Wednesday, December 02, 2015

David Fleming, five years on.

By coincidence, we've just been in Amsterdam exactly five years since David Fleming died on the 29th of November 2010 there and we made the trip through the snow to his funeral to say our last goodbye.

I thought of him again as we passed through Europort, the planet's greatest agglomeration of stuff in containers and of the oil refineries that are so central to the whole sorry enterprise of industrial capitalism that has brought our planet's ability to sustain civilization to the brink.

Then at the Stedelijk Museum we visited the Isa Genzken exhibition, Mach Dich Hüpsch, in which she shows what happens to all that stuff after it has left the shipping containers, the shop-fronts and our homes. Mach Dich Hüpsch, she says, but there's nothing pretty about the detritus of our consumerism.

David saw the lie of bright plastic and might better have enjoyed the Dutch Masters in the Rijksmuseum nearby (the bookmark I use in my copy of Lean Logic is a postcard of Van Dijck's, Still Life with Cheese, he sent me from the Rijksmuseum) or appreciated Van Gogh's respect for the peasants' lives and feared the anxieties expressed by Edvard Munch and so brilliantly displayed at Munch: Van Gogh.

Meanwhile in Paris the COP21 begins.  David foresaw what he called a climacteric, "A stage in the life of a system in which it is especially exposed to a profound change in health or fortune."  He wrote of "...the convergence of events which can be expected in the period 2010-2040.  They include deep deficits in energy, water and food, along with climate change, a shrinking land area as seas rise, and heat, drought and storm affecting the land that remains."

While there is no longer serious talk of uncertainty in the anthropogenic origin of global warming, there is a great deal of uncertainty in how the future will play out, but politicians and many other commentators struggle to deal with uncertainty.  David Fleming wrote, "It is unknown how fast the climacteric will develop. One view is that it will unfold as a slow deterioration - a long descent - with periods of respite allowing time for intelligent responses to be worked out and applied. Another view is that, because our civilisation is so connected, urbanised, and dependent on fully-functioning complex energy and distribution systems ... the turndown will be more delayed than expected: there is, as Adam Smith observed, a great deal of ruin in a nation. But when it comes it is likely to be more abrupt than expected."

Lean Logic, was published privately in limited edition shortly after David's death but thanks to the unstinting effort of Shaun Chamberlin to bring the work to a wider audience it will soon be available from Chelsea Green.

Shaun describes the book at greater depth on his blog at Dark Optimism and I commend Lean Logic as an invaluable tool for understanding the uncertain future.


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