Question time – Infinite Growth on a finite Planet?

CEL Steering Committee member Barbara Echlin was able to use a visit of BBC’s Question time to Bexhill this week (8 Nov 2012) to ask the Question:

“I don’t understand how we can have infinite growth on a finite planet….”

You can see it 23 minutes of the way though, then Shirley Williams gives a short answer at 29 min

Barbara Echlin said

“I don’t understand how the panel and most of the country continue to talk about growth.

I don’t understand how we can have infinite growth on a finite planet.

We just had an announcement that a quarter of the world’s mammals are in danger of extinction.

We are mammals

 We need to start taking account of the world we live in.  

We need to start taking account of the world we live in.

(I print this twice because on the programme to question master started talking on top of this sentence)

The Question master asked

“We shouldn’t be going for growth?”

Barbara replied:

“No, and when you talk about growth,

obviously we need some development, David Blanchflower, obviously we need to have some development,  but  your example was an airport –

– if we are going for growth we need to be going for things that are combatting what aircraft are partly causing which is climate change.”

There was then four minutes of talk on other topics before Shirley Williams insisted on answering the question

Shirley Williams:

She asked a very important question which was about the issue of growth.

She’s absolutely right

Growth just for the sake of growth could be devastating to the planet. but if you actually want, for example,  to conserve the South Downs and you live close to them, If you want to make sure that the ash trees are going to be saved if you want to make sure that animals survive and that the species survive

and if you want to make sure that you bring in new ways of making energy which don’t destroy large sections of the countryside, you’ve got to get money to do it with.

And it’s not a question of growth or no growth, it’s a question of what growth is for, and if you decide on the objectives of saving the planet, you can use the money usefully in that direction, and that’s the right way to go.”


What do you think?









Author: Editor 1 | Date: 10 November, 2012 | Category: Action Biodiversity Climate Change | Comments: 7

Comments on "Question time – Infinite Growth on a finite Planet?"

Barbara Echlin:

November 21, 2012

Roger Martin’s letter to Bishop Welby is a personal letter from an individual CEL member. CEL is sending an ‘official’ letter of welcome to the next Archbishop of Canterbury. I want to assure Diane that CEL is thinking through alternatives to continuous economic growth and issues of development and sustainability in a world of changing climate and dwindling resources. For a few examples see our ecocell2 programme on low-carbon living a recent post from George Dow on alternative holidays our Storm of Hope pamphlets, especially the 2010 issue and continuing in depth thinking in our magazine Green Christian The irony of the fallacy of continuous economic growth is that depletion of resources, even destruction, is equalled with what is good, ‘creates jobs’, and increases GDP. For thinking that challenges this denial of earth’s limits the New Economics Foundation is a good group to investigate. Barbara Echlin (CEL Secretary)

Diana Evans:

November 19, 2012

I am not sure that the message to Bishop Welby has been well put. Better to have left out the sexual innuendo. Also to rethink a more considered response to how Christians can rethink development and sustainability. Our weather patterns recently are forcing the issue which , I guess, is more about seeing and hurting livelihoods. If CEL is to become a respected campaign group then it requires thoughtful replies with examples eg A Rocha. ? Maybe CEL needs to look at local sustainability developments with secular groups that are setting up Food Co - ops, community allotments etc.

Roger Martin:

November 12, 2012

I've just sent the following letter to Bishop Welby: "Dear Bishop Welby, As a member of Christian Ecology Link, I write to congratulate you on your appointment; and to express the hope that you will be able to lift the eyes of the Church out of its current obsession with the trivia of the bedroom and the genitals under the cassock to the immense crisis of bio-physical unsustainability surging towards our planet and all its people. When the Chief Scientist speaks of the 'Perfect Storm' of climate change and peak oil (better expressed as declining energy return on energy invested, EROEI), all multiplied by rapid population growth, and leading to ever greater food, water and energy insecurity, he is speaking of the end of human civilisation as we have known it in recent millennia. Reducing over-consumption by the rich is an even bigger challenge than stabilising our numbers; but the laws of physics on a finite and fast-degrading planet dictate that both will inevitably happen at some point, either sooner in an orderly way through policy, or later in a disorderly way through ecological failure and resource depletion. The end of growth in consumption could happen in many different ways; but population growth can only end either sooner by fewer births (the humane way - contraception backed by policy and resources) or later by more deaths (the Darwinian way - famine, disease and war). Democratic politicians are doomed to short-termism dictated by the electoral cycle; but the Church is concerned with the eternal verities; and none is more pressing than this. With very best wishes for your desperately difficult new job,


November 12, 2012

What about the recent infinite POPULATION Growth on a finite Planet??? See and


November 11, 2012

It was good to see the concept of growth challenged on prime time TV. Clearly the answer is that infinite growth is not possible on a finite planet. However that in itself does not get us very far. We need to know where we stand in relation to the limits. The Limits to Growth reports of Randers & Meadows and the Planetary Boundaries work of Rockstrom (described by Mark Lynas in "The God Species" seem to indicate that in a number of cases we are at are above the limit. The challenge facing us is therefore to avoid an "Overshoot and Collapse" scenario and make a smooth transition to a stable zero growth society. The key questions are therefore: 1) What level of resource use is consistent with a sustainable society? 2) How do we ensure that those resources are equitably distributed so that we do not have the levels of between country and within country inequality that exists today? 3) How do we actually move from where we are now to where we need to be in an orderly manner without the disruption and distress that we are witnessing in Greece at the present time? Little progress has currently been made on a "route map" for point three which is one reason why even politicians who know in their hearts that "business as usual" will not work are reluctant to come forward and say so. The challenge for us as christians is to seek God regarding how we should engage constructively in the debate and move things forward.

Simon Nash:

November 11, 2012

Infinite growth can work. We can grow in kindness without limits, we can grow in compassion, in love, in justice, in mercy. These things can grow infinitely - as the waters cover the sea. Obviously little things like consumption, production, luxury goods etc cannot grow infinitely, that would be silly. #RebalanceTheEconomy

Mark Rotherham:

November 11, 2012

I am deeply grateful to Barbara for confronting the panel with the fiction of infinite growth on a finite planet and the reality of the mass extinction of mammals, of which we are one. What then followed, though predictable, was no less shocking to see. Barbara presented the most profound and far reaching question of the evening and where did it go? Nowhere! Nadine Dorries' appearance on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here was of more concern. In fact had Shirley Williams not insisted on coming back to Barbara's question, against the silence of the panel and David Dimbleby's eagerness to move on, it would have been all but ignored. I didn't agree with Shirley Williams, though, who argued that we first need to make more money so that we can pay for the right kind of growth. Distinguishing between 'good growth' and 'bad growth' is a start but I find this concept of the affordability or not of ecological protection as equally bizarre as the fiction of infinite growth. The truth is it's not about money but about priorities. Politics is fundamentally about setting priorities. If banks are 'too big to fail' isn't the same also true for global ecosystems? What Barbara's question elicited from the main political parties and their BBC host is that protecting life on Earth remains, even at this dangerous hour, a low priority undeserving of air time.

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