Breakthrough Dialogue 2018

Rising Tides

In this Dialogue, we consider opportunities to shape human and environmental futures for the better. Which trends can we shape, which are inexorable, and how might we tell one from the other? Can we mitigate, adapt to, and manage the climate to assure it will be hospitable for people and biodiversity? How should we balance the risks and opportunities that come with rapid environmental change and identify strategies that are robust to the deep uncertainties that are inherent to all hopes and fears about the human future? How, in short, might we ride the tide without being swept away?  

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Breakthrough Dialogue East 2017

Democracy in the Anthropocene

In the face of new global environmental challenges, and at a moment of intense political polarization in the United States, we step away from the policy debates and political controversies of the moment to consider together what we really know about the relationship between human well-being, environmental change, technological progress, and economic and political modernization.

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Breakthrough Dialogue 2017

Democracy in the Anthropocene

In a world in which humans have become the dominant ecological force on the planet, good outcomes for people and the environment increasingly depend upon the decisions we collectively make. How we grow food, produce energy, utilize natural resources, and organize human settlements and economic enterprises will largely determine what kind of planet we leave to future generations. Depending upon those many decisions, the future earth could be hotter or cooler; host more or less biodiversity; be more or less urbanized, connected, and cosmopolitan; and be characterized by vast tracts of wild lands, where human influences are limited, or virtually none at all.

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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?

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Breakthrough Dialogue 2015

The Good Anthropocene

Over the last few years, ecomodernist thinkers have articulated a vision of a “good Anthropocene,” one where humans use our extraordinary powers to shrink our negative impact on nature. But the very discussion of a good Anthropocene triggered a critical response from some who see modernization processes and the age of humans itself as inherently risky and destructive. In light of this debate, Breakthrough Dialogue 2015 will focus on the question: “What is our vision of a good Anthropocene?” And it will ask related questions: Given global complexity, inequality, and ideological diversity, should we speak of many Anthropocenes rather than a single Anthropocene? How do these visions draw on and break from traditional environmentalism, on the one hand, and the status quo, where modernization processes seem to be proceeding?

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Breakthrough Dialogue 2014

High-Energy Planet

For the past 40 years, rising energy production and consumption have been widely viewed as inherently destructive of nature. A steady stream of government, United Nations, and environmental proposals have identified lowered energy consumption as the highest goal of climate and environmental policy. But during that same period, global per capita energy consumption has risen by 30 percent. And over the next century, global energy consumption is anticipated to double, triple, or more. The reality of our high-energy planet demands that we rethink environmental protection. The question for Breakthrough Dialogue 2014 is, “How might a high-energy planet save nature?”

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Breakthrough Dialogue 2013

Creative Destruction

Over the last century the view of the world as essentially dynamic has overthrown ancient notions of stasis. While naturalists once believed Nature existed in a state of delicate harmony, modern earth scientists describe disturbance as essential to life. While economists once focused on the way economies revert to states of equilibrium, hoping to discover universal laws, today’s investor class seeks disruptive new technologies that change the rules of the game. Little surprise then that the phrase “creative destruction,” once limited to economics, now seems appropriate shorthand for interpreting a multitude of contemporary forces.

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Breakthrough Dialogue 2012

Overcoming Wicked Problems

In 1969, two little-known urban planners, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber, gave a speech to the American Association for the Advancement of Science where they described new problems like crime, environmental degradation, and urban redevelopment as fundamentally harder to deal with than earlier social problems.

The streets have been paved, and roads now connect all places; houses shelter virtually everyone; the dread diseases are virtually gone; clean water is piped into nearly every building; sanitary sewers carry wastes from them; schools and hospitals serve virtually every district; and so on. But now that these relatively easy problems have been dealt with, we have been turning our attention to others that are much more stubborn.

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Breakthrough Dialogue 2011

Modernizing Liberalism

Breakthrough Dialogue 2011: Modernizing Liberalism took place on June 16-18.

We believe that intense conversation and debate are critical to the creation of a new liberalism, one which is able to compellingly narrate current events and guide public policy. How should we modernize political liberalism for a new century, a new economy, and a new society in the face of new risks? In response to this question, our discussions will take place over four thematic Dialogues focused on risk, the state, ecology, and politics. 

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Two days of focused conversation in service of a mission larger than anyone in the room: new thought for a new politics for a new century.

Every year Breakthrough's extended tribe of fellows, families, and friends descend on Northern California to have a single, extended conversation about a big topic, from modernizing liberalism to overcoming wicked problems.