven't yet heard of the Breakthrough Institute, it is time you did.” 

So wrote agricultural expert Jayson Lusk earlier this month. This year was a landmark for Breakthrough. It was a year of great transformations and great achievement for Breakthrough. We extended our work into agriculture and energy’s role in human development. 

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Less Than Meets the Eye?

State-Level Decarbonization Led by Energy Intensity Declines

While the recent election has many environmentalists worried that federal action on climate change has hit a dead end, others are finding silver linings in the actions of states and municipalities. Such is the case with this sharp report from Brookings, “Growth, carbon, and Trump: State progress and drift on economic growth and emissions ‘decoupling’” by Mark Muro and Devashree Saha.

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Energy Innovation, Back in the Game

By Emma Brush and Alex Trembath

Energy innovation is the new old game in town, and some of our favorite players are back in the ring.

Last Monday, for instance, one year after the formation of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, Bill Gates and co. announced the launch of the group’s formal initiative Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), a fund that will invest $1 billion in commercializing advanced clean energy technologies starting next year.

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The Future’s Bright; The Future’s…Meaty?

A Response to Breakthrough’s Essay on Meat Production

Every food has an environmental impact, whether it’s cheeseburgers or tofu, coffee or corn.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us and, as a scientist, sustainability consultant and parent, I don’t have a problem with food production being one of the biggest contributors to global environmental impacts. Why? Because food production is one of the few industries that are absolutely essential for human life. However, it’s clear that we need to take steps to reduce environmental impacts from human activity, and as such, the livestock industry is often criticised for both resource use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

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Meat Production, Responsibly

A Response to Breakthrough’s Essay on Meat Production

Marian Swain, after discussing some of the environmental challenges with meat production, is able to see through all the popular prognostications to get to the heart of the problem:

“conversations about mitigating this impact have focused on two strategies: convincing people to eat lower on the food chain and shifting meat production toward more extensive systems. But a growing body of evidence suggests that the former may not prove particularly practical, while the latter may not always bring about better environmental outcomes, particularly at global scales.”

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More Than Meat

A Response to Breakthrough’s Essay on Meat Production

There is probably no request that makes me more anxious than to discuss the “Future of Meat.”

Not because I am concerned or unfamiliar with the issues, but because I never know what the assumptions of the discussion are going to be. Are we going to discuss all meat including those derived from monogastric chickens and pigs that can’t digest cellulose, or is meat actually a misnomer for beef? And are we going to discuss all beef, or is beef a proxy for meat from beef cattle alone, ignoring the contribution of dairy cattle? Are we going to discuss the cow/calf sector, or the feedlot sector, or grass-finished beef? Are we going to talk about the United States alone, or the developing world, or the whole world? And are we basing the discussion on greenhouse gas emissions, or land/water or energy use; and on what basis—per animal, or per kg product, or per kg protein and/or micronutrient? All of these constraints lead to differing answers, and not understanding these nuances is a recipe for conflicting, confusing, and contradictory messages—and a flock of angry Twitter tweets!

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A Meatier Story

A Response to Breakthrough’s Essay on Meat Production

Marian Swain ends her survey of meat’s future with a common-sense observation: The “conventional narrative” of livestock production, she writes, “deserves an update,” one that acknowledges “the realities of demand, productivity, and environmental performance.” She’s right. The conventional story is too simplistic; it dodges, almost completely, the “realities” of meat-centric diets, especially here in the United States.

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Responses: The Future of Meat

Maureen Ogle, Jayson Lusk, Judith Capper, Simon Hall, and Alison Van Eenennaam Respond to Breakthrough Essay

As part of Breakthrough's Future of Food series, we have invited experts on food, farming, livestock, and resource use to respond to and critique our research essays. We hope this will be the starting point for an inclusive, productive, and exciting new conversation about twenty-first century food systems. You can read the responses to our Future of Meat essay below.

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Peak Farmland Is an Ecological Imperative

A Response to Breakthrough’s Essay on Precision Agriculture

Along with rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reaching 'peak farmland' is probably the world's most important environmental objective. However, it is far less well-known, and is not advocated as a target to my knowledge by any major environmental organization. The reason for this is doubtless because most of the agricultural policies long advocated by the green movement would serve to take us further away from peak farmland rather than towards it.

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Responses: Is Precision Agriculture the Way to Peak Cropland?

Calestous Juma and Mark Lynas Respond to Breakthrough Essay

As part of Breakthrough's Future of Food series, we have invited experts on food, farming, livestock, and resource use to respond to and critique our research essays. We hope this will be the starting point for an inclusive, productive, and exciting new conversation about twenty-first century food systems. You can read the responses to Linus Blomqvist and David Douglas's essay on precision agriculture below.

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Revolution in Africa

A Response to Breakthrough's Essay on Precision Agriculture

Africa imports a staggering 83% of the food it consumes, though it holds nearly 50% of the land available worldwide. Amidst decades of crop yield increases in other parts of the world, sub-Saharan African agriculture stands out as less mechanized, low-yielding, and insecure.

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Video: The Future of Meat

In the latest essay for our Future of Food series, Marian Swain details how modern, intensive livestock production can offer environmental efficiencies compared to traditional, lower-input systems As global demand for meat grows, the environmental “hoofprint” of livestock production could grow, too. In a world where billions of people want meat on their plates, it will be crucial to leverage the efficiency of intensive systems to meet demand and minimize environmental harm.

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The Future of Meat

An Outlook on Omnivorism and the Environmental “Hoofprint” of Livestock

Each year, humanity produces more than 310 million tonnes of meat. That entails raising and slaughtering billions of chickens, pigs, and cows and processing and distributing meat all over the world. The sheer volume of global livestock generates massive environmental impacts. Pasture land for cattle alone covers a quarter of the world’s land area, and the global livestock sector is responsible for about 14% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

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Science Versus Politics

Ecomodern Dispatches

If the core feature of the Anthropocene “is a tangle of what we consider natural and what we don’t, nature not ended but morphed,” as Robert Sullivan comments in a recent New York Times review—if the divide between nature and culture, in other words, may be discarded, once and for all—then the same should be said of the study of these two objects, now more than ever.

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Is Precision Agriculture the Way to Peak Cropland?

The Unsung Hero of Agricultural Innovation

As threats to wildlife and habitats go, the global expansion of farmland – including land used for crops and livestock – is unrivaled. Forests, grasslands, and wetlands representing more than two-fifths of the earth’s ice-free surface have given way to farming. Over the past half century alone, farmland has grown by more than 400 million hectares – an area nearly half the size of the United States. More than half of recent agricultural expansion in the tropics has come at the expense of old-growth forests. Conversion of natural habitats to farmland has been a leading cause of precipitous declines in terrestrial wildlife populations, which on average fell by more than half between 1970 and 2012.

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Video: Precision Agriculture

Visualizing Agricultural Innovation

In a new essay, Breakthrough's Linus Blomqvist and Applied Invention's David Douglas consider trends in global food demand and crop yields. Given how much land humans use to grow food today, and how much progress we're making towards growing it more efficiently, is peak farmland in sight? Watch the video below, and read Blomqvist's and Douglas's essay for more information.

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The Future of Food

Towards a Sustainable Food System for a Planet with 9 Billion People

Since the dawn of agriculture, humans have been converting forests, grasslands, and other ecosystems to farmland. While climate change, air and water pollution, and a range of other environmental challenges frequently get the headlines, food production without question represents the single largest human impact upon the environment. Land for crops takes up 12% of Earth’s ice-free land. Add pasture and that percentage climbs to 36%. The long-term conversion of land for agriculture has brought enormous losses to ecosystems and wildlife populations already. The climate impacts are also considerable—15% of global greenhouse emissions come from the agricultural sector. With global food demand expected to grow as much as 70% by 2050, those impacts threaten to grow substantially.

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The Clean Energy Train

Ecomodern Dispatches

If a majority of Americans think the country is “on the wrong track,” as The Economist reports, and if the country is veering off its democratic rails, as an upcoming study covered by The New York Times suggests, what room for hope and optimism remains in this brave new world?

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The Future of Food

“The Future of Food” is a Breakthrough research series examining global food consumption, agriculture, and technological innovation. Vital for ensuring a healthy and prosperous global population, and for minimizing humanity’s intrusion into wild nature, building a smart global food system is essential to realizing an ecomodern future.

For more food and farming news from Breakthrough sent directly to your inbox, subscribe to our mailing list.

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Does Climate Policy Matter?

Evaluating the Efficacy of Emissions Caps and Targets Around The World

The election of Donald Trump has raised deep concern about the future of international efforts to address climate change. President-elect Trump has called climate change a hoax, and has vowed to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, rescind the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, and end the so-called “War on Coal.” It is not yet clear, however, what impact these actions would have upon US or global emissions.

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Energy For Human Development

For over two centuries, an abundance of dense, fossil energy combined with modern agriculture, cities, governance, innovation, and knowledge has fueled a virtuous cycle of socio-economic development, enabling people in many parts of the world to live longer, healthier, and more prosperous lives. The discovery and conversion of modern fuels arguably enabled sustained economic growth for the first time in human history. These energy sources–principally coal and oil along with natural gas, hydroelectric power, and nuclear energy–have enabled rising living standards since the onset of the Industrial Revolution.

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What Is To Be Done?

Trump and Ecomodernism

This is the space where I am supposed to write about what a Trump Presidency might portend for climate, energy and the environment.  At present, I don’t believe I can in good faith do so.

Our view at Breakthrough remains that macro-economic conditions, technological change, and public investment in innovation and infrastructure are the primary determinants of global emissions. At least insofar as climate change is concerned, a Trump Presidency may not be much worse than a Clinton Presidency would have been, for the simple reason that explicit climate policy has had little impact upon the trajectory of emissions pretty much anywhere in the world.

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Trump and the Environment: A Round-Up

Ecomodern Dispatches

By Alex Trembath and Emma Brush

Well, that was surprising.

Last week, those of us working in the energy and environment space joined the rest of the world in adjusting to the unexpected election of Donald Trump. Environmental forecasting is always hard, and perhaps only more so in pursuit of predicting what a Trump Administration’s environmental policies will look like.

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How to Think About Our Environmental Future

Shortcomings and Suggestions for Environmental Forecasting

Where will the world be two, three, or four decades from now? Will carbon emissions have gone down to safe levels? Will the area of farmland have peaked and declined? Will the global population have reached 9, or 10, or 11 billion?

The future is unknowable, but that hasn’t stopped scholars from trying to answer these questions. Nor should it. Forecasting trends in resource use, population growth, and environmental impacts can help anticipate risks and opportunities, as well as assess the consequences of choices made today.

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Same Issues, Different Stories

Talking Nuclear Waste and Risk Perception with Suzanne Waldman

A 2015 Breakthrough Generation fellow, Suzanne Waldman is currently completing her doctoral degree in Communication Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, where she researches risk perception of nuclear power and nuclear waste. As we well know, questions surrounding both issues tend to dredge up a range of responses, from the technocratic to the anti-nuclear, that Waldman says correspond with different cultural “frames,” or worldviews. Drawing on research by Dan Kahan and others, she emphasizes that “we’re all in different tribes when we think about risk” and that these tribes each tell a particular kind of story. When it comes to the weighty question of disposing of our nuclear waste, she has set out to find, is it possible to engage these contradictory stories into some larger narrative, one that brings us closer to policy solutions?

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Climate Pragmatism in Rwanda

No-Regrets Pollution Reduction on Display in Kigali Deal

Eariler this month, the 28th Meeting of the Parties, an international negotiation among 170 countries around the world, convened in Rwanda to make a deal on phasing out hydroflurocarbons, or HFCs. HFC describes a set of compounds that are commonly used in refrigerants and air conditioners and, thus, are rapidly proliferating around the world. A replacement for chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that the 1989 Montreal Protocol began to phase out, HFCs have an outsized impact on global warming--between 100 and 10,000 times worse per molecule than CO2, depending on the exact compound and time frame.

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Complicating the Narrative

Ecomodern Dispatches

A new poll shows Americans to be “overly optimistic” about renewables, says Vox's David Roberts. Which is of course a euphemism for misapprehension, and one that has only emerged in the American psyche as of late. No matter how recent this trend in public conception, however, does this take in fact represent a substantive shift in the environmentalist narrative? And does it do us any good?

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Breakthrough Does the Impossible

First Taste of the Meatless "Burger that Bleeds"

On an otherwise ordinary fall Monday, the staff of Breakthrough Institute did the impossible. Impossible Burger, that is.

The Silicon Valley startup Impossible Foods has started a limited release of its Impossible Burger, the meatless burger that "bleeds," at select restaurants in New York, L.A., and San Francisco. One hundred percent plant-based with ingredients including wheat, soy, and coconut oil, the Impossible Burger’s “magic ingredient” that gives it its unique meat-like quality is a protein molecule called “heme.” Heme is especially abundant in animal muscle and “is what makes meat smell, sizzle, bleed, and taste gloriously meaty,” but the team at Impossible Foods was able to extract and ferment it from plant ingredients.

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Senior Fellows

Breakthrough Senior Fellows collaborate with and advise Breakthrough Institute research staff in the areas of energy, conservation, innovation, and other fields essential to advancing the ecomodernist project. Leading thinkers, writers, and scholars in the study of society and the environment, senior fellows serve as indispensable partners and champions of Breakthrough’s work and research.

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