Minnesotans For Sustainability©


Sustainable:  A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.




MFS Note: The following introduces the text used in a presentation Dr. Bartlett has presented over 1,300 times across the country. In high demand, he would be happy to give his presentation again in Minnesota. See below for contact information. The complete presentation is available on the MFS Website here.


Arithmetic, Population, and Energy

Albert Bartlett

"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability
to understand the exponential function."

With these words, Prof. Bartlett starts his one-hour talk. First he gives a very elementary introduction to the arithmetic of steady growth, showing what steady growth of population means in Boulder, in Colorado, and in the world. Then the talk examines the situation where one has steady growth in a finite environment and the results of this are applied to fossil fuels, particularly to petroleum and coal.

Data from the U.S. Department of Energy are used to show that the realistic lifetimes of U.S. coal, U.S. petroleum and world petroleum are much shorter than the optimistic figures that are so often quoted. Next the talk then examines reassuring statements from experts, the press, scientists, political leaders, and others, that are wildly at odds with the facts. The talk then examines the widespread worship of economic growth and population growth throughout the western world. These facts give the listener a better understanding of the real meaning of "sustainability," which Prof. Bartlett gives as the First Law of Sustainability:

"You cannot sustain population growth and / or growth in the rates of consumption of resources."

This allows the listener to appreciate fully the implications of the growth path of western society and in particular, of the United States. The talk closes with a plea for the widespread education of people on the arithmetic and consequences of growth.

The Great Challenge

Can you think of any problem, in any area of human endeavor, on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way aided, assisted, or advanced by further increases in population, locally, nationally, or globally?

September 19, 1998 is the 29th anniversary of the first time Professor Bartlett delivered the talk. In these 29 years he has given the talk 1282 times in 48 states, Canada, and overseas, to audiences ranging from high school students to graduate students, to community groups, to scientific colloquia, to scientific and non-scientific local and national conventions, and to Congressional staff people in Washington. Well over a thousand videotapes of the lecture have been sold by the University of Colorado.

The talk is easily divided into two parts for groups where talks are limited to a half-hour.

Call the University of Colorado’s Information Technology Services at (303) 492-1857.

Professor Bartlett lectures regularly to a wide variety of audiences from coast to coast on the topic "Arithmetic, Population, and Energy." In 29.5 years he has given this lecture 1300 times. A one-hour videotape of this lecture is available from the Ms. Kathleen Albers Department of Information Technology Services University of Colorado at Boulder (80309 - 0379) or by phone at 303-492-1857.

Biographical Sketch

Professor Albert Allen Bartlett
Department of Physics, University of Colorado at Boulder, 80309-0390

Al Bartlett is a retired Professor of Physics who joined the faculty of the University of Colorado in Boulder in September 1950. His B.A. degree in physics is from Colgate University and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in physics are from Harvard University. In 1978 he was national president of the American Association of Physics Teachers. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1969 and 1970 he was the elected Chair of the four-campus Faculty Council of the University of Colorado.

In the late 1950s Al was an initiator of the citizens’ effort to preserve open space in Boulder, and this ultimately led to the establishment of the City of Boulder’s Open Space Program which (1998) has purchased over 26,000 acres of land to be preserved as public open space. He is a founding member of PLAN-Boulder County, an environmental group for the City and County.

Since the late 1960s he has concentrated on public education on the problems relating to and originating from population growth. In 29 years since 1969 he has given his lecture, "Arithmetic, Population, and Energy" to audiences of all levels from coast to coast. More recently he has written on sustainability, examining the widespread misuse of the term, and examining the conditions that are necessary and sufficient for sustainability in any society.

  The complete presentation is available on the MFS Website here.


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