Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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29 Nov 2010

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.”

Categories: General

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Tina Clarke
29 Nov 3:46pm

Thank you so much, Rob, for writing to us of David’s passing. What an amazing, creative man! His purity of intention — his selfless dedication to a larger good — is inspiring.

Cara Naden
29 Nov 3:55pm

I totally agree – so much more should have been made of David Flemings passing as it is such a huge loss to us all. Hurray for those who have met him and read his books and may the world turn out to be a better place because of his knowledge and teachings! Spread his words far and wide!

Shaun Chamberlin
29 Nov 5:29pm

Thanks Rob. We will certainly make sure that Lean Logic is published.

x Shaun

Lucy Barlow
29 Nov 7:33pm

Thank you so much Rob, these are such great stories and we also have many funny family stories and happy memories of David. This has really been such a shock and I hope we can do his memory justice. Lucy Barlow (David’s niece)

Miguel Leal
29 Nov 9:56pm

A Great Man he was…

[…] a key player in the Transition Movement. He was a huge influence in the lives of Rob Hopkins and Shaun Chamberlin. Please take the time to read their posts on how David touched their […]

Raven Gray
30 Nov 5:57am

Thank you so much for posting this, Rob. I may not have found out about this so soon, if it had not been for your blog. So thank you again.

I am saddened and shocked by the suddenness of David’s passing. He was truly a great man. I wrote a tribute of my own to post on the Transition US website tomorrow, it’s up on my own blog right now:

I love those Fleming-isms. He had such a command of the English language! His musings and rambling presentations (he also talked up a storm when he came down to Transition Penwith) would have me and the audience rolling around the floor in heaps of laughter.

Me and my mum (Pamela) were one of the lucky 10 people to receive his amazing, seminal book-in-progress “The Lean Economy”.

David touched both mine and Pamela’s lives deeply, even though we knew him for only a short time. He was a remarkable, brilliant gentleman.

I can’t believe he’s gone…

Raven x

[…] tributes come from Shaun Chamberlin and Rob Hopkins, who wrote on his […]

Adam Dadeby
30 Nov 9:35am

I loved the independence and rigour of his thinking.

He delivered an amazing lecture – a.k.a. an hour and a half of vigorous mental working out – at CAT a couple of years ago, covering Lean Thinking and TEQs. He had so many ideas to convey and ranged through them with such agility that mere speech (even with his superlative language skills) seemed not quite up to the task.

In the same way that his ideas and thinking challenged you, his politeness did too. Both were refreshing and uplifting in this age of mentally lazy boorishness.

Ciaran Mundy
30 Nov 11:37am

My sincerest condolences to those who knew him well. We met and talked furiosly on only a few occasions but swapped ideas on our work latterly, so I hope it is ok to say a few words?

I’m stunned and sad he has gone, to lose his quick mind, compassion, sense of fun and willingness to say exactly what he thought was right. I don’t know many people in recent years who, at times, told me so flatly and quickly how wrong I was and yet make me smile and laugh at the same time!

Something like

“. . . what your saying disturbs me Ciaran, I think your completely wrong about that and if you don’t mind I’d like to tell you why. Would that be ok?”
“Yes, David, of course!”

He will be sadly missed, but a joy to remember.


[…] Source: […]

30 Nov 1:40pm

Thank you for this beautiful tribute .
It’s the best comfort there is in a shock like this, to hear the memories of other people who loved him.
When the time comes and with the help of his many friends the book does finally appear – it’s helpful to think that we’ll have something at least of his unique mind still left to delight and surprise and humble us, in a world that seems so much shabbier for his leaving.

John Busby
30 Nov 4:44pm

David was a great friend over the last few years. He was due to come to discuss his draft “Lean Logic” with me early next year. I hope we can get it published. I shall miss him terribly.

Lionel Badal
30 Nov 7:13pm

Thanks for the article Rob, very sad news indeed…

David Fleming wrote one of the best articles ever written on oil:

30 Nov 8:37pm

Very sorry to hear the unexpected news of David’s death and my thoughts go to his family.
I will always remember his talks in Dublin and the dead-pan delivery was as you say both insightful and side-splitting. He will be missed.

[…] online tributes: Rob Hopkins Raven Gray David Boyle Screengrab of some of the many tributes paid through […]

Chris Jones
2 Dec 12:28am

I only met David 3 times (all in the last two months and I am devastated that I was only just beginning to know him, although it didnt take mnore than a few minutes to be convinced of his incisive wit and intellect. An extraordinary human being who will stick in my memory. I look forward to reading his books. Thoughts are with his family and colleagues.

adrienne campbell
2 Dec 12:40am

I can’t believe he’s gone. Just two weeks ago he led the way to the pub as we tumbled out of the meeting at Parliament about how government could support Transition. I first met him at the Climate Camp at Kingsnorth. He always seemed so alive, so open, so critically engaged with all kinds of people and ideas.

Matt Dunwell
2 Dec 1:01pm

I am deeply saddened by this news. David obviously touched many peoples lives, although he was very self depreciating about it. (‘in most aspects of my life i have been a failure’ he would say) and yet this gentle giant leaves us with a conundrum. There is a David Fleming sized hole left in the (material) world. And he is sitting up there saying with sparkly eyed impatience ‘ well come on then – what are you going to do about it?’

He will be spending the next stage of his manifestation explaining Tradable Energy Quotas to the Angels (can you imagine?!) Our job is carry the torch for this brilliant mind here on earth, a little higher and a little further.

Shaun Chamberlin
2 Dec 6:55pm

Well said Matt.

The first thing I have done about it is to start collecting the various online tributes to David in one place:

Much more to follow

I was saddened to hear of David’s death just now. He was an inspiration to ecologists everwhere, and on top of that a tremendously pleasant and erudite person to be around.

Stephen Watson
3 Dec 2:50pm

I was really shocked to hear this news and so thanks so much for such a lovely tribute.

I only met him a couple of times but he always struck me as a vibrant, bubbling man of the ‘old British school’ in the best possible way. Manners, enthusiasm, an incisive mind and humour – a very powerful combination. My last contact was hearing him extolling something the problems with nuclear power in very funny and humorous terms on the train when returning from the 2nd Network Conference. I felt so blessed to have been on the same train and in the same carriage. A very happy memory that I have and will continue to keep with me.

Your heartfelt remembrances have sharpened the focus of my appreciation of Tradable Energy Quotas and Transition Towns.

I am working on the issues.

Linguistically, I posit ‘A lean economy’ and substitute ‘The … Connection’ with the prospect of diagrammatic illustration.

Diagrammatically, I deploy the iconic ‘lean economy’, together with my terse counterpart of “the broad range of policy areas”, on a grid which, by virtue of captions, is holistic (though not uniform). Rules guarantee the balance of opposites and a conservation principle, but constrict options for the counterpart (and thus limit its relevance to the wider world).

A startling outcome is the fact that the routine application of my procedures identifies the ‘lean economy’ concept with the series of about a dozen suras at the very beginning of the Third Quarter of The Qur’an.

The suras, as numbered, bring the second Sura, No.58, into coincidence with the initial letter L of LEAN , thus allowing space for the indefinite article ‘A’. An unofficial numbering, in which Sura 1 is an opening prayer, and the final item is an amalgam of Suras 113 and 114, makes L the beginning of the shifted third.

Straight away, Muslims have a handle on the project.

Tony Price
6 Dec 3:49pm

We were expecting David for supper on Saturday and so learnt, via his niece Lucy, that he has died. I have known him for over twenty years because he was a close friend of my late partner Angela Lambert. The two of them had met in their late teens at the crammers Davis Laing and Dick while improving their prospects of getting into Oxford University. Those efforts paid off and they remained friends thereafter. Both were mercurial and, particularly David, easily distractable. That ‘bloody book’ has featured in so many conversations for so long. When Angela was dying four years ago David must have spent ages producing his personal selection of poems for her beautifully printed and bound and simply sent in the post with love. She was so touched. David was warm, clever, infuriating and utterly dear.

Gillian Paschkes-Bell
8 Dec 4:33pm

Oh gosh! Someone at home picked up the news of David’s passing, or I would not have known. He’s been SO busy that it’s a while since I’ve seen him on my rare trips through London. We last spoke on the phone in October when, bless his heart, he was offering his attic space to my tenant – made temporarily homeless by a flood. “Not that she’d want it any more than I would,” he reflected, realistically.

Which is no reflection on the unusual and delightful flat where he lived right at the top of a house overlooking the Hampstead ponds. The flat reflected him. Everything was good – and beautiful, and usually old. Plenty of things were shabby. (He was not at all sure about my cleansing of the blue and white chipped teapot when, on possibly my last visit to him, I briefly occupied that attic space.) And of course, it was stuffed with books. Including The Prayer Book. I think he was a member of The Prayer Book Society, and he liked to read the Collect for the Day as a grace before meals. One of his larger items of furniture was an antique pew, used for the storage of piles of papers…

I was trying to find a poem he had inspired, but so far, failed. In its place, I offer the following, which is apposite:

Your bright intelligence
is no longer manifest
except in the things we do
because of you.

We do not see you.

In loving and grateful memory of twenty years of friendship,

Gillian Paschkes-Bell

Martin Grimshaw
17 Dec 5:15pm

I only just heard the news, and was simultaneously saddened and also joyful in reflecting on a great man. I didn’t know him well, but I saw him talk once and was thoroughly entertained and exhilarated, read the TEQ book, and enjoyed some late night beers with him at the 2010 Transition Conference, putting the world to rights and bouncing thoughts around on complimentary currencies and related systems. Remarkable, affable, sharp as nails, funny, kind.

Thank you David, may there be many more in your mould.

Juliet Solomon
31 Dec 6:43pm

“Ubi caritas, ubi Deus est” was more or less permanently written on the whiteboard in the corner of David’s living room. I met him, really, at the funeral of his great friend Michael John, on a rainy day in the middle of Yorkshire. He, I, and the tea hostess found ourselves simultaneously in her hall – which ended in a wonderful, meaningful and warm communal hug.
After that we spent a fair bit of time together; David was particularly helpful when I was writing “Green Parenting” over meals at “Hygiene” – the London College of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, to whose canteen he introduced me.
As with many of my very closest friends,(all somewhat opinionated) we had a falling out, but had, after some years, moved on from that – mercifully.
I trust his funeral will be the old Prayer Book rite, something about which David felt very strongly.

Juliet Solomon

Shaun Chamberlin
2 Jan 1:26pm

Dear Juliet,

David left a sealed envelope with detailed instructions as to exactly how the service should proceed, and his family have of course ensured that these will be followed.

You may also be interested to note that I recently added a link to a short video clip of David and his flat – including the whiteboard you mention – to the list of memorials on my site:

All the best,

Rosemary Grenyer (nee Dearden)
27 Apr 3:30am

I knew David well, for a time, back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, having met him while he was with Proctor and Gamble, and I was a PGCE student at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

He was like no one I had ever met.

Even then the Soil Association was his passion (he gave me books on organic cookery).

I was taken to a Trinity Commem Ball ( Bonzo Dog, and swimming in Parsons Pleasure), exploring agriculture and churches in Suffolk, and was cajoled into sitting for a portrait by his sister Penelope.
In fact it was finding a photo of that image (I wonder if the original still exists) that led me to the net, and the sad news of David’s death.

He had a mind that I found fascinating, but did not fully understand, not realising quite how far ahead of his time he was.

We lost contact after my marriage, but I owe him a great deal.
He opened my mind to so many things which are still important to me, and he gave me the confidence to apply for (and get) an ambitious first job.

I am sorry to have missed his funeral, and hope that my condolences can be conveyed to Penelope.

Most sincerely