We are a group of advocates for a prosperous way down. Our website evolved out of discussions from a pre-conference session on the Prosperous Way Down (organized by Dr. Tom Abel) that occurred in conjunction with the 7th Emergy Conference in January 2012.
The springboard for this site is A Prosperous Way Down, drafted in the mid 1980s by Howard T. and Elisabeth C. Odum, and published in 2001. Many of the energetic diagrams for the website are extracted from Mark T. Brown’s Emergy Powerpoints, which explain the meaning of energy diagrams and the method for Emergy Accounting and Synthesis. The header diagram for the website was created by Enrique Ortega et al.
“. . . If scientists could communicate more in their own voices—in a familiar tone, with a less specialized vocabulary—would a wide range of people understand them better? Would their work be better understood by the general public, policy-makers, funders, and, even in some cases, other scientists? . . . Let your passion out. Share it with us. Warmly, with stories, imagination, even with humor. But most of all, in your own voice.”
HT Odum’s science of Emergy Synthesis is the basis for our thinking about the prosperous way down (PWD). Emergy synthesis is a biophysical approach to measuring human activities that considers the indirect and direct contributions of ecological processes using equivalents of solar energy rather than monetary metrics to consider differences in quality of energy. It approaches valuation from a donor-based or supply side independent of the more usual economic demand-based approach that is dependent on subjective values of willingness to pay. PWD advocates propose that policy decisions can be more deliberate by basing the decisions on quantitative Emergy Evaluation/Synthesis.
Science proposes to describe, explain, predict, and control. But when we talk about global problems of the biosphere, science often fails in explanation, prediction, and problem-solving. Many scientific disciplines have reduced themselves into specialized, competitive silos, protected from each other by separate terminology and reductionist theories. The lenses through which many scientists view the world are microscopic in nature, focusing on analysis and application, using statistical tools that break things down into smaller and smaller pieces. This focus makes it difficult to even define the problems, much less find solutions. While analysis is a useful and important subset of the overall process, synthesis and evaluation of policies requires using an instrument such as a macroscope to view the world from a systemic perspective. Our lack of synthesis prevents us from seeing and evaluating the relationships, processes and structures inherent in the whole. And our grasp of the holistic big picture is what frames our view of society’s trajectory and the problems society faces.
Emergy Synthesis views the world at large through an energetic lens, since a continuous flow of energy is the central issue to maintaining (and growing) our complex civilization. Understanding the nature of our energy basis is critical to understanding where we are headed as a civilization. In this period of global resource transition, peoples’ beliefs are separating into a growth continuum of three general belief systems or world views about the trajectory for our future.
We will continue to grow, and we can support Business as Usual (BAU) into the foreseeable future either because resources are infinite, or by leveraging technology. This group consists of consumers, capitalists, neo-liberal economists, resource extractors, and other believers in the status quo.
- We must stop growing, but we can keep what we’ve got now by making some Green changes in how we live, again using technology. Steady Staters, Zero growth proponents, sustainable development proponents, environmentalists, and climate change advocates live here in the idea of reform. The Resilience Alliance, with its emphasis on “retaining the same controls and function” in reaction to systemic change, is probably also in this category? But if we try to keep what we’ve got, is there room for the basic structural and cultural changes that need to be made to adapt?
- Our economies will contract to match declines in resources, and we must adapt proactively if that decline is to be orderly. Descent, Degrowth, Transition, and PWD groups have this world view of transformation. Most in this category also believe that orderly descent will require relative socioeconomic equality. Perspectives on economic collapse vary, with “doomers” as the most extreme.