Arithmetic, Population and Energy - a talk by Al Bartlett (1994)
by Al Bartlett
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 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 topic.