Breakthrough Dialogue 2016: Great Transformations will take place on June 22 – 24, 2016

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?

2016 marks the sixth year in which the Dialogue has offered scholars, journalists, philanthropists, policymakers, and friends the opportunity to come together to engage with the Breakthrough Institute in conversation about the world’s most wicked problems.

The Dialogue is presented in service of Breakthrough’s mission to transition to a future where all the world’s inhabitants can lead prosperous lives on an ecologically vibrant planet. It has become a hub for the  burgeoning ecomodernist movement, offering a positive vision that includes thriving cities, more space for wild nature, and a future in which everyone in what is now the developing world can choose to live a modern life.

The Dialogue program will consist of four panels on the main stage and three sets of concurrent sessions that allow for more focused discussions.  There will be  opportunities to interact in all the sessions as well as time for individual and small group conversations as we share meals and free time in the beautiful setting at Cavallo Point in Sausalito, California.

Following is a list of plenary and concurrent session topics and speakers:


Plenary Sessions


Are Cities Good for People and Nature?

A central process of modernization is the move to cities. Over half the global population is urban today, with 70-80% of the world expected to live in cities by the end of the century. From an ecomodernist perspective, this is extremely welcome and should be accelerated. But cities today can also bring alienation from traditional social institutions. They can breed corruption, crime, and pollution. So 21st century urbanization could bring higher living standards and better environmental outcomes or it could create a “planet of slums.” Are cities good, bad, or somewhere in between?


Is Industrialization Still Possible in the 21st Century?

We know that traditional modernization “worked” for the rich countries of the world: incomes are much higher, infrastructure is much more reliable, and social indicators like public health, education, and well-being show the undeniable benefits of modernity. But are the processes that drove modernization in the past -- urbanization, agricultural intensification, and industrialization -- available to developing countries today? Prominent scholars have argued that the blue-collar manufacturing jobs that powered 19th and 20th century industrialization will not materialize for the world’s poor today, thanks to globalization and automation. There is also disagreement over the role of governance and industrial policy. Can emerging economies follow the rich world’s path, and if not, is there some other road to modernity?


Is Peak Farmland in Sight?

Improved yields in agriculture have spared tens of millions of hectares of natural habitat from conversion to farmland over the last 50 years, and the expansion of farmland has slowed down in the last two decades. Do we have the technological capacity to reach peak farmland in the next few decades? Even if we do, will the peaking of global farmland be accompanied by a shift of agricultural production to the tropics, with potentially devastating consequences for tropical forests, which harbor a huge proportion of global biodiversity? What will it take to intensify agricultural production globally while ensuring that we protect critical tropical habitat? 


Ecomodernism In Action

‘An Ecomodernist Manifesto’ presents a case for how to achieve “a good, or even great, Anthropocene.” This panel will showcase a few of the individuals and campaigns around the world accelerating the transition to that future. From advanced nuclear power to genetic modification to precision agriculture, the work to lift up humanity and make more room for wild nature is being done all over the world.


Concurrent Session Topics:


Normalizing Nuclear Risk

Ecomodern Psych

Renewable Energy and Land-Use Impacts

Ecomodern Education

Can Conservatives Get Back in the Environmental Game?

Geo-engineering the Planet

How to Make Nuclear Innovative

Out of the Wood Economy


2016 Breakthrough  Paradigm Award Winner David Mackay

Other speakers include:

Mimi Alemayehou

Mike Lind

Vijaya Ramachandran

Samir Saran

Dan Kahan

Amit Narang

Sunil Nautiyal

Reihan Salam

Oliver Morton

Jane Long

Sam Brinton

Gayathri Vaidyanathan

Sarah Davidson Evanega

Emma Marris

Steve Hayward