Society will soon face biophysical limits to perpetual growth. Energy supplies will tighten and then begin a long descent, food security will once again become a major challenge and defensive expenditures will rise to address climate disruption and other problems caused by past resource consumption. The result will be significant changes at the psychological, community and national level with simultaneous changes in institutions, infrastructure and security.

One plausible response includes decentralized settlement patterns, increasing place-based social interactions and a focus on community self-reliance. But even in a less dramatic response, society would still need to make many urgent transitions. Furthermore no single response fixes things everywhere, for all time. While many social experiments are occurring, some hidden in plain sight, more are needed. Indeed, a culture of small experiments must be fostered.

While society will need to respond rapidly to emerging biophysical limits, it is not clear what should be the nature of the response. This project explores these issues. It is future oriented and grounded in both biophysical trends and human capabilities. It pays special attention to local sources and local impacts.


  • A process of place-based social change
  • Punctuated with discontinuities
  • Driven by biophysical limits
  • Distinct from emergency or crisis
  • Not expecting to return to the previous state
  • At once a social, psychological and cultural shift
  • About personal proficiency and community self-reliance
  • Slow, long-term (decades, centuries) and whole-system change


A database of localizing efforts, at multiple scales and various cultural settings, in which people are shifting to a “new normal.” Cases have in common:

  • Actors acknowledge that we are “not going back”
  • Planning, preparing, prefamiliarizing for a downshift
  • A ‘micro’ effects (e.g., reducing energy consumption)
  • A ‘macro’ effect (e.g., redefining the “good life”)
  • At once optimistic and pessimistic, but not hopeless, nor utopian

Page updated: January 7, 2020

lsa logoum logoU-M Privacy StatementAccessibility at U-M