Dr David Fleming: 1940-2010.

David Fleming giving his talk on’Wild Economics’ at the 2009 Transition Network conference.

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of Dr David Fleming, who passed away peacefully in his sleep last night while visiting a friend in Amsterdam. David was a huge inspiration to me personally, as to many others, and is one of the few people I have met who I considered close to being a genius. He was also one of the funniest, kindest and most thoughtful people I have ever had the honour to know. His passing will leave a large void in our lives. And he never did get his bloody book finished!

David was born in 1940, he studied history at Oxford, worked in marketing, PR and advertising (his story about how he organised a PR campaign for the scandal-ridden Dartington School just prior to its demise was hilarious), and then was one of the founders of the Ecology Party, which later became the Green Party. He served as its economics spokesman and press secretary between 1977 and 1980, its office being based in his London flat. He subsequently worked as an independent consultant in environmental policy and more recently was the originator of the concept of Tradable Energy Quotas and author of the ‘Lean Guide to Nuclear Power’, among other things. He was also one of the early ‘whistle-blowers’ on peak oil, writing a piece for Prospect Magazine on the subject in the late 1990s.

I found David to be one of the most brilliant minds I have ever known. His knowledge of history, of culture, of music, of art, was extraordinary. He introduced me to a whole world of historical writing on resilience such as George Sturt’s ‘The Wheelwright’s Shop’, and he was a keen believer that our current crisis is as much one of culture as of anything else, that we are losing connection with civility and culture, with living for beauty and grace.

I first was in contact with him very early on in the life of Transition, when I was trying to work out what resilience was, and I rang him up to ask if he might be able to explain to me what it is. Two hours later, when our fascinating and far-ranging conversation ended, he promised to send me the book he was working on, entitled ‘The Lean Economy’.

When the manuscript arrived, it was clear that this was a quite brilliant piece of work, his own take on what a resilient society would look like. I think about 10 people were sent drafts, and for all of us it is a seminal piece of work, one that in many ways I have seen my work since as being about trying to communicate to people. For David though, after endless editing and rewrites, he decided that it wasn’t doing what he wanted, and so he embarked on reworking it as ‘Lean Logic: a dictionary of environmental manners’. I remember David coming to my wedding clutching his working draft of ‘Lean Logic’, waking up early in the morning and sitting out in the Devon sun working away with his red pen, talking about how he loved the wedding as, as well as having a good party, he had also got some good editing done!

Being a perfectionist, the running joke I always had with David was that he would never get the book published in his lifetime, and so it has turned out. A few of my own memories of David:

  • the talk he gave in Totnes in 2007 where he was meant to talk for 40 minutes, and after an hour and a half, every attempt to signal him to stop was met with “ah look there’s Rob again telling me to stop… anyway, as I was saying…” – I pretty much had to drag him off stage in the end…
  • his amazing talk at the 2009 Transition Network conference in Battersea, called “Wild Economics: wolves, resilience and spirit”, a tour-de-force, at once enlightening, bewildering, and side-splitting in a way that only David Fleming could do. I made notes of some of the classic Fleming-isms…. “it’s a good thing to avoid definitions, they only confuse things…”,”cathedrals are icons to the practice of disposing of waste”, and “I’d be amazed if I can explain this in a way that I can understand”…
  • Asking him what one thing anyone can do to make their communities more resilient and prepared for peak oil… after a long pause he said, “join the choir”
  • Someone asked him at the Totnes talk “what one thing gives you hope?”…. to which he replied “Bach”….

For me, knowing David has been a huge honour, one of the elders of the Green movement, a peak oil pioneer, a visionary, compassionate and wise soul who taught me a huge amount, who offered huge support and affirmation, and who made me laugh like no-one else. We can hope that his lasting legacy might perhaps be the adoption of TEQs, as well as the posthumous publication of his book(s), and the inspiration that he left in so many people. I’m sure that all of those of you who met David, whether through Transition or otherwise, will join me in extending my condolences to his friends and family. Funeral details are yet to be announced. I’ll close with my favourite quote from David, one I have often quoted:

“Localisation stands, at best, at the limits of practical possibility, but it has the decisive argument in its favour that there will be no alternative.”