In memoriam: Richard Douthwaite

Nov 15, 2011 157 Comments by

Richard Douthwaite (1942-2011), co-founder of Feasta and much-loved colleague and friend, died on November 14th 2011 after a long illness. We will miss his unique and far-ranging intellect, the clarity of his thought and writing, his warmth and his laughter. Tributes to him have come in from around the world and you can read them below.

In line with Richard’s wishes we are continuing with our scheduled events and publishing of articles.

Many people have expressed appreciation for Richard’s books. You can read Short Circuit and The Ecology of Money for free on this website. The Growth Illusion is available from Green Books.

Feasta’s 2010 publication Fleeing Vesuvius: Overcoming the Risks of Economic and Environmental Collapse, was co-edited by Richard and includes a chapter by him. Many of Feasta’s other books were also co-edited by Richard. As Brian Davey mentions in his tribute below, a new book has been produced by Feasta’s climate group and will be published in April 2012. It is called Sharing for Survival: Restoring the climate, the commons and society and includes a chapter by Richard.

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Morag Friel writes (Nov 21):

On Saturday we said goodbye to Richard at a lovely service at Mt. Jerome Crematorium in Dublin. Led by long-time family friend Dara Molloy, Richard’s family members, friends, Feasta – and other – colleagues paid tribute to a man as well-regarded for his gentle, kind and optimistic nature as for his brilliance in the field of alternative economics and ecology. Of particular poignancy were the tributes by his grandchildren who spoke articulately and emotionally about his storytelling, poem reciting, toy sword making and all-round supergrandfatherliness. Young Cian, who lives in the Philippines, sent a message via his dad announcing his intention of taking over Feasta when he is old enough. Conn, who was too small to be seen over the top of the lectern, stood up at the front of the room and, with tears choking his words, spoke about his granddad and how much he meant to him. That was the moment when I lost the plot and let my own tears flow. I saw a few others around me in the same state.

Afterwards a large group of us retired to the Central Hotel and together, over the course of the afternoon, through stories and personal tributes, we assembled many pieces of the jigsaw of Richard’s life: husband, father, grandfather, friend, brother, woodworker, boat and house builder, tree planter, business owner, economist, journalist, writer, editor, public speaker, teacher and mentor to many….. He was a man of too many experiences to be captured by my inadequate abilities so I’ll just have to finish by quoting the Irish saying, genuinely deserved in Richard’s case (and hopefully spelt correctly!): Ní bhfeicimid a leithéid ann arís….. We truly won’t see his like again. And I will miss him more than I can even attempt to express.

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Irish Times obituary

Irish Independent obituary

Guardian obituary

Huffington Post tribute by Mike Sandler

Telegraph Obituary

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Below you can read tributes to Richard. Please scroll down to the end to see them all, as some are posted as comments.

If you would like to add a short message about Richard, please add it to the comments section at the end of this page. Please email longer messages to website@feasta.org.

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Photo of Richard

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Anandi Sharan

[This] is such sad news about a friend who was one of the most courageous and innovative thinkers I knew. Richard and I went on a trip to Montreal in the early nineties to fight the battle for emissions reductions against the establishment, and from that time onwards he remembered me and always gave me his time on many subjects, like what to do in India to manage the expected rise in energy prices due to peak oil, and the need to switch from debt-based currency to normal money to facilitate more local trade and more local economic autonomy.

Some years ago I wrote the India report on the likely impact of cap and share based on his overall strategic insights and his report for Ireland, and more recently he explained that the reason for high debt in Europe was the loss of export markets in oil producing countries, and we discussed whether exports in Annex 1 countries would ever really come back. He thought they could if those countries exported renewable energy systems, and I thought there was no time for such reforms and agriculture and forests were likely to have to be the dominant economic sector from now on. When he and his wife Mary and their son and his family came to visit India and stopped by for some days, we had many interesting dinner time conversations, but after the meals Richard always refused a drink, his son saying he would end up reciting poetry; and so instead we talked all evening long about the emission based currency unit and energy prices. I will miss talking to him a lot, and sending him my ideas for him to tell me whether they basically hung together. He usually said they did but of course why would they not seeing as I put it all together after listening to him carefully.

He will live on in his children and grandchildren, in his wife Mary’s memory, in the memories of his many friends, and his ideas will live on in FEASTA, the Irish think tank on sustainability, which he co-founded, and in his books, and in the work of the many people he influenced.

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Dongying Wang

What a news, I saw him the other day on google chat! Very sad to hear this, though I haven’t meet him in person. My thoughts are with his family.
Dongying

Ms. Dongying Wang (王冬莹)
Energy & Climate Change Program Coordinator
Global Environmental Institute
www.geichina.org

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Oliver Tickell

He was a very good man in every sense and we are all the poorer without him.

Oliver Tickell
www.kyoto2.org

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Brian Davey
In the last few months and weeks of his life Richard kept working. One of these projects was the jointly authored book for which he has written a chapter and which I am editing. A few days ago he was keen that the very last thing that he had struggled to write go on the Feasta blog, partly as a way of publicising the book. He died the same day that I sent the book off to a publisher.

Richard’s chapter is titled:

“Time for some optimism about the climate crisis”

Typical Richard!

Speaking for myself I am not terribly optimistic but there is no doubt that his optimism carried things and people along, including me.

You cannot hope to follow or notice all the trends in our current ecological, economic and social crises as an individual – so you do it as part of a network. Unlike many more conventional economists, Richard respected and valued the opinion of non-economists who knew their stuff and whose expertise and knowledge helped him (and through him, us) build up his picture of the world. He knew, perhaps because he was also a journalist, that he needed to build up a network for himself and partly out of that Feasta was created – but his contacts and interests were also world wide. I was immensely privileged for him to include me in that network.

I didn’t always agree with all the details of his picture of the world but I was always aware that what he thought, and the information that he pulled together, had to be taken as a key reference point, an important orientation not just for myself, but for many people. It would be a terrible thing to reduce a description of someone to them being a “resource” – but he was an economist after all and there is no denying that he was a tremendous resource for all that. That said, this was not a resource sold to the highest bidder on the knowledge market – he was generous with what he knew and his knowledge was made available for all of us – because the world is going into crisis and Richard wanted to keep working to the very last to make sure that we are well prepared for what is ahead.

So I am sure that the abiding memory of many people will be of someone working extremely hard, and who was, therefore, incredibly well informed about issues not normally within the province of economics – noticing important trends in new thinking and drawing out their significance. When I switched on my computer in the morning his was already on and there would often be a message there sent from earlier. His computer skype connection would still be on when I went to bed at night.

That must be how he had such a comprehensive grasp of the latest in climate science, including the agricultural and land issues, the trends in energy depletion and other issues outside economics as such – as well as the more economic focused issues like monetary theory, the banking and eurozone crisis, complementary currencies, strategies for local economy and so much more. To follow these issues as they evolved was genuinely his enthusiasm – which you could tell because, when he gave a lecture, there would be those moments when he expressed himself about some point – let’s say about money circulation – and there would be these little outbursts of almost boyish excitement at the intricacies of the topic at hand.

The day before he died we had a conversation on the phone – he was too weak to type, but he was thinking that maybe he could continue writing by getting a dictation recorder that could send audio files.

It sometimes seems a cliche when people say that they will miss someone who has died – but with Richard you know how true it can be.

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Rob Hopkins

I can’t remember when I first met Richard. Living in Ireland and being involved in sustainability meant that Richard was somehow always there, whichever event you went to, Richard was invariably there, his commitment to these things was amazing. He was always so helpful and supportive of the young, emergent initiatives I was involved with, and always had time to chat on the phone, to clarify or to very gently help me to completely rearrange some half-baked ‘eureka’ moment I had had that turned out to be nothing of the sort. He had the gift, as a writer, to be able to unpack complex issues and make them understandable, reading ‘Short Circuit’ was a revelation for me. He was also not content for the ideas he promoted to be academic exercises, but he pioneered and supported a number of experimental local currencies and other models. I always found him kind, thoughtful and incisive. We have lost one of our keenest minds, and someone who was able to illuminate complex issues at a time when we most need him. He’ll be much missed.

Rob Hopkins, Transition Network
www.transitionculture.org

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Richard Heinberg

I’m very sorry to hear this, because it is a loss to so many of us who benefited from Richard’s brilliant work. He understood better than almost anyone else what is wrong with our current economic system and how we might transition to a sustainable economy that supports all of us. We at Post Carbon Institute appreciated so much his contribution to our POST CARBON READER, and his sage counsel on economic issues.

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Josh Ryan-Collins

Just wanted to pass on my condolences to Richard’s family and friends. I met Richard only once at a most enjoyable conference on ‘De-growth’ in Barcelona but we have been in correspondence on monetary reform for many years.

His writings on money were a great inspiration to me and nef more generally, in particular ‘Short Circuit’ and ‘Ecology of Money’ which I have lent on extensively in my work here at nef, academic work and voluntary work founding the Brixton Pound in my neighbourhood in London. nef’s ongoing work on monetary reform can be followed here: http://neweconomics.org/projects/monetary-reform

The number of thinkers who grasped the idea that a fractional reserve banking system with interest-bearing debt posed an existential threat to a planet with finite resources and communicated it effectively can be counted on the fingers of one hand – I would include James Robertson and Hermann Daly as others – and Richard was one of them.

Richard’s intellectual rigour was combined with a great passion to get things moving on the ground, as is clear in his work with FEASTA and complementary currencies. I think he realised from an early stage that it was no use leaving it to governments or policy makers to get to grips with the problem.

His loss is a great one to the monetary reform movement – but his work and ideas will live on.

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John Jopling

Richard Douthwaite was for me an inspiration, a teacher, and warm friend. He will live on in our lives, through the ideas he left us to develop and implement and by his example of dedicated work. Thanks for a great life which we were all privileged to be blessed by.

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Des Gunning

I am very much saddened by Richard’s passing and my thoughts go out immediately to Mary and his family. I’ve stayed at their house in Cloona and they’ve stayed in mine, when passing through Dublin. We worked particularly closely together when he was writing ‘Short Circuit’, for which the cover was done by my friend Mary Guinan of Temple of Design.

Richard was central to the project undertaken by the late Freda Rountree, Brian Rogers and myself, under the name “An Caidreamh Eiriú – the forum for local economies”, addressing well-attended seminars in Banagher, Roscrea, Carrigallen, Kilronan / Inishmore and inevitably, an international colloquium in Westport.

These occasions witnessed Terry O’Regan launching Landscape Alliance Ireland and they preceded Freda’s appointment by Michael D Higgins as first chair of the Heritage Council when it became a statutory body. My focus moved into Crann and Oak Glen.

Landscape? Heritage? Forestry? Richard had the gift of being able to show the economics in the weave all strands, as his later work with Feasta so impressively demonstrated.

He would regularly amaze me by referencing conversations he’d just had with people here, there and everywhere. And with that, he was the best of present company; a lovely man. He is truly irreplaceble and will be sorely missed by very many, worldwide.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam uasal

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Nadia Johanisova

Richard Douthwaite was a big influence in my life. We met at Schumacher College in 1997, during his course there, and since then we have been in touch. Richard taught a two-week course in the Czech Republic in 1999 on economic alternatives, which I organised, and where he met Juraj Zamkovský whom he and Mary later visited in Slovakia. One of the outputs of this visit was a Slovakian translation of his book, The Ecology of Money (2002).

It was through Richard that I met his colleagues at Feasta and was privileged to attend several open space workshops, organised by Feasta trustee John Jopling, which have inspired us to organise a similar type of event for the last five years in the Czech Republic. Richard attended one of these Czech open space workshops in 2007, and there is a film from the workshop showing him predicting the economic crisis more than a year before it actually arrived.

Richard was a great source of support during my stay at the Centre for Human Ecology in Edinburgh in 2001-2, and later helped get my book, which germinated there, published by Feasta. Discussions with Richard gave me the confidence to delve more deeply into economic issues and eventually to start my career as a lecturer in ecological economics at the Brno Masaryk University.

When I saw him last in summer 2011, he was confident that he might yet pull through his last illness. Up to the very end Richard kept up hope – for himself and for the world. His optimism on the one hand and his visions of a world crumbling in multiple crises on the other formed a strange contrast. His sunny personality made the dire messages somehow easier to digest, more so because he always had some way out of the predicament up his sleeve, if only people would listen. He never forced his ideas on anyone however, always retaining a British tolerance and sense of humour. Though he lived in Ireland, he was actually British, although, if I am not mistaken, he gave up his British citizenship after the British invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

Richard was an unbelievably hard-working man, an original and prolific thinker and writer who deserved much more attention from the mainstream than he was accorded. At the same time, serving as he did in the Feasta management group, he gave generously of his time both to his organisation, Feasta, and to his friends and colleagues, sharing ideas, reading, discussing and commenting our texts, answering questions, organising conferences, and editing or co-editing conference proceedings and Feasta reviews. He also took part in practical projects to make Ireland more sustainable. It is a wonder where he found the time and energy for all he did. Perhaps he got part of his energy from his work caring for the family house and land, often outdoor activities which I believe he enjoyed greatly.

I continue to use Richard’s texts in my teaching and writing, and memories of our conversations remain with me. I am sorry that he was not allowed to stay with us longer. It is difficult to give shape to feelings via words, and re-reading this text, it seems to convey so little of Richard’s actual personality and of his many intellectual gifts for which I never thanked him properly. It is now too late to do so. This world feels emptier and I feel lonelier without him.

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Marie Power, on behalf of Waterford City Community Forum

Waterford City Community Forum (WCCF) was saddened to hear of the passing of Richard Douthwaite.

His connection to WCCF was in 2005 when he spoke, in the WIT auditorium, at a screening of the iconic film “The End of Suburbia”. Richard placed the film in an Irish context and conducted a thought-provoking survey asking audience members to consider what changes they would make in their lives in the absence of cheap oil, when the cost of everything from imported goods to fuel would increase. Many people who attended that event were shocked and stimulated by the message. Richard was of the view that if people were exposed to potentially overhwelming and challenging information, then they should also be given some practical tools and pointers with which to cope and deal with that. He came across as a warm, engaging and good-humoured person.

He was an intelligent and constructive economist, and was, apparently, before his time. His insights and calls for more localisation of economies, how Ireland should tackle its greenhouse gas emissions, replacement of earth-damaging monoculture with biodynamic methods of food production and the creation of local currencies, are now a feature of many “Transition Towns” in the UK and worldwide. He favoured the “small is beautiful” philosophy and pointed a way to live sustainably, in the ecological sense of the word.

He represented the opposite of the greedy celebrity-type economist: he asked only for his expenses to be covered when he spoke at the WIT, and used public transport to get to Waterford from the West – a feat in itself. ( In contrast to another, much better-known, celebrity economist who spoke at another WCCF conference that year; HE insisted on accomodation at expensive Dunbrody House, and a driver to bring him to Waterford and back, and then had the audacity to pronounce on social housing!).

FEASTA means future and Richard Douthwaite was someone who really thought about the future and tried to create a society which would have a healthy future.
Looking back on a decade of foolish economics and governance, many of his ideas would have served us far better, in the longer-term, than those actually pursued.

May he rest in peace.

WCCF is an umbrella group for community and voluntary organisations in the city, with representation on SPCs and CDB.

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Lorna Arblaster and David Adshead

We very much enjoyed meeting Richard and so appreciate his contribution to
our understanding of financial and other issues.

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Disclaimer: Feasta is a forum for exchanging ideas. By posting on its site Feasta agrees that the ideas expressed by authors are worthy of consideration. However, there is no one 'Feasta line'. The views of the article do not necessarily represent the views of all Feasta members.

News, Richard's memorial page

About the author

Caroline Whyte collaborated with Richard Douthwaite on an online update of his book Short Circuit: Strengthening Local Economies in an Unstable World in 2002-3 and went on to study ecological economics at Mälardalen University in Sweden in 2005-6, writing a masters thesis on the relationship between central banking and sustainability. She compiled the conclusion for Feasta's 2011 book Fleeing Vesuvius and was a contributor to the Feasta Climate Group's book Sharing for Survival in 2012. She lives in central France, from where she edits the Feasta website.

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