The future is rural, Bradford 2019

Compendium Volume 3 Number 1 July 2019

Taking an altogether different angle, Jason Bradford of the Post Carbon Institute assumes radical societal change is inevitable and imminent, and focuses not on how to precipitate change but instead on how to adapt to it. “The future is rural” [Bradford 2019] is essentially a primer on how to navigate the profound changes society will undergo during the 21st Century due to climate breakdown and resource scarcity. It begins with an assertion that today’s “mass urbanization has been made possible by the prodigious exploitation of fossil fuels.” In other words,

Due to the concentrated energy in oil, with its ability to power heavy equipment and transport goods over long distances, cities have been able to achieve the scale they do today by drawing support from a land base often several hundred times their own area.

Yet these resources are dwindling. Furthermore,

Not only are concentrated raw resources becoming rarer, but previous investments in infrastructure (for example, ports) are in the process of decay and facing accelerating threats from climate change and social disruptions [Bradford 2019: 1].

Thus, “contrary to the forecasts of most demographers, urbanization will reverse course as globalization unwinds during the 21st century” [Bradford 2019: 1].

The report explains that for multiple reasons, renewable energy will not seamlessly or completely be able replace fossil fuel use, in spite of a deep cultural belief in technological progress. And as cities falter and urban food shortages occur, people will be compelled to disperse into the countryside and to develop skills to ensure their food security.

Food, its scarcity, the desire and opportunity to grow it, and the need to do it in ways that are appropriate to place and circumstance, will drive demographic shifts this century. People with life experiences and training aimed at urbanism are going to need a rapid education on what it takes to live off the land, and so-called conventional farmers and ranchers will have a steep learning curve to adopt more frugal and sustainable methods [Bradford 2019: 19].


Having established a vision of the unfolding of the 21st Century, dubbed the “Great Simplification” and “characterized by fewer monetary transactions and an increase in subsistence and informal economies,” the author presents alternative agricultural systems, including agroecology, permaculture and holistic management, with potential to overcome the problems created by current farming systems. Included at the margins of the text is key technical information about soil composition, soil types and horizons, and livestock anatomy, as if to get laymen up to speed on agricultural basics for their future rural livelihoods.

In short, the Post Carbon Institute anticipates that resource scarcity will precipitate the collapse and subsequent reorganization of societies, along with their guiding narratives. By necessity, people will learn to consume less and better appreciate our inexorable dependence on the land. Other authors reviewed above suggest the potential to avoid ecological and social collapse by changing the cultural narratives that perpetuate overconsumption and overexploitation of people and nature.

Bradford, Jason, 2019, The future is rural: food system adaptations to the Great Simplification,The Post Carbon Institute,  

For the full PDF version of the compendium issue where this article appears, visit Compendium Volume 3 Number 1 July 2019