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.

Read more


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.”

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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? 

Read more

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. 

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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. 

Read more

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.”

Read more

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!

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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?

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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?

Read more

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.

Read more

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?

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

Britain’s Civilian Nuclear Program Is Not a Stealth Military Program

Lack of Evidence of a Conspiracy is Not Evidence of a Deeper Conspiracy

Last week, the New York Times published an Op-Ed by Peter Wynn Kirby, a social anthropologist at Oxford, alleging that the United Kingdom promoted the Hinkley Point C project as “a stealth initiative to bolster Britain’s nuclear deterrent.” The author’s argument is entirely dependent on a “painstaking study” authored by the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex.

Read more

Calestous Juma Receives 2017 Breakthrough Paradigm Award

The Breakthrough Institute has named Calestous Juma the recipient of the 2017 Breakthrough Paradigm Award. Professor Juma will accept the prize on stage at the Breakthrough Dialogue in Sausalito, California next June.

The Paradigm Award recognizes accomplishment and leadership in the effort to make the future secure, free, prosperous, and fulfilling for all the world’s inhabitants on an ecologically vibrant planet. Past recipients of the award include Mark LynasEmma MarrisJesse AusubelRuth DeFries, and David MacKay.

Read more

Can Industrial Food Be Part of the Food Movement?

Earlier this month, Jayson Lusk, a professor of agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University, made the audacious case that “Industrial Farms Are Good for the Environment.”

Lusk explains that operating at a large scale gives farmers the opportunity to invest in technologies that both improve productivity and reduce environmental impacts, like advanced machinery that can precisely track crop yields or water use. These tools and the precision they enable is something farmers a few decades ago could only dream about. He presents statistics showing American farm productivity has risen in recent decades while environmental impacts like land use and soil erosion have decreased.

Read more

The Pope and Climate Change

Can Laudato Si Help Modernize the Catholic Church?

The following is an introduction to the recent Breakthrough Journal essay "Modern Pope" by Sally Vance-Trembath. To read the Journal piece, click here.


This month, Pope Francis again referred to climate change as a “sin.”

Recalling last year’s landmark encyclical Laudato Si (Our Common Home), Francis spoke of climate change as an unacceptable trashing of God’s creation, and as an unjust imposition of environmental devastation against the world’s most vulnerable poor populations. 

Read more

Democracy in the Anthropocene

Ecomodern Dispatches

This week, Breakthrough announced that its seventh annual Breakthrough Dialogue will be themed “Democracy in the Anthropocene,” a topic that serves as a challenge in many ways to its participants of varying ecomodernist stripes. “If it turns out,” as the Dialogue’s description concludes, “that we’re not very good at being gods, is it possible to get better at it?”

Read more

Breakthrough Dialogue 2016

Great Transformations

Inspired by the profound challenges and opportunities afforded by modernization, the theme of Breakthrough Dialogue 2016 is “Great Transformations.” Over the course of the dialogue, we will consider the complex processes of urbanization, agricultural modernization, and industrialization and ask tough questions: Are cities really green?  Can industrial agriculture save nature?  Can countries modernize without manufacturing?  Can we end poverty and unleash more abundant nature in this century?

Read more

Breakthrough Dialogue 2017 Announced: Democracy in the Anthropocene

June 21-23, 2017

Breakthrough Institute is excited to announce that the 2017 Breakthrough Dialogue will take place Wednesday, June 21, through Friday, June 23, at Cavallo Point in Sausalito, California. Breakthrough Dialogue is the research organization’s signature annual event, where its international network of Senior Fellows, Generation Fellows, scholars, policy makers, and allies gather to build an optimistic and pragmatic vision of the future. The theme of this year’s event is “Democracy in the Anthropocene.”

Read more

Science and Politics

Ecomodern Dispatches

Starting this week, Cornell University is offering a Massive Open Online Course that attempts to address the complex intersection of science and politics as it pertains to the touchy subject of GMOs. According to the MOOC, the course is intended “not to influence how people feel about GMOs, but to give them the critical thinking and scientific literacy tools necessary to make informed decisions — and to understand the broader impacts of those decisions.”

Read more

Twenty-First Century Nuclear Innovation

New World. New Leadership. New Ways Forward.

Until very recently, there wasn’t agreement on the end goal for tackling climate change. Different camps have used different yardsticks for measuring: renewable growth, emission caps, temperature limits, you name it… but these frameworks haven’t been robust enough to bring everyone together and move a solution forward.

And just within the past six months, after decades of negotiation and deliberation, we know what the framework must be. It must be deep decarbonization. It’s technology agnostic.  And the timing is urgent.

Read more

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Responses to the Problem of Nuclear Waste Management

The University of Pennsylvania’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy has recently published a report, entitled “Nuclear Decommissioning: Paying More For Greater, Uncompensated Risks,” that aims to address the enhanced risks and costs associated with waste disposal as nuclear plants face premature retirement. While the author, Christina Simeone, is correct in pointing out the federal government’s failure to permanently dispose of spent nuclear fuel, the report’s recommendations fall short of providing any viable alternatives. In addition, Simeone ignores all the progress—albeit slow—that has been made with regard to spent fuel management, both through traditional geologic repositories and advanced reactors.

Read more

A Climate Movement at War

A War on Climate Can Be Neither Democratic Nor Effective

The invocation of war—in situations other than where people in uniforms are firing guns at each other—is the last political stop before despair. In declaring war on crime (Hoover 1930s), cancer and drugs (Nixon 1970s), and terror (Bush 2001), politicians have long demonstrated their frustration in the face of intractable problems that seem to defy all efforts to resolve them. So it was only a matter of time before someone declared war on climate change. “World War III is well and truly underway. And we are losing,” Bill McKibben wrote this month in an article for The New Republic titled “A World at War.”

Read more

Do High Agricultural Yields Spare Land for Conservation?

New Data and Perspectives in the Organic vs. Conventional Debate

Last week, the open-access journal PLoS ONE published a paper by Andrew Kniss, Steven Savage, and Randa Jabbour measuring the difference in crop yields between organic and conventional farms in the US. But, in line with the author’s express hopes, this paper is “not just another organic yield vs conventional comparison for partisans to throw at each other in debates.”

Read more


Does Premature Deindustrialization Pose a Threat to an Ecomodern Future?

The release of “An Ecomodernist Manifesto” last year sparked a variety of critiques. Some took issue with ecomodernism’s embrace of large-scale agriculture. Others differed with the Manifesto’s focus on growth and modernization, arguing for the opposite: degrowth and lower consumption. And of course there are the traditional environmental bugaboos. Nuclear power. Industrialization. GMOs.

Read more

Radiation and Reason

An Interview with Dr. Wade Allison

Dr. Wade Allison taught and studied at the University of Oxford  for over 40 years, where he is now an Emeritus Professor of Physics. His two books, Radiation and Reason and Nuclear is for Life, provide great introductions and references for those looking for a deeper understanding of how radiation affects the environment and public health.

Read more

No Room for Conservatives in Climate Politics?

Ecomodern Dispatches

This week, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tweeted a nice riff on why American conservatives remain so uniformly opposed to climate action. Among other things, Hayes wrote that “At one level resistance to climate change is perfectly natural for the right. They’ve seen (wrong) apocalyptic predictions before, they suspect the science is a stalking horse for more state involvement, and it’s a movement/party hugely backed by fossil fuels.”

Read more

Capitalism and the Planet

Can Growth and Innovation Lead to a Lighter Environmental Footprint?

The notion that high living standards and environmental protection represent a zero-sum game finds expression on both the left and right. On the right, the charge that environmentalists prefer trees and endangered species to people is a long-standing trope. On the left, the idea that humans must dramatically downscale consumption, lest the earth that sustains us collapse, has animated modern environmental thought since the early 1970’s.

Read more

The Coming Baby Bust

Ecology and Politics After the Population Boom

Rising ethno-nationalism in recent years has many mothers. Migration, increasingly multicultural societies, economic dislocation and inequality in a globalized economy have all contributed to a role in a growing sense of alienation among populations whose demographic, economic, and cultural hegemony is in decline. But one factor rather less remarked upon is the population bust.

Among white Americans, fertility rates have fallen to 1.75, well below the replacement rate (around 2.1). Among native-born residents of the United Kingdom the rate is 1.76. In France, Austria, and other sites of prominent nativist ethno-nationalist movements, fertility rates have been well below replacement for decades.

Read more

After the Great Transformation

At some point over the last decade, the human population crossed a remarkable threshold. Today, over half of the human population lives in cities and towns, up from one-third in 1960 and only 3 percent in 1800. By 2050, the United Nations estimates, two-thirds of the global population will live in urban settings.

The shift from rural to urban represents far more than a change in settlement patterns. It brings with it profound changes in social, political, and economic organization: the urbanization of the planet has been largely inseparable from industrialization and the rise of market economies.

Read more

All Pain, No Gain

Closing Diablo Canyon Will Cause Costs and Emissions to Rise

Last week, California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced it intends to close the state’s last nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, starting in 2024. Diablo Canyon, a 2200-megawatt plant just north of San Luis Obispo, generates 8–10% of California’s electricity every year with zero air pollution and zero carbon emissions. The closure is explained in a proposaldeveloped by the utility along with environmental and labor groups.

Read more

Love and Vinyl Chloride

A Deep Ecologist Reconciles With His Father and the Modern World

My father’s child-rearing methods were nineteenth century. Discipline came from the back of a belt, and compliments were few and far between. He rarely showed his feelings and spoke of them even less.

When I finally had enough fuzz on my face, I asked my father to show me how to shave. As a chemical engineer, he approached the issue methodically. It was strictly a technical matter, one that could be mastered with practice, not a rite of passage.

A conservative Republican, he worked in the chemical and plastics industry for B.F. Goodrich. For me, and for my mother, my father’s emotional distance was inseparable from his politics and profession.

Read more

Modern Pope

Laudato Si and the Effort to Reform the Feudal Church

If you want to make sense of the often coded and conflicting language of Laudato Si, Pope Francis’s recent encyclical on the environment, the place to start is not to compare it with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report or the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, but rather to understand it in the context of the tradition known as Catholic Social Teaching.

For Laudato Si, the critically important preceding texts are Pacem in Terris (1963), Gaudium et spes (1965), and Populorum Progressio (1967). Pacem in Terris, written by Pope John XXIII, is an encyclical, like Laudato Si. Peace on Earth, its English name, is the first papal text that was addressed to “all people of good will” in addition to the Catholic community.

Read more