John Jopling RIP

We are very sad to announce the death of beloved colleague and Feasta co-founder John Jopling, after a long illness. We will not see his like again.

John was surrounded by friends and family and died peacefully at his home in Cloughjordan.

If you would like to send a message of appreciation or sympathy, please email it to us at [email protected] or post it as a comment below.


Here are some messages from friends and supporters of John’s work (please scroll down to the comments section to see more of them):

“The passing of a great man who strove to help and enhance our poor world.” – Mark Garavan

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“John was truly a Gentle Giant.

A great honour to have known him and to have been inspired by his values.”– Seán Ó Conláin

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“Very sad. Anam uasal, a noble soul. May he rest in peace.”– Anne Ryan

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“John worked selflessly and with great dedication for the improvement of this poor planet.

A noble soul indeed. May he rest in peace.

I felt that John’s cooperation with Richard Douthwaite in the late 90 and early 2000’s should be highlighted. I saw them as a pair which complemented each other well- Richard the “Dreamer” and John his loyal critic. Both were visionaries. Both were extremely dedicated to make this world a better, fairer one. And sustainable. Both were very influential for Feasta.”– Willi Kiefel

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“This morning my friend, mentor and neighbour John Jopling passed away peacefully. John was a huge influence on my thinking, he was the author of Gaian Democracies, co-founder of FEASTA the sustainable economics foundation and an active member of the Cloughjordan Ecovillage. Rest in peace John.” – Davie Phillip

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“How sad, but also a relief for him that he was with family and friends and passed peacefully. What a great man, he will be missed. I had so many interesting discussions with him over the years and I loved the Feasta events he put together in Rossbeigh. This is a sad day indeed. My heartfelt condolences to his family and freinds.” – Annie Sugrue

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“I only met John briefly in London but understand the significant role he played in an understanding of the legal aspects associated with the Cap and Share scheme and a need for a grassroots approach by-passing the involvement of established power structures.

He will be sorely missed.” – Mike Thomas

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“John Jopling, a founder member and one of the original moving spirits of Feasta has died. He retired to Ireland from his job as a barrister in London to his holiday home, Retreat Lodges in Rossbeigh which is on Dingle Bay. He rang me from there in 2003 and, apparently at the suggestion of Richard Douthwaite, invited me to a seminar at Retreat Lodges that summer. The US and UK invasion of Iraq had just occurred and I was very jaded and disillusioned. But John explained how he had written a book on Gaian Democracy with Roy Madron. He was convinced that our problems were the result of how systems work. This idea had made him optimistic that there was a way forward. We had to design systems ourselves.

Jaded as I was I allowed myself to be persuaded and thank goodness that I did. John, his house and the discussions in the large room under the portrait of his grandmother have for the last 16 years been a major part of my life. I joined Feasta and John became a close friend.

I was often in awe of him. There was much more to this man than a green ideologue and I got to know many sides to him. For one thing he was not a car driver any more – he had forsaken an old Rolls Royce and taken to riding a folding bike…with a trailer for taking luggage or shopping. He would also load his bike, trailer and contents into and out of the luggage compartments of local coaches, keeping the bus drivers waiting as the coaches became de facto haulage company on the trip between Killorglin and Glenbeigh. The same trailer contraption was used to haul seaweed up from the beach to the garden behind his house to fertilise his vegetable patch. It brought plenty of beach flies along too as I remember.

I have been riding a bike for a long time but the journeys he made on his bikes were sometimes epic. Just the journey from Killarney to Killorglin and then on to Grenbeigh and Rossbeigh in his seventies was awesome. John’s tenant at Retreat Lodges said of him to me “He’s a real trooper”. Indeed he was. On another occasion he purchased a second folding bike in Dublin and it was my job to ride it through heavy traffic and double decker buses along O’Connell street to the Busaras. There we put the bikes in the luggage compartment of the bus that took us through the night to Moneygall. We then sat and drank in a pub to wait for a lift that never arrived. So we rode through a black moonless night guided by bicycle lamps under a magnificent canopy of stars along the road to Cloughjordan. It was my first visit – and the furthest I had cycled for a long time.

Retreat Lodges are in a beautiful location by the sea – but a difficult place to keep warm during the winter, under the shade of that big hill behind. Doubtless one of the reasons for designing and helping to build a house for himself in the Eco-village in Cloughjordan, was to be warm in winter.

But there was far more than personal comfort involved. John particularly wanted to understand the best way to organize the process. If systems are too often the problems then what systems are actually helpful in designing a community? Starting from the beginning there were many dimensions to be taken into account and needing to be harmonised to- gether on a development path: Building the houses to an ecological standard, the arrangements for water, energy, food, finance, community relationships. How was this emergent jigsaw to best fit together?

With the global financial crisis wreaking havoc and many would-be village residents dropping out for lack of money, as well as contractors out of their depth with new technologies like the array of solar thermal panels for the district heating, things went wrong. They are bound to in any new development. John helped with the legal issues that arose – but I think that he felt that his most important contribution was in clarifying the management process.

People who may have known John in his life in England as a barrister and a lover of music may not have fully appreciated this side of him. He was especially enthusiastic when he discovered the viable system model of management theorist Stafford Beer – ideas brought to him by working with Jon Walker and Angela Espinosa. Here was a methodology to use for thinking about the complexity of the village. When, later, some members of the eco-village were sceptical of the Viable Systems Model and the role of the eco-village as a place to pioneer ideas and processes, a place to learn from experience, John found that difficult. That had been a fundamental purpose to which John was totally committed. It was intrinsic to why he was there and why he was involved.

He also gave himself tasks that appear, at first sight, to have been beyond him…and so far beyond all of us – though we never know what the long run consequences of our efforts will turn out to be. In Cloughjordan he was able to play a practical and positive role but it was harder to figure out how best to promote a process to control carbon emissions that would become global. However he remained dedicated to trying, despite his increasingly debilitating illness.

Like the rest of us – the things that we can do are often smaller – finishing the details of the house and then working on his allotment and garden. When he was no longer capable of doing that himself he would sometimes instruct me and whoever else he could rope in to do it for him.

I am unable to think about John without thinking at the same time about places – places on which he left his mark. For a time after Oxford University he had wanted to be a joiner and carpenter and this was a lifelong interest. His houses in Kerry and in Cloughjordan have so much of his work in them – the door handles, the creaking stairs. But these were not exhibition spaces they were places to meet and people felt comfortable about just dropping in to talk things over. If you stayed with John you could not but notice that lots of people were just popping in.

It is several decades since he had rebuilt his house in Rossbeigh with the help of local people and architecture students recovering the place from a ruin. More recently the Lodges were in danger of going back to being into a ruin because of the Atlantic storms – and it was one of his last projects to raise money to stop the rot and bring the place back.

As all this happened John organised one of his last tremendous birthday parties with drinking and music deep into the night and the chance to meet old friends again. His parties were worth travelling a long way for.

John started a completely new life in Cloughjordan. There’s a saying I learned – go to places you have never been before, meet people you have never met before and do things that you have never done before. John did that – helped develop an eco-village and moved there in a new relationship with Miriam. His inspiration for how to live in retirement could hardly be bettered.

Over the years John became like an older brother to me. Every year he organised a summer or autumn discussion in Rossbeigh and I attended all of them. I would sit with him in the bay window in the dining room looking out over the mud flats as the tide changed and the clouds rolled over the mountains. When he became ill and crippled we worked together to organise the next summer workshop. The year after, this year, his input was very small because he found talking so difficult – though he was there – spending time looking at the panorama of sunlight and clouds from his bed.

As he became more ill he said to me that the worst thing was not being able to do anything for himself. It was especially cruel for someone so active across such a big practical and intellectual range – his love of wood and carpentry , his gardening, cycling and taking out the sail boat, his knowledge of birds and wildlife…. but also for his writings and reviews, his legal work and work as a Feasta trustee…as well as his love of music which he has passed to his children.

After John

After my friend’s death there was a rush with so many people
Doing many things for his Wake in his community
Where the dead are still loved and respected
And then taking his body to his final resting place
At the end of the road with stone walls and trees growing in them
Surrounded by Kerry mountains…..
So that today seems strangely quiet –
Only the sound of the curlew in the tidal marshes
And those long long waves that break along their full length
In late autumn sunshine
High tide churning the shingle, but gently today
As I turn back to his house
Under the shade of the mountain
The house now absent of,
And yet still full of him…” – Brian Davey

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“John was a huge mentor and inspiration to me.

He was instrumental in the founding of Feasta, twenty-one years ago. He contributed to many of its publications and served on its board of directors for many years, and was a near-constant source of ideas and support to his fellow Feasta members. His contribution to environmental work was given wider recognition when he was awarded the Schumacher Prize in 2002.

I first met John in 2008 at a Feasta climate group gathering in Devon and was struck by his piercing gaze and by the warmth of his welcome. I was fortunate to have a lot of contact with him over the subsequent years since we worked together a great deal on the CapGlobalCarbon and Cap and Share projects. I also had the honour of speaking alongside him at the Cloughjordan launch of the book Sharing for Survival in 2012, to which he had contributed a chapter on governance – always a big focus of his.

Some years before, John had provided the incubator for the launching and development of Feasta at the Retreat Lodges, an old stone building on the Iveragh Peninsula in Kerry which had been bought and restored by John and a friend back in the early 1960s. The view from its front windows over the Dingle Bay was always a great tonic for depressed or exhausted spirits.

I attended several workshops there over the years and was also lucky enough to be at the Lodges for his eightieth birthday party in 2015, a very memorable occasion during which the main room was completely filled with party guests, as one might expect – and also with the dynamism and warmth of chamber music played with great sensitivity by his three musician children.

As Brian Davey mentions in his obituary, the portrait of John’s grandmother, the distinguished artist Louise Jopling – which was used as the cover picture for a recent edition of Anna Karenina – was a striking presence at the Lodges, looking down thoughtfully from above the fire during the countless stimulating discussions which took place during the annual workshops which John organised.

Some of the furniture at the Lodges also had its roots in John’s family and past life. He told us recently that as a child he’d enjoyed hiding from his family in a wooden chest that’s now in the main room at Rossbeigh.

It seems that that over the past few decades, he constantly strove to do the opposite; to break down academic silos and other unnecessary and destructive boundaries, moving well outside the societal norms that are generally expected of someone who’d had a relatively materially privileged early life.

In his intellectual work he continually emphasised the power of ordinary people to set up institutions that can do immense good in the world, such as the Red Cross and the ICC. He also recognised the value and power of the Commons movement.

Thirty years of practice as a Chancery barrister in London helped him to develop a sharp and rigorous legal mind, which we in Feasta benefited from enormously, for example while researching and promoting the commons-based CapGlobalCarbon initiative.

Another, related interest of his was exploring the potential for legal campaigns to trigger effective climate action. He was one of the earlier people to recognise this potential, and legal action on climate has now become a growing worldwide movement, with campaigns in many different countries. I’ve no doubt that John’s extensive research and thoughtful writing on the subject has helped the movement along considerably.

He had a strong and healthy skepticism of ungrounded, ‘New Age’-type responses to the environmental and social crises (along the lines of ‘if we all just think enough positive thoughts then our problems will go away’) and so was always an important sounding board for ensuring that our thinking stayed as careful and coherent as possible.

An early book of his, London Pathways to the Future – thinking differently, (2000) was described by Ciaran Cuffe as “a seminal resource that should be on the reading list of all those wishing to influence the future direction of their communities.” Other work included the Schumacher Briefing Gaian Democracies, co-written with Roy Madron and described by James Lovelock as “an important step in linking Gaian theory with civilisation”, and by John Barry as “an excellent and important book…..written in a spirit of dialogue and communication”. He also co-edited and wrote the introductions for the two Feasta Reviews.

And he had a very hands-on, practical side. As Brian describes, he worked to apply a Viable Systems Model framework to the Ecovillage in Cloughjordan and also to Feasta; an extremely nitty-gritty kind of challenge. For as long his health permitted it, he also tried to spend a part of each day doing manual work such as his creative and beautiful carpentry, in addition to the intellectual work which was so important to him.

I was really glad to have been able to spend a few final days with him in August of this year, during Feasta’s annual workshop at his Retreat Lodges. His eyes were as bright and intense as ever, even though his illness had weakened him considerably and had made it almost impossible for him to communicate. He managed to sit in on a couple of the workshops and would also sometimes sit in the window of the Retreat Lodge and muster up a gentle wave for us when we came back from a walk on the beach.

I would say that the best way to honour his memory is to keep working away at the vitally important things that he helped to start. He didn’t lose hope, even though his illness slowed him down, and neither should we.

My warmest wishes and thoughts go to John’s partner Miriam Kelly, his three musician children of whom he was so immensely (and justifiably) proud, Daisy, Orlando and Juliet, and to his extended family.” – Caroline Whyte

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“The world is the poorer for John’s passing. His insights into the destructive impacts of current economic policies and his knowledge of alternative governance systems are sorely needed in our ailing world today. Thank you John for all that you have done and rest in peace.”
– Liz Cullen

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“My sincere sympathies to John’s family and friends. His work with Feasta was immense and he was an inspiration to all.”- Michelle Murphy

6 Replies to “John Jopling RIP”

  1. I haven’t seen John for a very long time but he was such a lovely man I won’t forget him and feel privileged to have known him. It’s the prefect photo to remember him by. He’ll be much missed. May he rest in peace in the knowledge of his great contribution to this world and the wonderful role model he has been for us all. Judy

  2. I was very sad to hear of John’s passing. Although I haven’t seen him for many years now I remember him as a very energetic person who worked closely alongside Richard Douthwaite in FEASTA to promote all aspects of sustainable development, including essential economic, monetary and democratic reforms. I still have a copy of John’s book “Gaian Democracies” on my bookshelf which was full of the kind of clear-sighted analysis and inspiring ideas that I associate with John and his work. I was at a birthday party in his house in Cloughjordan many years ago and remember it being full of family members and lots of laughter and music. He will be sadly missed. Glad to have known John. RIP.

  3. I learned so much from John when I was his lodger for a few months in 2014. We shared together a great many meals, bottles of beer, foraging bike rides, and conversations about global climate issues – it was mandatory reading at the time to be able to converse about the carbon tax in his household! I could barely keep up with him as we dug holes and planted trees in the yard – but never forgot his planting techniques as my ‘tree awakening’ came a few years later. He was a great sounding board for talking through where I was at in my life and we hosted a few top-notch dinners together! We kept in touch a bit by email over the years since then, and I have always had held his home (and the ecovillage!) in my mind as somewhere that would always be there to return to. Thinking of all the community and his friends and family during this time. A life well lived indeed!

  4. It seemed somehow very natural that John was someone from whom I recieved more than I gave. He told me the last third of his life was the best bit so far. I had a sense of a legacy and evolution being manefested in human shape and years. That’s my windy way of saying I’m glad he lived and that I met him.

  5. Very sad to hear of the John’s passing. I met him only a few times, but he was a true gentleman, a humane citizen of the world, a visionary who delved deep into both the wonderful potentiality and the awful risks of our global predicament. He will be sorely missed; but the creation and nurturing of Feasta itself is an amazing living legacy. Long may it prosper.

  6. The picture captures well John’s warm and active engagement with the world. He leaves a great legacy as a thinker, a catalyst for change, a co-founder of Feasta, and the eco-village at Cloughjordan… But I’ll remember him best chatting over a beer in the Stag’s Head in Dublin; preparing and sharing dinner at the systems week in Glenbeigh; and with him in the sailing boat above when my mistake led us to break the bowsprit- and he just smiled and gave a soft laugh as calamities continued to mount. He lived a good, rich, and generous life, what more can we ask for. My condolences to his family, loved ones, and friends. Sail on John, we live in your wake.

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