About these papers

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 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 foresee an end to both surplus net energy and the availability of high-quality resources sometime this century.  They understand that climate disruption is empirically established with profound changes to the Earth’s thermal patterns both occurring and accelerating.  There is hope that the climate change negotiating process has created a nascent global response.  Nevertheless, few people are so optimistic as to believe that techno-industrial society can continue unchanged.  Also noted is a peculiar silence around the issue of declining net energy. 

These papers envision an alternative to our current arrangement with the planet.  They develop a response that moves beyond interventions that are top-down, expert-driven, modest in request, serial in implementation, and short-term in horizon; such approaches no longer suffice.  Soon, everyday life will differ substantially from conventional expectations.  There will be reduced consumption, curtailed mobility, less specialization, and, over time, decentralized settlement patterns.  Life will be much less affluent, and become more agrarian. Yet, as will be argued here, well-being will improve with everyone and their neighbors being well fed, in the broadest meaning of that word.

Despite evidence of this downshift, its timing is uncertain.  Undoubtedly, aspects of it have already begun.  But to debate the timing is a dangerous distraction since, afterwards, we still need to develop a response.  It is more sensible to accept the downshift as plausible, explore the many implications of resource limits and climate disruption, construct reasonable responses, and then test them.  It is prudent to start this transition while there remain surpluses of material, energy and social capital.  Thus these papers explore the need for, and perhaps unexpectedly positive features of, an urgent transition.

Raymond De Young, PhD.
School for Environment and Sustainability
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Updated: January 16, 2019