Peter Teague Joins Breakthrough Institute

Senior Advisor to Focus On Energy Access for Development and Nature

Breakthrough Institute cofounder, advisory board member, and longtime environmental philanthropist Peter Teague has become Senior Advisor at the Breakthrough Institute, where he has joined the staff leadership team and will oversee the think tank’s energy access work.

“I’m excited to be joining Breakthrough in this new role, to focus on an issue I feel passionately about,” said Teague, who worked for two years in Sierra Leone as a Peace Corps volunteer. “At a young age, I saw up-close how fundamental access to modern energy is if we want people to be able to live healthy, dignified lives.”

Last December, Teague and Breakthrough’s President Michael Shellenberger travelled through Rwanda and Congo to study energy access issues.

“Seeing children hauling stacks of firewood reinforced for us the need for cheaper and cleaner energy alternatives,” said Shellenberger. “Peter not only brings to Breakthrough three decades of experience, but also deep compassion and a personal connection to these issues.”

Energy access has become a high priority issue for those concerned with both development and climate change. Evangelical Christians have motivated Republicans to support energy access efforts in Congress, while liberal leaders from Bono to President Obama point to electrification as a core human need. Last year, the House of Representatives passed the Electrify Africa Act, legislation to increase energy access in Africa. The new “BRICS” bank announced it would join the World Bank and other institutions in financing dams, power stations, and other energy projects in poor nations.

For Breakthrough, energy access for the poor sits at the intersection of economic development and environmental protection.

“One of Breakthrough’s gifts is shedding new light onto old problems by asking hard questions,” Teague said. “One of our first tasks is to understand how people and nations have gained access to energy historically. We want to know what is specific to particular situations, and what can be generalized from these histories.”

Teague will also be working to internationalize Breakthrough’s work in places like Africa and South Asia, doing research with partners to identify policy solutions and proposals for policy makers both in developed countries, like the United States, as well as abroad.

“It’s time to understand energy not as a charitable issue but a development imperative,” Teague said.

Teague joins Breakthrough after leading the Nathan Cummings Foundation through a strategic planning process in which the longtime Breakthrough Institute funder announced that energy access and climate change would be a combined focus area in coming years. “While at Cummings, I came to understand energy as essential to both human development and environmental protection,” says Teague.

As per the Nathan Cummings website: “The world will need energy technologies that are cheaper than coal, zero carbon, and capable of delivering ‘baseload’ power to the 2 billion people who are now without it, as well as the 2 to 3 billion more who will be born this century.”

"Over the last decade Peter's work was instrumental in helping the Nathan Cummings Foundation develop and deepen its focus on climate change and energy innovation,” said Adam Cummings, board chair of the Cummings Foundation. “We are excited to see Peter continue his pioneering work at the Breakthrough Institute."

Breakthrough leaders said the hiring of Teague was part of a larger effort in the research institute’s growth. "Peter has worked on energy and climate issues for 30 years and, as cofounder of Breakthrough, will be able to bring the organization’s unique DNA to this complex and ‘wicked problem,’” said Rachel Pritzker, Chairwoman of Breakthrough’s Advisory Board.

“Energy access is critical to Breakthrough’s holistic view of energy transitions and helping nations climb the energy ladder,” said Ted Nordhaus, Breakthrough’s Chairman. “What’s exciting is that Peter will be able to bring this positive and pragmatic ecomodernist vision and program to an area that has been characterized by excessive romanticism, on the one hand, and undue pessimism on the other.”

Teague’s work in philanthropy spans 20 years. At Cummings, Teague made foundational investments in the “green jobs” movement, which included the Apollo Alliance, a labor-environmental coalition, Green For All, and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Other notable work was in the Clean Air Task Force, which recently did an analysis of climate change “decarbonization” scenarios. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Teague worked at Tides Foundation, a liberal philanthropy in San Francisco, and at Horizons Foundation, a leading gay rights philanthropy.

Before working in philanthropy, Teague worked as a Congressional staffer in Washington, DC, where he put his law degree to use. Teague was chief environmental advisor to Congressman Leon Panetta, Senate candidate Dianne Feinstein, and US Senator Barbara Boxer.

“My years in government taught me the limits of conventional thinking, including traditional environmentalism,” Teague said. “We created Breakthrough to move beyond small-bore and unworkable solutions, to build a movement that would inspire people to believe that we can do great things, that we are not doomed to destroy nature, but in fact can save it while ensuring that people live healthier, happier, and more abundant lives. Joining Breakthrough full-time is both the completion of a journey and a new beginning for me."