Well-being derived from responding to difficult environmental circumstances
The Localization Papers foresee a long drawn-out, but sometimes punctuated, decline in both surplus energy and the availability of cheap, high-quality resources (De Young & Princen 2012, Morgan 2016, Rye and Jackson 2018). They accept climate change noting that profound changes are occurring and accelerating. Yet, while recognizing that a global negotiating process created a nascent response to climate change, the papers also note a worrisome silence around the issue of declining surplus energy. Thus, the periodic postings focus more attention on the latter issue.
Overall, the papers strive to present a nuanced story. They encourage awareness and preparation with respect to energy descent and climate change but they do not dwell on this premise. They do anticipate everyday life becoming substantially different from conventional expectations, and likely more agrarian, but they choose to frame this as an opportunity to emphasize responses that increase individual and community well-being. They foresee an increased focus on tangible, pragmatic, small-scale initiatives with communities following Brooks’ (2019) advice to emphasize “…individualism less and relationalism more.”
Benefits embedded in localization
The Localization Papers ask, if given the choice, why not wait until the last possible moment to make such changes? One reason is to gain now, rather than later, the many intrinsic satisfactions embedded in the process of localization. In short, why miss out on the rewards hiding in plain sight. Thus, rather than making a dismal forecast, these papers argue that well-being will improve with everyone and their neighbors being well fed, in the broadest meaning of that word. The localization papers discuss these embedded benefits. They are foreshadowed below.
Outward benefits -- Some may view localization as protectionist. Wendell Berry (2001) says, “… that is exactly what it is. It is a protectionism that is just and sound, because it protects local producers and is the best assurance of adequate supplies to local consumers.” Berry then makes a crucial distinction. A just protectionism is “… the best guarantee of giveable or marketable surpluses. This kind of protection is not ‘isolationism’.” The vision here is of a place well cared for, the community intact, and the individual whole. These benefits are captured by the notion of well fed neighbors.
Inward benefits -- It is claimed that industrialization destroys the aesthetic quality of everyday life. In contrast, Berry (1987) observes that non-industrial work quickens that quality, citing Gill (1983) on the higher calling that manual work fulfills, “…every [one] is called to give love to the work of [their] hands. Every [one] is called to be an artist.” Berry offers up small-scale agriculture as an artistic enterprise involving decisions centered on the concepts of beauty, resourcefulness, and well-being. Perhaps, as we first repair and then maintain the planet, everyone will become an artist, an idea consistent with Seligman’s (1999) notion that authentic happiness comes from “living life as a work of art”.
Need for better narratives
It is time to create better stories about our future. Society needs tales more useful than the melodramatic binary-thinking that has our future being either techno-industrial expansion or eco-collapse. We need a middle ground; localization is that middle ground. The goal is to share narratives that portray life under a prolonged energy descent in a way that people crave the experience enough to seek it now.
Responding well to biophysical limits will require that people weave together new and old skills, behaviors, values, and goals. If while doing this people reflect on the success of their ordinary accomplishments, then they might experience lean times but gain extraordinary benefits. In fact, they may discover a beauty in their everyday behavior patterns. The term behavioral aesthetic captures both this ongoing process and most certainly the outcome achieved across time (De Young 2019). It is a form of performance art but at the everyday level and focused on sustainability.
The biophysical reality being anticipated will seem harsh to those accustomed to the comforts of techno-industrial society. But the human inclination to adapt is innate. The Localization Paper seek to help this adaptation with the result being a good life on a good planet.
Berry, W. (1987). Home Economics. North Point Press, San Francisco, CA.
Berry, W. (2001). The idea of a local economy. Orion, (Winter): 28-37.
Brooks, D. (2019). A nation of weavers: The social renaissance is happening from the ground up. New York Times, 18 February.
De Young, R. (2019). Supporting behavioral entrepreneurs: Helping citizens self-initiate sustainability behavior. In Marselle, M., J. Stadler, H. Korn, K. Irvine & A. Bonn [Eds.] Biodiversity and Health in the Face of Climate Change. Switzerland: Springer.
Gill, E. (1983). A Holy Tradition of Working. Golgonooza Press, Suffolk, UK.
Morgan, T. (2016). Life After Growth. Harriman House, Hampshire, UK.
Rye, C.D. and Jackson, T. (2018). A Review of EROEI-dynamics energy-transition models. Energy Policy, 122: 260-272.
Seligman, M.E.P. (1999). Teaching positive psychology. APA Monitor, 30: 42.
Course on Localization
A SYLLABUS is available for a course or reading group on the topic of re-localization. Additional readings are listed on that site in a bibliography and in documents from an older course on decentralism. A re-localization course has been offered twelve times between 2008 and 2020 at the University of Michigan and is constantly being modified.