It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation which give happiness (Thomas Jefferson 1788)
The University of Michigan's 10th president, in an inaugural address, said that universities are responsible for training and research that serve current economic and cultural needs. That was predictable and uninspiring. What was said next was fascinating. A public university also, "has a fundamental responsibility to be critical of society's current arrangements and to entertain, construct and test alternative visions." Now that is a radical and exhilarating thought.
These localization papers take up this responsibility. They help envision an alternative to our current arrangement with the planet. They anticipate an eventual end to cheap energy and a significant drop in the availability of high-quality resources during this century. One implication of these historic changes is that everyday life will differ substantially from conventional expectations. There will be reduced consumption and perhaps less specialization, curtailed mobility and decentralized settlement patterns. Life would be much less affluent, perhaps more agrarian. And yet, as a result, psychological well-being might improve.
We have evidence that this downshift is inevitable and yet are uncertain as to its timing. We might start by debating the timing, but this is a dangerous distraction since, afterwards, we'd still need to develop a response. It is more sensible to accept the downshift as plausible, explore the many implications of resource limits, and then construct reasonable responses and test them. It is prudent to start this transition while we still have surpluses of material, energy and social capital.
These papers have several goals: Helping us get to a downshift moment where we accept the coming resource descent. Helping form responses that plan for, motivate and maintain a wholesome and durable existence under a descent. Pre-familiarizing ourselves with living well within local ecological limits. In short, exploring the need for, and features of, an urgent transition.
Raymond De Young, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Environmental Psychology and Planning
School for Environment and Sustainability
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109