ABSTRACT The drop in energy and material use may be 80% or more by mid-century, a shift without precedent. While energy is a key driver, the seminar is not about energy policy, nor does it develop doom-and-gloom scenarios. The seminar provides evidence for this premise but does not dwell on it. Rather, its focus is on one possible response to this emerging biophysical reality. It presumes that now is the time to envision adaptations, debate alternatives, and plan for and pre-familiarize ourselves with the needed transition.
The syllabus is for a seminar that explores the implications of a new biophysical circumstance, envisions accommodation to this emerging new normal, and discusses adaptations for the transition. The seminar focuses on crafting a wholesome, just, equitable, peaceful, and resilient transition. Throughout, members consider the local, regional, national, and even international dimensions of localization. They try to imagine a process of social change toward a positive future.
TEXT: De Young, R. & T. Princen (2012) The Localization Reader: Adapting to the Coming Downshift. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
NOTE: All royalties from the sale of this book have been allocated, by contract with the MIT Press, to two community organizations that exemplify localization. Growing Hope is an organization dedicated to helping people improve their lives and communities through gardening and local food security (www.growinghope.net) and People’s Food Co-op has long sought to feed a community with wholesome food and good work (www.peoplesfood.coop).
Localization Syllabus and Reading Group Guide – Updated: 28 June 2013 1
LOCALIZATION: ADAPTING TO THE COMING DOWNSHIFT
PREMISE – This seminar takes as given that high-consuming, growth-dependent, debt-driven
soon be operating on drastically less energy and material;
need to make a rapid transition;
be less affluent, but possibly function with higher levels of well-being.
The drop in energy and material use may be 80% or more by mid-century, a shift without
precedent. While energy is a key driver, the seminar is not about energy policy, nor does it
develop doom-and-gloom scenarios. The seminar provides evidence for this premise but does
not dwell on it. Rather, its focus is on one possible response to this emerging biophysical reality.
FOCUS – The seminar focuses on:
1) What localization is (it is already happening, often hidden in plain sight)
2) What it can be (a welcome challenge or a dire and dark struggle)
3) What it should be (e.g., peaceful, democratic, just, joyful, fulfilling, resilient)
It presumes that now is the time to envision adaptations, debate alternatives, and plan for and
pre-familiarize ourselves with the needed transition.
The seminar explores the implications of a new biophysical circumstance, envisions
accommodation to this emerging new normal, and discusses adaptations for the transition. The
seminar focuses on crafting a wholesome, just, equitable, peaceful, and resilient transition.
Throughout, members consider the local, regional, national, and even international dimensions
of localization. They try to imagine a process of social change toward a positive future.
De Young, R. & T. Princen (2012) The Localization Reader: Adapting to the Coming Downshift.
Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
All royalties from the sale of this book have been allocated, by contract with the MIT
Press, to two community organizations that exemplify localization. Growing Hope is an
organization dedicated to helping people improve their lives and communities through
gardening and local food security (www.growinghope.net) and People’s Food Co-op has
long sought to feed a community with wholesome food and good work
Localization Syllabus and Reading Group Guide 2
The Localization Papers:
Definition of localization: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~rdeyoung/definition.html
Seminar documents: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~rdeyoung/syllabus.html
1. Developing principles, guidelines, and rules-of-thumb for effective localizing
including the just, equitable, and peaceful transition from a fossil fuel-based,
resource-intensive, growth-oriented economy to a resilient localized economy
2. Applying insights gained to a specific instance of localization
3. Develop the competence and confidence to publicly present principles and
practices of localization and collaborate with community officials and citizens
EVALUATIONS – Include weekly preparation, group leadership, weekly written principles,
discussion and group research project.
1. Preparation and participation – Thorough preparation of readings and diligent weekly
and term writings are essential to the success of the seminar. In-class activities are the
core of the course, where active listening is as important as speaking.
Because the readings are extensive, members are expected to develop strategies to
cover the material efficiently. Collaboration is one such strategy and is encouraged.
Attendance at all class sessions is required. There is no substitute for in-class
discussions. Since the seminar is an integrative exercise, presenting one’s views is
essential to its success.
2. Session facilitation -- All seminar members are responsible for helping to manage
discussions. Small groups will occasionally meet outside of class to prepare materials or
3. Individual weekly principles – The readings are selected to stimulate thought about
localization. No one reading or combination of readings says definitively what
localization is, yet each may offer a different frame for understanding localization.
Rather, it is a major task of the seminar to determine what localization is, however
provisionally. Thus, for each week’s readings, each member of the seminar (students
and faculty) will write at least two principles (e.g., criteria, guidelines, rules of thumb,
propositions) for localization, based on that week’s readings.
One principle should derive from a case, the other from the conceptual reading(s).
Localization Syllabus and Reading Group Guide 3
These principles should take the form of general causal statements, not descriptive
summaries. The objective is not to be right, but to be exploratory, logical, and synthetic,
even, at times, creative and stimulating. The broader, long-term goal is to build a
conceptual framework for localization and offer guidelines for action. The collection of
principles from all members thus serves as a publicly accessible (initially only to the
seminar members) database from which anyone can build a conceptual framework of
The readings contain innumerable possibilities for such principles. Sometimes the
authors make them explicitly, but more often, only implicitly. Often, the reader must
A few carefully crafted sentences will generally suffice for each principle. It is useful to
indicate where in the reading the principle originated (e.g., page number, a short
quote). If feedback is desired, it is the responsibility of the member to ask. Otherwise, in
each class session a few volunteers will share their principles. This will be one basis for
4. Group research project – Beginning at the start of the term, groups of students will
develop a small research project. Optimal team size is 2 to 4 students. Smaller groups,
even one-person, and larger groups are possible. After a discussion with classmates and
instructors of various topics in the early part of the term, students must make a
commitment to a single topic early in second month. Projects by individuals are
permitted yet gently discouraged.
A number of place-based Energy Descent Action Plans have emerged in the last few
years. Most of these can be found on the web. An evaluation of these, or similar,
community plans would make a reasonable research project.
Each research group delivers a short draft paper for peer review. For the final
presentation, the group can choose how (e.g., formal presentation to class, a poster in
the commons), where (the class, the school, a conference, a board meeting) and when
(no later than early in the final month), and in what format to present its findings.
The schedule of research project tasks includes:
Weekly Brief updates from groups on research progress
First month Discussion of topics by entire seminar
Midterm Commitment to a single topic
Third month Draft reports distributed for peer-review
Late Third month Peer-review evaluation returned to teams
Final month Final report due
Localization Syllabus and Reading Group Guide 4
1. Readings – Most readings are in the text. The purpose of the readings is not to
accumulate lots of facts. It is not to memorize everything. Rather, it is to identify and
grasp key ideas, concepts, norms, analytic perspectives, biophysical and social contexts,
and principles as they relate to localization. Thus, consider the following as an overall
a) Approach the readings as an exploration, an active process of making sense of
the piece, of finding nuggets of insight into the reasons for and processes of
b) The authors of the readings were not part of a localization seminar. They might
have framed their piece differently had they been in such a seminar. It will often
be useful to reinterpret their work through the premises of this seminar.
c) As you read, note your own reactions, especially surprises or “aha’s” or passages
that contradict your previous understanding (or another reading). Share such
reactions with seminar members, or others, however common or popular you
think they might be.
2. Written work – Type or computer print all assignments; single spacing is acceptable for
final papers (in fact, for source reduction purposes, preferred) but drafts to be read and
marked by others should be double spaced with ample margins for comments. Printing
on the back side of used paper and other creative uses and re-uses of paper are also
encouraged provided the material is highly readable.
3. Session agenda – Each session will follow a simple order:
i. At the start – Everyone will post their two principles on the board in the
ii. First ten minutes – Everyone will read and take notes on the posted
iii. At fifteen minutes after starting – Discussion of selected principles.
c) Discussion of readings
d) Group-based research project discussion
e) Seminar administration
Localization Syllabus and Reading Group Guide 5
1. CASE STUDIES
Human societies have long been organized locally, but cheap energy, new technologies and
communications have shifted that organization to the national and international levels.
Examples of localization, as opposed to “the local,” are hard to come by. A reasonable
example must demonstrate how to provide for basic needs in a durable and resilient
manner. Within the readings listed below, there are a number of case studies to help us
imagine what the transition could be like. Most of these case studies are found in the text;
some are on the web, others may emerge in the mainstream media during the term.
Holmgren, David (2009). Future scenarios: How communities can adapt to peak oil and climate
change. Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT.
McKibben, B. (2010). Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. New York : Times Books.
Alexander, S. (2013). Entropia: Life Beyond Industrial Civilization. Melbourne: Simplicity
Webpage to review:
Review periodically the Resilience webpage (http://www.resilience.org) looking for articles
about localization. Select two and write a brief review (<1 page) to share with the group.
WEEK 1 – INTRODUCTION and DRIVERS OF LOCALIZATION
Meadows, Donella H. (1994). Envisioning a sustainable world. Presented at the Third Biennial
Meeting of the International Society for Ecological Economics. October 24-28, 1994, San
Jose, Costa Rica. ( http://www-
Preface and Introduction, De Young & Princen on Seminar webpage ]
Part 1 – Drivers of Localization – An understanding of biophysical limits leads
to one unmistakable conclusion: society will be making a fundamental
transition away from fossil fuels and toward lowered consumption of
material and energy. Social complexity may decline but equity and quality of
life may actually increase.
Localization Syllabus and Reading Group Guide 6
Case study: Read only “2000 watt” story in “The island in the wind.” The New Yorker, 2008, pp.
WEEK 2 – DRIVERS OF LOCALIZATION (continued)
2 Energy Cost of Energy Gained Adam Dadeby
3 The Inevitability of Transition Joseph A. Tainter
4 Less Energy, More Equity, More Time Ivan Illich
Case study: Box (Planful Shrinkage) [read file by this name on Seminar webpage]
Case study: “Shipping costs and globalization.” New York Times. (3 August 2008).
WEEK 3 – LOCALIZATION IN PRACTICE
Part 2 – Localization in Practice – Accepting the inevitability of transition is
separate from adapting to the likely consequences. Imaging the range of
ways we might respond allows us to plan more self-reliant communities.
Existing practices demonstrate their feasibility. Together, scenarios and
practices help prefigure the needed institutions, economies, physical
structures, norms and behaviors necessitated by ecological constraint.
5 An Arc of Scenarios Rob Hopkins
6 Inhabiting Place Robert L. Thayer
7 Locally Owned Business Michael Shuman
Case study: Box (Localizing Finance)
Case study: “In a City in Italy, the Schoolchildren Walk Where Once They Rode,” NYT, 27 March
WEEK 4 – LOCALIZATION IN PRACTICE (continued)
8 Daring to Experiment Warren Johnson
9 Civic Agriculture Thomas A. Lyson
10 Ecovillages: A Whole New Way Karen Litfin
Case study: Box (Erie Canal)
Case study: Box (Belo Horizonte)
WEEK 5 – PHILOSOPHIES OF LOCALIZATION
The End of Fossil Fuels
M. King Hubbert
Localization Syllabus and Reading Group Guide 7
Part 3 – Philosophies of Localization – Philosophies of localization affirm the
possibility of flourishing while staying within natural limits. The arguments
are clear and have been around a long time, just overshadowed by a
consumerist culture, a focus on growth and a presumption that bigger and
faster is better.
11 The Decentralist Tradition
12 Technology at a Human Scale
Case study: Box (The Potato)
Case study: “Revived paper Mill Brings a Town Back With It.” New York Times. (2008).
WEEK 6 – PHILOSOPHIES OF LOCALIZATION (continued)
14 Local Enterprise
15 Conserving Communities
Case study: Box (Hawaii)
Case study: “Workers’ Paradise Found Off Japan’s Coast,” New York Times, April 22, 2009.
WEEK 7 – BRINGING OUT THE BEST IN PEOPLE
Part 4 – Bringing Out the Best in People – A challenge of localization, like
sustainability generally, is to provide a positive framing of a materialistically
simpler existence. Fortunately, knowing what deeply motivates people this
possible: localization can indeed be meaningful and fulfilling at the same
time it is ecologically compatible.
16 Abundance and Fulfillment Sharon Astyk
17 Motives for Living Lightly Raymond De Young
18 Enabling the Best in People Rachel Kaplan & Stephen Kaplan
Case study: Box (Work less)
Case study: “Good health as economy declines?” New York Times. (7 October 2008).
WEEK 8 – APPROPRIATE GOVERNANCE
Part 5 – Appropriate Governance – While localization entails transforming
society, it is not about rejecting all modern institutions. It seeks to reorient,
re-task and right-size those institutions. To ensure a gentler transition,
Ernst F. Schumacher
Localization Syllabus and Reading Group Guide 8
planning and decision-making must be participatory, collaborative,
equitable and mutually accountable.
20 Towards the Regional
21 Global Problems, Localist Solutions
Case study: Box (Energy islands)
Case study: “Demand for Wind Spurs Ranchers to Join Forces,” New York Times. (Nov 28, 2008).
WEEK 9 – TOOLS FOR TRANSITION
Part 6 – Tools for Transition – Understanding the positive dimensions of the
transition, and having the motivation to start, does not provide the
procedural knowledge needed to act effectively. Fortunately, there already
are tools for making fundamental change. More tools will certainly be
22 Adaptive Muddling Raymond De Young & Stephen Kaplan
23 Promoting a Partnership Society Lester W. Milbrath
24 Tools for the Transition Donella Meadows, Randers & Dennis Meadows
David J. Hess
Case study: Box (Corn to Veggies)
WEEK 10 – PRINCIPLES FOR A RESILIENT TRANSITION
19 Ecological Democracy
24 Tools for the Transition
25 Downshift/Upshift: Our Choice
WEEK 11 & 12 – RESEARCH PROJECT PRESENTATIONS
John S. Dryzek
Donella Meadows, Randers & Dennis Meadows
Raymond De Young & Thomas Princen