Arithmetic, Population and Energy,
by Al Bartlett (1994)
How can we sustain humanity's future on Earth? Lecture on economic growth versus population growth, consumption,
sustainability and the impending cruch.
Professor Bartlett has given his celebrated one-hour lecture, "Arithmetic, Population and Energy: Sustainability 101
" over 1,600 times to audiences with an average attendance of 80 in the United States and world-wide. His audiences have
ranged from junior high school and college students to corporate executives and scientists, and to congressional staffs. He
first gave the talk in September, 1969, and subsequently has presented it an average of once every 8.5 days for 36 years.
His talk is based on his paper, "Forgotten Fundamentals of the Energy Crisis", originally published
in the American Journal of Physics, and revised in the Journal of Geological Education.
Professor Al Bartlett begins his one-hour talk with the statement, "The greatest shortcoming of the human race
is our inability to understand the exponential function." He then gives a basic introduction to the
arithmetic of steady growth, including an explanation of the concept of doubling time. He explains the impact of unending
steady growth on the population of Boulder, of Colorado, and of the world. He then examines the consequences of steady
growth in a finite environment and observes this growth as applied to fossil fuel consumption, the
lifetimes of which are much shorter than the optimistic figures most often quoted. He proceeds to
examine oddly reassuring statements from "experts", the media and political leaders - statements that are
dramatically inconsistent with the facts. He discusses the widespread worship of economic growth and population
growth in western society. Professor Bartlett explains "sustainability" in the context
of the First Law of Sustainability: "You cannot sustain population growth and / or growth in the rates
of consumption of resources." The talk brings the listener to understand and appreciate the implications of unending
growth on a finite planet, and closes noting the crucial need for education. (Source: www.albartlett.org)