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 2012: Wicked Problems Agenda

Overcoming Wicked Problems: How can a modernized liberalism manage the wicked problems of the 21st century?

Keynote & Dialogue 1: The Wonders of Wickedness

The theory of “wicked problems” dates back to a 1969 paper written by two urban planners, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber. The two were dealing with the crisis of public confidence in experts and planners at a time of rising affluence and inequality. As we face challenges like inequality, obesity, climate change, and nuclear energy, Rittel and Webber's description of wicked problems reads as fresh today as it did back then.

In this panel we will explore numerous questions and ideas that we will continue to revisit throughout the course of the Dialogue. How do our preconceived solutions frame the ways in which we understand problems? Is it more useful to think of climate change, financial crises, and inequality as problems to be managed rather than solved? Oxford University's Steve Rayner will deliver the opening keynote for the Dialogue with responses from Mark Sagoff, professor of philosophy at George Mason University, and Nico Stehr, cultural studies professor at Zeppelin University. The conversation is moderated by New York Times Dot Earth blogger, Andrew Revkin.

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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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Breakthrough 2013: Creative Destruction Agenda

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. 

When it comes to the environment, we focus so resolutely on the “destruction” side of the equation that many of us, especially in the developed world, only refer to “progress” ironically. And yet, if some amount of destruction will always be required for any act of creation, it may also be that rising affluence, ingenuity, and wisdom are allowing us to radically reduce our destructive impacts. In an effort to explore these dynamics and the choices they present, Breakthrough Dialogue 2013 asked, “How can we shape creative destruction to create a world where all nine billion of us can live prosperous lives on an ecologically vibrant planet?”

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WELCOME TO THE ANTI-DAVOS

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.