Talk:Breakthrough Institute

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The Breakthrough Institute (TBI), which describes itself as a "a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors", is a think tank established by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus. On its website it states that it is "committed to creating a new progressive politics, one that is large, aspirational, and asset-based. We believe that any effective politics must speak to core needs and values, not issues and interests, and we thus situate ourselves at the intersection of politics, policy, philosophy, and the social sciences."[1]

TBI "believes that we can create a better world by advancing an aspirational vision grounded in America's founding values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." [4]

But in practice, this has translated to advocating "green energy" research but opposing any policy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through putting a price on carbon (a.k.a. pricing the externality).

TBI is not a 501(c)(3) nonprofit; it operates under the umbrella of nonprofit Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, so it files no IRS Form 990s documenting revenues, programs or expenditures.


"The Breakthrough people and their allies, among whom one must include Lomborg and Pielke Jr. at this point..., are not asking for the technologically impossible. They are asking merely for the technologically possible at an economically impossible cheap price."[2] "This disinformation campaign is almost entirely driven by fossil fuel companies and conservative media, politicians and think tanks. It is also advanced by the Breakthrough Institute and its president, Michael Shellenberger. His central myth -- a science fiction fantasy, really -- is that it would be possible to sharply reduce emissions without raising the cost of carbon pollution."[3]


The Science of Security

TBI has run a program called The Science of Security since 2009 - "dedicated to bringing evidence to ongoing arguments about national security and counterterrorism policy."[4].



Senior Fellows

As of March 2011:[5]





Advisory Board

As of March 2011:[7]




At the close of 2011 TBI's website said the organization now has seven foundation funders,[8] which are:[9]

  • The Comer Foundation
  • The Nathan Cummings Foundation
  • Nau Partners for Change
  • The Lotus Foundation
  • The Open Society Institute
  • The Bellwether Foundation
  • The Arkay Foundation

In early 2011, Ted Nordhaus said "Virtually all of our funding comes from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, trustees of the ...Sara Lee pound cake fortune, and the Lotus Foundation, funded by members of the Pritzker family."[10]

Contact Details

The Breakthrough Institute, 436 14th Street, Suite 820 Oakland, California 94612

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

Articles and resources


  1. "Our Mission", The Breakthrough Institute website, accessed May 2009.
  2. Michael Tobis (2010-09-13). The Breakthrough Idea. Only In It For The Gold. Retrieved on 2011-03-27. “We already have the technology. All the Breakthrough people are trying to do is negotiate with Nature over price. But Nature doesn't haggle. ... Breakthrough thinking basically amounts to an idea that if we delay action on climate forcing, the price will go down. [but] It's clear that at some point, if we delay too long, the price will start to go up. The argument is only whether we have passed that point.”
  3. Joseph Romm (2009-04-22). Don't believe the fossil-fuel lies. Salon. Retrieved on 2011-04-13. “.... the Breakthrough Institute doesn't just oppose a carbon price -- it opposes EPA regulations. Shellenberger [the presidentof The Breakthrough Institute] quotes Institute fellow Roger Pielke Jr. that "Republicans must be drooling over the possibility that EPA will take extensive regulatory action on climate change" because Obama and the Democrats will be blamed for any "actual or perceived downsides."”
  4. [1], accessed 2012-01-06
  5. No byline (Undated). Experts. The Breakthrough Institute. Retrieved on 2011-03-27.
  6. [2], accessed 2011-04-14
  7. No byline (Undated). Advisory Board. The Breakthrough Institute. Retrieved on 2011-03-27.
  8. {{cite web |url= |publisher=The Breakthrough Institute |title=Top Ten Breakthrough Moments of 2011 |quote="Founded in 2003 and first funded in 2007, Breakthrough today has 11 full-time staff, 25 Senior Fellows, 41 Breakthrough Generation Fellows, and seven foundation funders." |accessdate=2012-01-06 |pubdate=2011-12-30
  9. [3]
  10. Ted Nordhaus (2010-01-11). Comment on Daily Breakthrough: Avatar, Eco-Paranoia, and Technology. The Breakthrough Institute. Retrieved on 2011-03-27.

Related SourceWatch articles

External resources

External articles

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According to the website, the Breakthrough Institute is "committed to modernizing environmentalism for the 21st century" and its mission is to “accelerate the transition to a future where all the world's inhabitants can enjoy secure, free, and prosperous lives on an ecologically vibrant planet.”[1] Founded in 2003 by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, Breakthrough Institute has policy programs devoted to Energy and Climate, Economic Growth and Innovation, and Conservation and Development, as well as a policy journal, an annual conference, and a fellowship program for recent college graduates and grad students. [2] Breakthrough Institute analyses of energy, climate, and innovation policy have been cited by the New York Times,[3] National Public Radio[4], the Wall Street Journal,[5] and C-SPAN.[6] Philosophically, the Breakthrough Institute is associated with the ecological modernist movement.[7][8] Ecomodernists are characterized by their belief that technology can be harnessed to better humanity and the environment, and by their non-apocalyptic worldview. They frequently are pro-GMOs and believe that nuclear energy is necessary in order to address climate change.[9]


Breakthrough’s president is Michael Shellenberger and the chairman is Ted Nordhaus.[10] Breakthrough also has a number of senior fellows including sociologist Bruno Latour, sociologist Ulrich Beck, journalist Gwyneth Cravens, Nobel prize-winning physicist Burton Richter, political scientist Roger Pielke Jr., sociologist Dalton Conley, and Oxford professor Steve Rayner.[11]


Breakthrough Institute maintains programs in Energy and Climate policy, Conservation and Development, and Economic Growth and Innovation.[12] Their website states that the Energy and Climate program is “focused on making clean energy cheap through technology innovation to deal with both global warming and energy poverty.”[13] The Conservation Program “seeks to offer pragmatic new frameworks and tools for navigating these challenges.”[14] And the Economic Growth and Innovation Program “seeks to understand how economic growth and innovation happen in the real world and to consider the implications for policy makers.[15]


In 2004, Breakthrough founders Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger coauthored the essay, “Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World.”[16] The paper argues that traditional environmentalism must die so that a new kind of politics can be born. The essay sparked a large debate in the environmental community,[17] which was covered by the New York Times[18] and Salon.[19] In 2007 Nordhaus and Shellenberger published their book Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, which was called "prescient" by Time[20] and "the best thing to happen to environmentalism since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring" by Wired Magazine.[21] Breakthrough has gone on to argue that climate policy should be focused on making clean energy cheap through technological innovation and has been critical of climate policies like cap and trade and carbon pricing that are focused primarily on making dirty energy expensive. [22] [23] Breakthrough has engaged in bipartisan efforts to produce a new strategy for climate and energy policy in the wake of cap and trade. In 2010, the Breakthrough Institute, along with the left-leaning Brookings Institution and right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, published the report Post-Partisan Power, which calls for increased federal investment in innovation in order to make clean energy cheap.[24] [25] The report was widely praised and endorsed. [26] [27] Breakthrough has engaged in extensive work showing that the federal government played a crucial role in the development of major technological innovations from the iPhone to the transcontinental railroad to the shale gas revolution,[28] with its work referenced by many including the New York Times,[29] and President Barack Obama.[30] In 2011, Breakthrough published its extensive investigation into the origins of today's natural gas boom, showing that the government was critical to the shale gas revolution as well.[31] [32] Breakthrough’s findings were cited in the New York Times[33] and by President Barack Obama in his 2012 State of the Union[34] and were substantiated by the Associated Press[35] as well as the American Energy Innovation Council.[36] In 2012, Breakthrough partnered with Brookings Institute and the World Resources Institute on the report Beyond Boom and Bust which aimed to reform energy policy in order to make clean energy technologies subsidy independent.[37] The report generated wide bipartisan interest[38] and endorsements.[39]

Breakthrough has also authored analyses on the planetary boundaries hypothesis,[40] nuclear power,[41] and energy efficiency and rebound.[42]

Breakthrough Journal

In 2011, Breakthrough published the first issue of the Breakthrough Journal, which aims to “modernize political thought for the 21st century.”[43] The New Republic called Breakthrough Journal “among the most complete efforts to provide a fresh answer to" the question of how to modernize liberal thought,[44] and the National Review called it “the most promising effort at self-criticism by our liberal cousins in a long time.”[45] Steven F. Hayward’s essay “Modernizing Conservatism” received a Sidney Award from New York Times columnist David Brooks.[46] “Conservation in the Anthropocene” by Peter Kareiva, Michelle Marvier, and Robert Lalasz sparked a discussion on the future of the Anthropocene in the New York Times,[47] [48] and Scott Winship’s “The Affluent Economy” was debated in the National Review,[49] the Economist,[50] the New York Times,[51] and the Dish.[52]


Breakthrough has been criticized by both the Right and the Left. On the right, they have been criticized for arguing about the importance of the federal government in producing technological innovations.[53] On the left, they have been criticized for arguing that carbon pricing is not the solution to climate change,[54] for being pro-nuclear,[55] and for touting natural gas as a way to decrease coal usage.[56]

  1. Mission. Breakthrough Institute.
  2. Breakthrough Institute.
  3. "The End of Clean Energy Subsidies?" (May 5, 2012). 
  4. Joyce, Christopher (March 11, 2012). "Nuclear Woes Push Japan Into A New Energy Future". 
  5. White, Joseph (January 27, 2011). "Obama’s Energy Shift: It’s Not About Climate". 
  6. "Role of Government in Energy Innovation" (May 22, 2012). 
  7. Pearce, Fred (July, 15 2013). "New Green Vision: Technology As Our Planet’s Last Best Hope". 
  8. Kloor, Keith (December 12, 2012). "The Great Schism in the Environmental Movement". 
  9. Pearce, Fred (July, 15 2013). "New Green Vision: Technology As Our Planet’s Last Best Hope". 
  10. People. Breakthrough Institute.
  11. People. Breakthrough Institute.
  12. Programs. Breakthrough Institute.
  13. Energy and Climate. Breakthrough Institute.
  14. Conservation and Development. Breakthrough Institute.
  15. Economic Growth and Innovation. Breakthrough Institute.
  16. Michael Shellenberger; Ted Nordhaus (2004). Death of Environmentalism. Breakthrough Institute.
  17. "A special series on the alleged “Death of Environmentalism”" (January 14, 2005). 
  18. Barringer, Felicity (February 6, 2005). "Paper Sets Off a Debate on Environmentalism's Future". 
  19. Mieszkowski, Katharine (January 14, 2005). "Dead movement walking?". 
  20. Walsh, Bryan (September 24, 2008). "Heroes of the Environment 2008". 
  21. Horowitz, Mark (September 25, 2007). "Two Environmentalists Anger Their Brethren". 
  22. Nordhaus, Ted (November 29, 2010). "How to Change the Global Energy Conversation". 
  23. Michael Shellenberger, Ted Nordhaus, Jeff Navin, Teryn Norris & Aden Van Noppen. Fast, Clean, and Cheap: Cutting Global Warming's Gordian Knot. Breakthrough Institute.
  24. Steven Hayward, Mark Muro, Ted Nordhaus & Michael Shellenberger (October 12, 2010). Post-Partisan Power. Breakthrough Institute.
  25. Leonhardt, David (October 12, 2010). "A Climate Proposal Beyond Cap and Trade". 
  26. Levi, Michael. Digging into the "Post-Partisan Power" Study. Council on Foreign Relations.
  27. "Renewed Energy" (November 13, 2010). 
  28. Jesse Jenkins, Devon Swezey, Yael Borofsky. Where Good Technologies Come From. Breakthrough Institute.
  29. Leonhardt, David (January 24, 2011). "What Government Can Do". 
  30. Remarks by the President in his State of the Union Address. White House (January 25, 2011).
  31. Shellenberger, Michael (December 16, 2011). "A Boom in Shale Gas? Credit the Feds.". 
  32. Michael Shellenberger, Ted Nordhaus, Alex Trembath, and Jesse Jenkins (May 23, 2012). Where the Shale Gas Revolution Came From. Breakthrough Institute.
  33. Leonhardt, David (July 21, 2012). "There's Still Hope for the Planet". 
  34. "President Obama's State of the Union Address" (January 25, 2012). 
  35. Begos, Kevin (September 23, 2012). "Fracking Developed With Decades of Government Investment". 
  36. Burwen, Jason & Jane Flegal (March 2013). Unconventional Gas Exploration & Production. American Energy Innovation Council.
  37. Jenkins, Jesse; Mark Muro, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Letha Tawney, Alex Trembath (April 17, 2012). Beyond Boom and Bust. Breakthrough Institute.
  38. Johnson, Keith (April 17, 2012). "Subsidies for Clean Energy Get Fresh Look". 
  39. "The End of Clean Energy Subsidies" (May 5, 2012). 
  40. Linus Blomqvist; Ted Nordhaus & Michael Shellenberger (June 11, 2012). Planetary Boundaries: A Review of the Evidence. Breakthrough Institute.
  41. Ted Nordhaus; Jessica Lovering & Michael Shellenberger (July 7, 2013). How to Make Nuclear Cheap. Breakthrough Institute.
  42. Jesse Jenkins; Ted Nordhaus & Michael Shellenberger (February 17, 2011). Energy Emergence: Rebound and Backfire as Emergent Phenomena. Breakthrough Institute.
  43. About. Breakthrough Journal.
  44. Schmitt, Mark (June 30, 2011). "Breakthrough Journal: Has Liberalism Entered a Post-Obama Era?". 
  45. Hayward, Steven (July 18, 2011). "An Environmental Reformation". 
  46. Brooks, David (December 19, 2011). "The Sidney Awards, Part I". 
  47. Revkin, Andrew (April 3, 2012). "Peter Kareiva, an Inconvenient Environmentalist". 
  48. Revkin, Andrew (April 10, 2012). "Critic of Conservation Efforts Gets Critiqued". 
  49. Salam, Reihan (February 19, 2013). "Absolute Change, Relative Change, and America's Economic Future". 
  50. "The Age of Diminished Expectations" (February 20, 2013). 
  51. Douthat, Ross (February 23, 2013). "A World Without Work". 
  52. Sullivan, Andrew (February 21, 2013). "Does the Middle Class Really Have it So Bad?". 
  53. Samuelson, Robert (July 31, 2013). "[Washington Post George P. Mitchell and the entrepreneurial edge]". 
  54. Walsh, Bryan (September 24, 2008). "Heroes of the Environment 2008". 
  55. Letzing, John (March 4, 2011). "Notebook: Environmentalists spar over nuclear power". 
  56. Carey, John (June 10, 2013). "Gas Pains".