David Fleming

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David Fleming giving a talk in a tent at the 2009 Climate Camp protest in Blackheath, London, UK.

Dr. David Fleming (2 January 194029 November 2010) was an independent thinker and writer on environmental issues, based in London, England. He was one of the whistle blowers on the possibility of peak oil's approach and the inventor of the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also 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 film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by Peter William Armstrong.


  • 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.
  • '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.
  • 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.

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.
  • 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.
  • I think capitalism is a good thing. 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.

On society's fixation on economic growth:

  • 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.

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