Though he maintains "many environmental activists regard this approach as politically naive and unrealistic, or simply too slow, there are sound political, historical and ecological reasons for this emphasis …".
Holmgren cites four reasons for the importance of personal responsibility.
Firstly, that rapid energy descent makes our current behavior potent on the future, and therefore we must act ethically, and make moral decision against the culture of growth. Secondly he suggests that when decadent cultural institutions decay and fail, “individuals and small groups come to the fore to adapt and carry culture.” He cites the example of the Pythagorean link from the ancient Egyptian “mystery schools” to Greece, eventually the origin of Western civilization. Holmgren is therefore critical of the delusion of a durable and permanent multi-nationalism.
His third reason concerns feedback mechanisms. Globalization prevents this with calamitous consequences, but personal responsibility enhances it. A raised consciousness and “awareness of the whole and our relationship to it”, is “followed by the reorganization of our lives to close the circle of cause and effect so that our needs are provided closer to home”.
Finally he equates the self as a whole system that must develop whole system thinking that is central to design for energy descent.
Bottom up is also the self-reliance strategy which boycotts consumerism while it fosters and stimulates new local forms of economic activity. Yet, as its amorphous and informal nature makes it difficult to measure its effectiveness in undermining dysfunctional and dangerous economic systems, its invisibility confounds the efforts of the media, corporations and government to subvert it.
Holmgren states that, "(T)his resistance to subversion is one of the great strengths of apparently unorganized movements, which might be described as anarchistic in strategy if not in conscious philosophy".
Thus self-reliance is political action. Hence, Holmgren’s solution to modern industrial society setting itself up to play out Atlantis is to reorganize, that is, to build permaculture systems both individually and in groups, and in doing so becoming a new Pythagorean link at the fore, adapting to a new culture. Holmgren states elsewhere that Chaos theory and especially the concept of punctuated equilibrium confirms that gradual evolution is the exception, and that long periods of stable traditions, law and institutional forms have experienced rapid and apparently chaotic change where individuals and groups create new forms. This chaotic change is the vortex of multiple paradigm shifts, where the new forms have adapted and become a new culture. Examples of the fragility and collapse of established systems abound.
(Holmgren describes this as a recognition that energy descent futures will lead to, "the faltering and reversing of globalization. A revitalization, of some form, of local community economy and politics should follow".)
His most positive scenario for adapting to post-modern cultural chaos is that of generational slow decline, as fossil fuels run out and people customize to the emergent properties of available energy. It is change culture to which modern society has increasingly been thrust into, only now it is to be a very much different change, to low energy futures.
Holmgren proposes that gardening becomes agriculture. He sees a re-ruralization of cities and large settlements by introducing gardening and urban agriculture and posits the relentless suburbs as the place to start. Energy accounting informs that we must all become producers.