He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs system, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association.
Alongside these roles, his wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future (published posthumously in 2016). A feature film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2020, directed by Peter William Armstrong.
- 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.
- It's not necessarily against a system that it collapses, because most systems do collapse in the end. That’s a part of the wheel of life - systems do collapse. So I’m to some extent slightly inclined to forgive capitalism for being about to collapse. I mean there are lots of fine things, lots of love affairs and the like which have come to a sticky end. On the other hand, it is quite an accusation - quite hard for it to live down - that it's going to destroy the entire planet with it.
- Forward movement is not helpful if what is needed is a change of direction.
- Large-scale problems do not require large-scale solutions; they require small-scale solutions within a large-scale framework.
- 'The harder I work, the luckier I get'. It was Thomas Jefferson who started the stream of variations on that theme. He should have added, 'The harder I work on one thing, the unluckier I get on all the other commitments I haven’t had time for'.
- Holism [is] the art — in contrast with reductionism — of seeing a complex system as a whole. Holism knows the limits to its understanding; it acknowledges that the system has its wildness, its privacy, its own reasons, its defences against invasive explanation ... It does not pretend to understand the whole school just on the evidence of dissecting the geography teacher.
- While democracy has advanced, the part we ordinary citizens have played in the making and sustaining of the places and communities we live in has diminished. Never has so much been decided for so many by so few.
- Without a sense of history, our expectations are the product of how we live now.
- Crime is valuable feedback about what childhood in a society means, about its education, economics and culture—about whether this is a society that works or not.
- As people surrender the power to build the institutions they want, which would enable lives that make sense to them, the system as a whole sacrifices the intelligence it needs: it loses its minds.
- At present, culture is decorative rather than structural; although it may lift the spirits ... The Lean Economy, in contrast, will depend for its existence on a deep foundation in culture. It is possible to live without it, but only for a time, like holding your breath under water.
- A culture is like the upright strands that you begin with in basket-making, round which you wind the texture of the basket itself: no sticks, no basket; no culture, no community. It is the grammar, the story, humour and good faith that identifies a community and gives it existence. It is both the parent and child of social capital. And the social capital of a community is its social life – the links of cooperation and friendship between its members. It is the common culture and ceremony, the good faith and reciprocal obligations the civility and citizenship, the play, humour and conversation which make a living community, the cooperation that builds its institutions. It is the social ecosystem in which a culture lives.
- Reliance on the market economy has led to the asset of a common culture falling into neglect; sometimes we pick through the ruins like tourists marvelling at a lost settlement and guessing at what was once there. It would be helpful—though late in the day—to stop dismantling what remains of a culture in today’s political economy, and to start to re-grow cultural and artistic links as an essential basis for cohesion in a future which, from where we sit, will be barely recognisable.
- Coexistence is not toleration; it is resonance; it is the nature of the human ecology.
- Wisdom is intelligence drenched in culture.
On Aesop's fable of The Boy Who Cried Wolf:
- There are two morals to the story. The first is: avoid giving false alarms. The second is: in the end, the wolf came, so do not be misled by previous false alarms into thinking that the latest alarm is false, too. Of these two morals, the second one is more significant. Believing false alarms wastes time, but can lead to some helpful advice for apprentice shepherds; disbelieving all alarms can lead to a local lad being eaten, for starters.
- If an argument is a good one, dissonant deeds do nothing to contradict it. In fact, the hypocrite may have something to be said for him; it would be worrying if his ideals were not better than the way he lives.
- At present, we have a policy-response shaped by sophisticated climate science, brilliant technology and pop behaviourism, based on simple assumptions about carrot-and-stick incentives.
- Life-saving information tends to come in local dialects.
- Do nothing that matters without consulting a conversation.
- The claim that industrial agriculture is the only way of feeding a large population is about as scientific as a belief in Creationism - and far more damaging.
- Unfortunately, the critics of economics have had a tendency to discuss the whole structure as a tissue of misconceptions. It is a critique that fails. The strength of economics is its considerable, if far from complete, understanding of the flows and comparative advantages that underlie trade, jobs, capital and incomes, and the logic of optimising behaviour, all backed by glittering accomplishment in mathematics. That makes it a powerful analytical instrument, so that just a few misconceptions – such as a failure to understand the informal economy or resource depletion – have leverage: like a baby monkey at the controls of a Ferrari, they can turn it into an instrument with extraordinarily destructive potential. If it were a tissue of errors, it would not be dangerous: it is its 90 percent brilliance which makes it so.
On society's fixation with economic growth:
- The only problem with capitalism is that it destroys the planet, and that it’s based on growth. I mean apart from those two little details it’s got a lot to be said in its favour.
- The study of economic lift-off is well developed; touch-down has not been considered. There is an asymmetry here which would invite comment if applied to aviation.
- The reduction of a society and culture to dependence on mathematical abstraction has infantilised a grown-up civilisation and is well on the way to destroying it. Civilisations self-destruct anyway, but it is reasonable to ask whether they have done so before with such enthusiasm, in obedience to such an acutely absurd superstition, while claiming with such insistence that they were beyond being seduced by the irrational promises of religion.
- Every civilisation has had its irrational but reassuring myth. Previous civilisations have used their culture to sing about it and tell stories about it. Ours has used its mathematics to prove it.
- The difficult task will not be to move away from our market-based civil society: that will fall away so fast that we will find it hard to believe it was ever there. The task, on the contrary, is to recognise that the seeds of a community ethic—and, indeed, of benevolence—still exist. It is to join up the remnants of local culture that survive, and give it the chance to get its confidence back. We now need to move from a precious interest in culture as entertainment, often passive and solitary, to culture in its original, earthy senses of the story and celebration, the guardianship and dance that tell you where you are, and who is there with you...
- The Fleming Policy Centre homepage
- Prospect articles by David Fleming (1999-present)
- 2001 - The Third Annual FEASTA lecture - "The Lean Economy: A Vision of Civility for a World in Trouble"
- 2003 - Before The Wells Run Dry - "Building a Lean Economy for a fuel-poor future"
- 2006 - Full footage of Fleming's Schumacher College Earth Talk: “Lean Energy: A Practical Guide to the Energy Descent”
- 2007 - Transition Culture interview - "The Transition to Sustainable Resilience"
- 2007 - Cultivate's Sustainable Community Conference - "The Community Lecture"
- 2009 - Transition Towns Conference - "Wild Economics, Wolves, Resilience and Spirit - a study in interdependence"
- 2009 - Video interview on the subject of peak oil, in Fleming's flat in Hampstead
- 2010 - Video interview with Fleming on TEQs, after Swedish Parliament presentation (from SVT)
- 2010 - David Fleming's last interview (audio), in which he discusses his forthcoming book Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It
- Online tributes paid upon his death
- 2011 - All Party Parliamentary report into TEQs
- 2015 - Academic paper in the Carbon Management journal advocating for Fleming's TEQs system
- 2016 - Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It - Fleming's book, published posthumously by Chelsea Green Publishing (+ footage from the 2016/17 book tour)
- 2016 - Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy - the paperback drawn from Fleming's Lean Logic, published by Chelsea Green Publishing
- 2017 - "Community, Place and Play: A Post-Market Economics" - Schumacher College's course on Fleming's work and legacy
- 2019 - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - feature film about Fleming's foresight and enduring influence
- 2020 - LeanLogic.online - Reworking of Fleming's Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It as an interactive website
- 2020 - Sterling College launch $1.5m EcoGather program based in Fleming's work, including online course Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time