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.
He was born in Chiddingfold, Surrey, to Norman Bell Beatie Fleming, a Harley Street eye surgeon, and Joan Margaret Fleming, an award-winning crime writer. He had three sisters.
He attended Oundle School before reading Modern History at Trinity College, University of Oxford from 1959 to 1962. He then worked in manufacturing (textiles), marketing (detergents), advertising and financial public relations, before earning an MBA from Cranfield University in 1968.
He was the Ecology (Green) Party's economics spokesman and press secretary between 1977 and 1980 (the party office at that time being his flat in Hampstead). From 1977 to 1995 he worked as an independent consultant in environmental policy and business strategy for the financial services industry, and in 1980 began studies in economics at Birkbeck College, University of London, completing an MSc in 1982 and a PhD on the economics of the market for positional goods in 1988.
In this time, he also helped to organise the celebrated The Other Economic Summit (TOES), first held in 1984 - a regular counter-summit to the annual G7 summits. TOES is also noted as the birthplace of the New Economics Foundation, an organisation with which Fleming retained close links. Also in 1984, he became Honorary Treasurer of the Soil Association, and then was appointed that organisation's Chairman from 1988 to 1991. In 1995 his manual on the formation and management of investment funds in the Former Soviet Union was published.
From 1995 until his death he wrote and lectured widely on the environmental and social issues which he expected to have a major impact on the global market economy in the 21st century, including oil depletion and climate change. He was a regular contributor to Country Life magazine, and was published in Prospect and other journals, as well as in academic literature and popular newspapers. He was editor of The Countryside in 2097, published in 1997, and gave the third annual Feasta lecture in 2001.
David Fleming died on 29 November 2010, in Amsterdam.
For over thirty years Fleming worked on a major book, Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It (formerly provisionally titled The Lean Economy). It was completed just before his death and posthumously published in 2016 by Chelsea Green Publishing, accompanied by a paperback version entitled Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy.
His influential April 1999 article for Prospect magazine, The next oil shock?, interpreted the International Energy Agency’s 1998 report as predicting an impending global oil crisis. He later revealed that Fatih Birol – the future Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency – agreed to meet with him after reading the article, and confessed that “you are right… there are maybe six people in the world who understand this”. Fleming had a long history with peak oil, having been part of the team who wrote the Ecology Party pamphlet The Reckoning in 1977, which discussed the peak oil problem and our need to rethink our use of energy.
He developed the idea of TEQs - the most widely studied model for the implementation of a carbon rationing scheme - and founded The Lean Economy Connection (renamed The Fleming Policy Centre after his death) to work on the application of Lean Thinking to economic theory and society in general. Until his death he remained a strong advocate for TEQs, and an ardent critic of nuclear power.
In his 2007 book The Lean Guide to Nuclear Energy: A Life-Cycle in Trouble, Fleming argues:Every stage in the nuclear process, except fission, produces carbon dioxide. As the richest ores are used up, emissions will rise.
Shortages of uranium - and the lack of realistic alternatives - leading to interruptions in supply, can be expected to start in the middle years of the decade 2010-2019, and to deepen thereafter.
It is essential that radioactive waste should be made safe and placed in permanent storage. High-level wastes, in their temporary storage facilities, have to be managed and kept cool to prevent fire and leaks which would otherwise contaminate large areas.
The world's endowment of uranium ore is now so depleted that the nuclear industry will never, from its own resources, be able to generate the energy it needs to clear up its own backlog of waste.
He was also one of the key inspirations behind the Transition Towns movement. He was a regular speaker at initiatives around the UK and at the early Transition Conferences, and a close friend of Transition movement founder Rob Hopkins, who described his own work as "simply taking Heinberg's insights into peak oil, Holmgren on permaculture and Fleming on community resilience, rolling them together and making the whole thing comprehensible".
Often described as his life's work, Fleming worked on the award-winning non-fiction book for over thirty years. It was completed just before his death and 500 copies of his final draft were posthumously self-published by his family in 2011. After the Dark Mountain Project published extracted entries from the dictionary in two of their journals, Chelsea Green Publishing gave the work its full publication in September 2016.
Lean Logic explores themes including ethics, science, relationships, culture, policy, art and history, but unconventionally for a book of such varied themes, it is structured in dictionary format, with each entry followed by a list of other related entries. This allows Fleming to highlight connections that might otherwise be overlooked without detracting from his in-depth exploration of each theme, and also has the effect of allowing the reader to follow the narrative of their choice as they explore Fleming's thoughts and research on strategies for the future.
Many reviewers have found Lean Logic hard to categorise, with one describing it as "half encyclopedia, half commonplace book, half a secular bible, half survival guide, half ... yes, that’s a lot of halves, but ... I have never encountered a book that is so hard to characterise yet so hard, despite its weight, to put down ... It’s an incredibly nourishing cultural and scientific treasure trove."
Lean Logic was named in Book of the Year lists from both Times Higher Education and GreenBiz, and its unique structure won the New England Book Show Design Award.
Alongside the final edition of Lean Logic, Chelsea Green simultaneously published a paperback version - Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy - drawn from the same content but edited by Fleming's former colleague Shaun Chamberlin to produce a more conventionally formatted, read-it-front-to-back introduction to Fleming's work.
Fleming's vision of the future is challenging, as he sees in the present "an economy that is destroying the very foundations on which it depends" (ecologically, economically and culturally), but many reviewers have commented on the positive spirit and humour that suffuse both books' pages as he describes strategies and principles for a satisfying, culturally rich future in such difficult circumstances.
One typical review came from Caroline Lucas MP, who described the paperback as a "beautifully written and nourishing vision of a post-growth economics grounded in human-scale culture and community — rather than big finance".