Limits to growth

by Richard on March 15, 2011

It’s a central tenet of green politics that there have to be limits to economic growth. The world is not boundless, its resources not infinite. Andrew Simms explains with the use of a hamster.

From birth until it reaches sexual maturity at about six weeks, a hamster doubles its weight each week.

If, instead of levelling-off in maturity, it carried on growing - continuing to double its weight each week - we would be facing a nine-billion-tonne hamster on its first birthday.

If it kept eating at the same ratio of food to bodyweight, the hamster’s daily intake would be greater than the total, annual amount of maize produced worldwide.

In nature, there is a reason why things do not grow indefinitely.

It’s a very simple point, but surprisingly difficult for some people to grasp. And it gave me an excuse to post a picture of a hamster.

I confess. This is a reblog.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }


Wood 03.15.11 at 11:29 am

You can reblog on your birthday.

It is, by the way, the 2067th anniversary of Julius Caesar’s assassination. And it would have been my dad’s 72nd birthday.

Have a good one.


Tony Buglass 03.15.11 at 11:33 am

Happy birthday, Richard. Do have a good one, whatever hassle you face on this blog or elsewhere. You’re only 21 once or twice… ;)


John Cooper 03.15.11 at 11:54 am

Happy Birthday Richard

Hope you have a smashing day - your reblog reminded me of the video making the same point, consider it a birthday treat ;) , -


Bob Gilston 03.15.11 at 12:43 pm

Happy birthday Richard. Is it one of your hamsters?


Richard 03.15.11 at 2:20 pm

Thanks for the greetings — and the video, John.

We have no hamsters at the minute, Bob. Just the one degu and the three guinea pigs. And the dog, of course.


Doug 03.15.11 at 5:56 pm

“It’s a central tenet of green politics that there have to be limits to economic growth.”

Ohhh I see. I have always wondered if there was some underlying “wealth redistribution” when it came to people who adhere to environmentalism in an extreme way. I, surprising to some, believe in being responsible to the environment but don’t believe “wealth redistribution” should be included in the mix in that it doesn’t seem to correlate.

For example: Do you know that according to a United States EPA study it states (putting all arguments about whether or not there is global warming aside) that to lower the world’s temperature 1 degree would cost $700 trillion dollars. Using your argument of limits economic growth and applying it to levels of spending on the environment, can we say there are in fact limits to what economies can do with regard to this? and wouldn’t a huge portion of that money be better spent to help Japan, Haiti, etc. who are going through and have experienced major tragedies(spelling)? If we assume for the sake of argument there are “zero-sum-games” in economic growth then one must look at that as well in relation to what can be done to help the environment if for the sake of argument there is “global warming” as some argue and what can be done therein.


Richard 03.15.11 at 6:23 pm

You leave me mystified Doug. The point of these posts is a simple one: the resources of the earth are finite. So there have to be limits on growth. The video that John linked makes the point graphically.


Doug 03.15.11 at 6:59 pm

..and all I’m saying is if there are limits to economic growth then (for the sake of argument) there would be limits to economics in general and if so (based on the $700 trillion dollar figure to lower the earth’s temperature 1 degree and how that is not afforable to the world as a whole) then wouldn’t there be other ways we can “help the world economically” then to spend US$700 trillion for a 1 degree temperature decrease?


Doug 03.15.11 at 7:05 pm

and that assumes there actually is “global warming”.


PamBG 03.16.11 at 1:33 am

Right, so if it would take $700 trillion to lower the world’s temperature one degree, then it’s quite obvious that we should continue to create and throw out as much junk as possible, to pollute as much as possible and to consume as many of our fossil fuels as quickly and as dirtily as possible.

That’s kind of like the logic of “If I weigh 135 pounds instead of my goal weight of 130 pounds, then I might as well say to hell with it, let myself eat until I weigh 600 pounds and die of some self-inflicted disease.

Good plan!


Doug 03.16.11 at 9:42 pm

PamBG, I never said those extreme things or support extreme things that you happened to describe in a sarcastic way. I agree we need to help the environment but we should not do it in such a way that we create more poor people than otherwise, create more unemployed than otherwise or make it so that prices for goods are higher than they should be thereby hurting poor peoples ability to survive on a daily basis.

Pam, with regard to what I have heard about global warming from those who believe it is an “issue”, they would argue that it isn’t like a “135lb difference” analogy but a 3000lb person to get to 150lb’s. However, I would say that there have been previous years hundreds of years ago way more higher in temperature than now. I don’t agree with “polluting”, however I’m not going to advocate things which is detrimental to society now AND the future. Anything that causes poor people to pay more for goods, increases unemployment and creates more poor people than otherwise are things I will never support.


Doug 03.16.11 at 9:43 pm

What is Earl’s point is that China must get on board on this or no matter what we do it is worthless.

Earl, did I paraphrase your position correctly?


PamBG 03.17.11 at 1:17 am

Doug, what you said to me sounded an awful lot like “The task is so difficult, we should choose to do nothing rather than to do something.”

Is that an “extreme” interpretation of what you said?


Doug 03.17.11 at 8:47 pm

yes, that is an extreme interpretation of what I said. I have never said we should “do nothing”. However, we mustn’t be ignorant of the fact because it could be (if we assume there is global warming) that there must be proper balance that we loose sight of the “laws of unintended consequences” of trying to solve this “apparent problem” that 1) may or may not be there 2) create more poor people than otherwise 3) increases inflation for goods 4) etc., etc.

So yes we need to help the environoment but not in such a way that “unintended consequences arise” but that are clearly apparent.


Earl 03.17.11 at 11:51 pm

“Right, so if it would take $700 trillion…” Ah the fresh breath of exaggeration! How very hyperbolic! There is a simple answer to this irrelevant issue. Let those who want to do something do something. Let them pay the cost. Everyone else will do what everyone else wants to do. The current regime and its left-wing liberal democrat supporters can recite from their teleprompters till eternity rolls but it will change nothing. The tax payers of the United States are not prepared to pay so that everyone else can enjoy a free ride. If this is not satisfactory to climate change advocates, then they will simply have to content themselves with being dissatisfied.


Doug 03.18.11 at 5:27 pm

…especially when we have China who is even more able to pay and are not as you indirectly describe. Right on Earl.

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