Thomas Princen conducts research and teaches in the field of natural resource and environmental affairs with a focus on the concept and social goal of sustainability, local to global. Research topics have ranged from the transnational relations of environmental NGOs and the distancing of commerce to overconsumption, ecological rationality, and sufficiency. He is now working on the politics of urgent transition with projects on localization, fossil fuels, and industrialism.
In his writing he aims to develop a language of sustainability and positive transition, in his teaching and speaking to promote active learning and engagement. Teaching has included courses on institutions for sustainability, the history and political economy of food, fuel and water, and the challenges of global transition.
Princen is the author of The Logic of Sufficiency (2005), Treading Softly: Paths to Ecological Order (2010/2013) and lead editor of Ending the Fossil Fuel Era (2015) and Confronting Consumption (2002), all published by MIT Press. Logic of Sufficiency and Confronting Consumption were awarded the International Studies Association's Harold and Margaret Sprout Award for the “best book in the study of international environmental problems.”
Princen is co-editor of The Localization Reader: Adapting to the Coming Downshift (MIT Press, 2012), co-author of Environmental NGOs in World Politics: Linking the Local and the Global (Routledge, 1994) and author of Intermediaries in International Conflict (Princeton University Press, 1992/1995).
His current project, Groundings: The Origins of Limitlessness, the Seeds of Sufficiency, and the Politics of Urgent Transition, explores transition as a long-term process of discontinuous societal change brought on by resource constraint, the end of fossil fuel dominance, and explorations in organizing to live within our means.
He was recently awarded a writing fellowship at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at the University of Munich and a teaching fellowship at the University of Muenster. Earlier he was named an Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, sponsored by the Packard Foundation, and before that a Pew Faculty Fellow for International Affairs.
Princen received his Ph.D. in Political Economy and Government from Harvard University in 1988 and a Bachelor of Arts in biology from Pomona College in 1975. He was a MacArthur Foundation Post-Doctoral Visiting Research Fellow in International Peace and Security at Princeton University from 1988 to 1989.
He currently serves as Faculty Associate, Program in the Environment; Co-Director, Workshop on Urgent Transitions; Faculty Affiliate, Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise; and Associate Professor of Natural Resource and Environmental Policy; all at the University of Michigan.