Thomas Princen, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Ph.D., Political Economy and Government, 1988, Harvard University

M.P.A., 1983, Harvard University

B.A. cum laude, Biology, 1975, Pomona College

Research focus

Issues of social and ecological sustainability with a primary focus on principles for sustainability, overconsumption and sufficiency, the language and ethics of resource use, localization and the transition out of fossil fuels.

Courses taught


  • Principles for Sustainability: From the Local to the Global
  • Food and Fuel: Research Questions at the Base of the Economy
  • Localization: Adaptations for the Coming Downshift
  • Environmental Decision making and Governance


  • Food: The Ecology, Economics and Ethics of Growing and Eating
  • Global Water
  • International Environmental Politics

Current/Recent Research

Current projects:

fossil fuel  develop a “politics of urgent transition” by exploring an early end to the fossil fuel era.

ethic of the long term  ecological sustainability (principles, world views, metaphors of ecological organization); long-term decisionmaking (biological bases); politics of sacrifice (consumer sovereignty, heroic sacrifice).

localization (conceptualization, international dimensions); early exit from fossil fuels (the politics, ethics

sufficiency as a social organizing principle; including original, field-based case studies in timber, fishing, and private transportation; concepts--ecological rationality, efficiency, work.


Teaching Interests

Method: Strong commitment to "active learning," engaging students in i. confronting hard, "out-of-the-box" questions, ii. pursuing new paths of inquiry, iii. developing realistic solutions. Case discussion, small group work, focussed writing, and simulation are common means. This approach is in contrast to "information delivery" where students take in information, memorize it, then express it on exams and papers.

Goals: Students should expect to develop a habit of thought that makes explicit a) underlying causes of environmental decline and of sustainable practice; b) key actors, their world views and interests; c) consequences (environmental and social) ranging from the immediate to the long term, from the tangible to the abstract and distant. They should expect to acquire realistic signs of hope along with practical insights into policy change via data, stories, histories, cases, and personal experiences and self-reflection and via the logic of systems that are ecologically and socially sustainable.

Selected Publications


Treading Softly: Paths to Ecological Order, Princen, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010.

The Logic of Sufficiency, Princen, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005.

Confronting Consumption, Princen, Maniates and Conca, eds., Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002.

Environmental NGOs in World Politics: Linking the Local and the Global, Princen and Finger, London: Routledge, 1994.

Intermediaries in International Conflict, Princen, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992/1995.

The Localization Reader: Adapting to the Coming Downshift, De Young and Princen, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012.

Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

Journal Articles

“Counter-Commoditization: Decision Making, Language, Localization,” Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society XX(X) (2012) 1-10

“A Sustainability Ethic,” Handbook of Global Environmental Politics, Edward Elgar, (2012) 466-479.

“Consumer Sovereignty, Heroic Sacrifice: Two Insidious Concepts in an Endlessly Expansionist Economy,” (pp.45-164)  in The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice, eds., Michael Maniates and John Myers (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2010).

"Speaking of Sustainability: The Potential of Metaphor," Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy, 6:2 (Fall 2010) 1-6.

"Long-Term Decision-Making: Biological and Psychological Evidence," Global Environmental Politics, 9:3 (2009) 29-32.

"Notes on the Theorizing of Global Environmental Politics," Global Environmental Politics, 2008.

"Principles for Sustainability: From Cooperation and Efficiency to Sufficiency, " Global Environmental Politics, 2003.

"Consumption and its Externalities: Where Economy Meets Ecology," Princen. Global Environmental Politics, 2001.

"Consumption and Environment: Some Conceptual Issues," Princen. Ecological Economics, 1999.

"From Property Regime to International Regime: An Ecosystems Perspective," Princen. Global Governance, 1998.

"The Shading and Distancing of Commerce: When Internalization Is Not Enough," Princen. Ecological Economics, 1997.

"Toward a Theory of Restraint," Princen. Population and Environment, 1997.

"The Zero Option and Ecological Rationality in International Environmental Politics," Princen. International Environmental Affairs, 1996.

"Ivory, Conservation and Transnational Environmental Coalitions," Princen, in Risse-Kappen, ed. Bringing Transnational Relations Back In. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

"Toward a Theory of the International Political Economy of Sustainability," Princen. International Studies Notes, 1994.

"International Environmental Conflict Resolution: A Multi-Centric Perspective," Princen. Natural Resources and Environment, 1993.

"Camp David: Problem Solving or Power Politics as Usual?" Princen. Journal of Peace Research, 1991.

"International Mediation--The View from the Vatican," Princen. Negotiation Journal, 1987.

Awards and Grants
International Studies Association, 2007 Harold and Margaret Sprout Award to The Logic of Sufficiency (MIT Press, 2005) for "best book in the study of international environmental problems."

Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow 2004, funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, for improving the communication of environmental science to policymakers and the public.

International Studies Association, 2003 Harold and Margaret Sprout Award to Confronting Consumption (MIT Press, 2002), Princen, Maniates and Conca, editors, for "best book in the study of international environmental problems."

Pew Faculty Fellow in International Affairs, Harvard University, 1993-1994.