2022 Breakthrough Dialogue

Wednesday, June 22 through Friday, June 24, 2022

2022 Breakthrough Dialogue

Every year, the Breakthrough Institute invites policymakers, experts, journalists, and more from across the world to join together to tackle one big topic in climate politics and policy.

This year, we'll be digging into the dance between peril and progress. Over three days, we’ll look at how best to understand past advancement, how long-term forecasting should inform present-day initiatives, and whether existential risks present novel impediments to human flourishing—or whether such threats were always lurking in the background.

We hope you’ll join us for a series of live-streamed panels focused on understanding the nature of human progress and, hopefully, compounding it for future generations. Read more about this year’s theme here.


Dr. Charles Kenny in Conversation with Vox's Kelsey Piper

Dr. Charles Kenny is one of the world’s leading experts on human development and the economics of happiness. He is a senior fellow and the director of technology and development at the Center for Global Development and the author of the books Getting Better: Why Global Development is Succeeding, and How We Can Improve the World Even More, The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest is Great for the West, and The Plague Cycle: The Unending War Between Humanity and Infectious Disease. He has been a contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine and a regular contributor to Business Week magazine. Before joining the Center for Global Development, Kenny spent 15 years at the World Bank. In his illustrious career he has researched and advised on governance, anti-corruption, Internet, telecommunications, energy and natural resources, and pandemics.

Each year, we bestow the Paradigm Award to recognize 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 are Mark Lynas, Emma Marris, Jesse Ausubel, Ruth DeFries, David MacKay, Calestous Juma, Rachel Laudan, Stewart Brand, Steve Rayner, and Joyashree Roy—all of whom have changed the way we think about the planet and its future. And now we are excited to add to those ranks Kenny, whose work is a foundational component of the theme of this summer's Breakthrough Dialogue, “Progress Problems.”

Supply-Side Progressivism

"Look closely and you can see something new and overdue emerging in American politics: supply-side progressivism." So wrote this panel's moderator, Ezra Klein, last year, giving voice to an increasingly popular intellectual movement on the left and center-left in the United States and beyond. From housing shortages to an apparent inability to build large infrastructure projects to a slowdown in the pace of scientific innovation, a number of "supply-side" constraints can be traced back to bureaucratic and regulatory arrangements created and upheld largely by the parties of Big Government. Supply-side progressivism is the putative antidote. But what are the root causes of our technological and bureaucratic malaise? Is the political left really capable of serious self-reflection and reform? And is the solution a more proactive state or, instead, simply getting the government out of the way?


  • Bhaskar Sunkara, President, The Nation; Founder, Jacobin Magazine
  • Samuel Hammond, Director of Poverty and Welfare Policy, Niskanen Center
  • Virginia Postrel, Author; Visiting Fellow, Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy at Chapman University
  • Ezra Klein, Columnist, New York Times
Progress Problems

Within the wake of a world-historic pandemic, during an ongoing land war in Eastern Europe, and amidst the effects of climate change might strike some as an odd time to dwell on, let alone celebrate, progress. Yet the chorus of the card-carrying "progress community" has only grown in recent years. As regular followers of the Breakthrough Institute's work will recognize, there is good reason for this. The centuries since the Industrial Revolution have witnessed unprecedented material and social progress. But with that progress came devastating ecological impacts, climatically and otherwise, as well as escalating institutional sclerosis and cultural tension that have threatened the very processes and institutions that drive progress in the first place. Meanwhile, many have come to question the virtue of our modern, atomized, consumptive society, materially and scientifically abundant though it may be. Can we agree on the causes and goals of a progress movement, what obstacles it faces, and what institutions might best sustain it?


  • Caleb Watney, Co-Founder, Institute for Progress
  • Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, Professor of Public Policy, University of Southern California
  • Yascha Mounk, Professor, Practice of International Affairs, John Hopkins University
  • Tamara Winter, Commissioning Editor Team, Stripe Press
Uncertain Catastrophe

What function does uncertainty play in our climate politics? For a long time, the uncertainty of future damages from anthropogenic climate change has served as robust justification for ambitious climate action today. But for some, the uncertainty of our climate future has morphed into the certainty of impending climate catastrophe. The notion of such a catastrophe, which some observers who once insisted loomed past four or five degrees of atmospheric warming now insist waits just past two or even 1.5 degrees, is used to trump the multiple layers of uncertainty embedded in the future.

What level of warming will we actually see this century? What will the local and regional effects of that warming be? How quickly and equitably will human societies develop economically? What kinds of technology and infrastructure will be deployed, either explicitly or obliquely, to confront future climate risk? These are the uncertainties that climate risk unavoidably subdivides into. And while they appear inconvenient to the ideological agenda of some climate catastrophists, they will need to be grappled for any kind of ambitious climate action to take shape.


  • Ted Nordhaus, Founder and Executive Director, Breakthrough Institute
  • David Wallace-Wells, Writer and Columnist, New York Times
  • Juliette Kayyem, Homeland Security Project Faculty Director, Security and Global Health Project, Harvard Kennedy School
  • T. Jayaraman, Senior Fellow , M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation
  • Oliver Morton, Senior Editor, The Economist
Diet for an Industrial Planet

Most crops around the world are grown on large farms. Most food consumed today is produced with synthetic, not organic, fertilizers. International trade in agricultural products grows every year. Meat consumption is on the rise. In other words, our global diet is already highly industrialized. The question is not whether the food system of the future will be industrial, but what it will look like.

Will global food supply become ever more global, or will the supply chain brittleness exposed by COVID-19 and the War in Ukraine push nations to pursue greater food sovereignty? Is the future of protein production more animal, more vegetable, or more mineral? What role is there on a modern, industrialized, highly urban planet for small-scale, organic, and artisanal food? Answering these questions will hinge as much on cultural and political values as technological and agronomic ones.


  • Pamela Ronald, Distinguished Professor, Plant Genetics, UC Davis
  • C.S. Prakash, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Tuskegee University
  • Tamar Haspel, Food and Science Columnist, The Washington Post
  • Jan Dutkiewicz, Postdoctoral Fellow, Swiss National Science Foundation; Policy Fellow, Harvard Law