Some psychological aspects of responding to emerging biophysical limits         Raymond De Young

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 is 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 end to cheap energy and a drop in the availability of natural resources by mid-century. One implication of these historic changes is that everyday life would differ substantially from conventional expectations. There would be reduced consumption, less specialization, curtailed mobility and decentralized settlement patterns. Life would be much less affluent, likely more agrarian. And yet, as a result, psychological well-being might improve.

We can accept that this downshift is inevitable and yet be 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 our response. It is more sensible to accept the downshift as plausible, explore the many implications of resource limits, construct reasonable responses, and then test these alternatives. 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.

Agrarian place-based settlement
Urban-agriculture image: Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co Site © 2014 R. De Young  1-1-14