Arithmetic, Population and Energy (Lecture)

Arithmetic, Population and Energy (Lecture)

2005, Science  -   73 Comments
Ratings: 8.59/10 from 360 users.

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.

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2 years ago

Everything in moderation - especially humans !

4 years ago

Tashi & Dustup:
The Prof. never suggested any method for applying his numbers & conclusions to solutions. Obviously, the correct, [his], calculations as revealed were never 'applied', and in this regard Dustups comment is inapplicable. The information was a left to those who might effect change. His calculations and their implications of the inevitable social consequences if ignored, were offered up to anyone who wishes to verify, and if needed correct them.

THAT WAS ALL HE DESCRIBED, while juxtaposing HIS calculations and studies with past examples of political legerdemain, bad math, and their erroneous conclusions.

4 years ago

While it's true that endless growth in a finite environment is impossible, we need to be street-smart about what's going on here... we have a tiny elite that has rigged the economy and financial system so that they capture an extraordinary share of earth's bounty. They've also suppressed many technologies that provide energy (Richard Blackmore, head of fuel economy research at Shell for many years, noted in an interview that his team crossed the 1000 mpg barrier in the 1970s), health (easily achieved with a proper diet and drug-free modalities of great variety and minimal expense - it's ludicrous to devote close to 20% of your economy on healthcare), fibers (industrial hemp and other fiber plants that grow like weeds could supplant input-dependent and land-destroying cotton), food (alternatives to the toxic, energy-hungry industrial food system abound but can't compete with its subsidies and other contrived advantages) and other necessities in a more equitable, environmentally friendly manner.

They are fantastically outnumbered by the masses, and nervous about our collective power to overthrow their rule, and also resentful of the resources we consume. Rather than adopt systems that would support a large population without trashing the planet, and with an appropriate rather than maximal level of automation; they would prefer to automate almost everything and dramatically reduce the masses. Even with a much smaller population, there would be many more job seekers than positions, and workers would likely be meek, obedient, and grateful for any lousy job they could find. Also, most of the population would be herded into cities where they could be easily surveilled and controlled .

The countryside would mostly be for the enjoyment of the elite (see Agenda 21 or Agenda 2030). To achieve these ends, the masses are made to feel guilty about procreating, to feel like they're using too many resources (and they probably are, but mostly because beneficial technologies are suppressed), and that they need to follow a "green" agenda controlled by the elite. Moreover, the elite are destroying the fertility of the masses with endocrine-disrupting chemicals, sterilizing GMO corn, and sterilizing vaccines. Our rulers are also not above using weather control technology to create artificial disasters to get people off the lands they covet. Note how the CA "wildfires" so neatly supported the plans drawn for Agenda 21.

So, a legitimate issue has been twisted and perverted to satisfy a hidden agenda.

4 years ago

While the equation is rather interesting, I find it application rather too simplified and quite misleading. I can recommend the statistical projections of Hans Rosling for world population which gives a rather broader perspective

6 years ago

Just because a math equation may be correct doesn't mean it was correctly applied. One would think people would be multiplying and falling off into space by now, since 1969.

All those who seriously believe population is a serious problem in the usa should be good stewards of the land and resources. Please demonstrate your seriousness to this issue and lead the way in reducing the population by tossing yourself into the soylent green pit fast before its too late.

Gary McSpadden
7 years ago

Overpopulation is always self correcting. It's not something we get to choose. It's just our turn. It is also something we will not control. Bad news for anyone who lives on the earth.

Tobias MacRobie
8 years ago

The math assumes no carrying capacity. It also assumes normal distribution. Sorry, too many variables for this. The basic math is just a convincing tool, but don't take it all to heart. Yes, we need people to be aware of the problem of continuous growth. So, for marketing, this video has an okay projection model that most people should be able to understand, or at least get a grasp of the concepts. On the other hand, this dude is HIGHLY mistaken to address individual or national consumption rates as a solution. You can't go saying "If the USA reduced individual consumption, that the problem is fixed". That's equally stupid as continuous growth, because reduced consumption only increases the carrying capacity for population while deteriorating quality of life. The author was right to bring the right side of that chart to bear (from the beginning of the video), my consumption or anyone else's be damned. If there ain't enough for people, they shoulda stopped breeding a long time ago. Breeding is the problem. Don't let societal traditions of "appreciating youth for their potential" delude you. An untrained undeveloped child likely has less value than an educated and practiced adult. Most people (likely to include myself and many of you who are reading this) likely won't accomplish much in life, but don't throw it away on some nonsense notion that giving some kid a chance to do better with their life is actually going to work. No, they're going to grow up, make mistakes, suffer heartbreak, get a job, go to school, basically do all the same we do, and not be any greater a person for it. Neat, huh? Stop breeding.. Don't let your endocrine system trick you into one moment of weakness. Be more than your pathetic biology, resit that impulse to reproduce. That alone will save this planet as a habitat for humanity. Anything short of relinquishing our appreciation for babies is the harbinger of doom. Your baby ain't special, precious, or wanted. The resources consumed by that kid, and every kid that kid has, will be massively greater than any "excessive" amount that I will consume in my lifetime, without kids. Consider: sustainability is a legacy, it must account for generations, not individuals. One lifetime of consumption with zero offspring is negligible compared to the expanding offspring into any projected future of a growing family. Anyway, there's the soapbox. Your turn.

mike jarvis
8 years ago

who really understands the concept of growth whether it is 123456 or 7%...¿ everyone races headlong into growth. The analogy of bacterial growth in a flask is the highlight of the video.if the mass populations can only convert this into long can you suck world resources before the tit is dry..

8 years ago

Excellent video, I was not taught this in school.

8 years ago

There are 2 basic issues: life and capital interest. Both expressed in percentage per year.
Any living organism (from bacteria, insects, animals to humans), if necesary resources are available and no external factors are present, will grow exponentially until it ocupies all the space available / consume all the resources available. Only humans are able to foresee this.
But the problem is: any system (biological or otherwise) will either grow or shrink. There is no zero growth (stagnation) over longer periods of time. And i cannot say i know of a system with linear (or other type ..less than exponential) growth.
So it;s either grow or die - in the long term.
Maybe this is "the great filter" from the Fermi paradox.

Irish Sweetness
9 years ago

Hmmm. HIs exp function has the population of Boulder at about 98K in 2000? Doubling every ten years? The population of Boulder is now about 106K. Flaw in his theory regarding population there.

9 years ago

This inclusion in your documentary list is appreciated. In 2014 it is pleasing to discover ten years after first seeing it, I have a good url to post instead of a youtube playlist.

9 years ago

I love how he explained all of this in the most simple way possible and there are still so many who are ignorant to the implications. Birth control and education will only look like a little bump in the bell curve of human population. The forces of nature will always be stronger then the forces of man. Most people think that the purpose of life is to reproduce/multiply/grow. in reality it doesn't matter what the purpose of life is.I personally don't believe there is one. If there is then all signs are pointing towards destruction and consumption (which is just how it is not "good" or "bad"). The essence of this video is either go back to being indigenous or ride this planet until we kill it and everyone on it. Those who ignore the importance of death ultimately hasten the end.

9 years ago

The data on the oil left might be off, but this is still worth watching.

Thanks for posting it.

11 years ago

This vid is cool. And the dude is right. Shhh... keep quiet and rest.

11 years ago

There are always forces that reign in exponential growth when resources are limited. Question is will we retain our dignity on the way down?

11 years ago

It is a well documented fact that giving women education and birth control slashes the birth rate. We will have lots of elderly for a time, but basically problem solved by spending less than a trillion dollars to educate and give health care to EVERYONE in the world.

11 years ago

Oh! No one say a word of all this to Lulu, Huh?
-Who'z still climbing the phone pole to reach her phone! Being an Hillbilly, she'll sure claim not being concerned:-) Corn is the solution!

That docu was a real pleasure to view.
The old man had all his tool at hand and he sure knows how to use it. Calculus included!
Very well documented.
Up to a point where as one lay back, put the whole in perpective, it becomes disturbing, worrying.

The maths in there are no barrier to understand what that teacher expose. Not at all.
The teacher doesn't even ask the students to calculate any of his equations.
One of the best that can be found on TDF, I think.
After the history of religions if it's still there.

Just as a closing comment: - Good! In those days, I'm will not be here anymore, so good luck!


Sven Croon
11 years ago

Hard to believe that this message is being ignored on so many levels...
Allow me to try and make a case for the non-believers, or at least try to understand why...

About the energy theme :
The rich and mighty are not so stupid that they don't understand this problem. And who has more to lose than they do ?
The problem is, it takes time to capitalize on a flourishing business in decline, and shift one's money (investments) into something which is sustainable in the long run (although that doesn't even matter, it might also be mid-long term). AND it's not so easy to make sure that this new business or technology will cough up the same profit as the old one (lol, a profit with a steady growth rate !)
The more profitable sustainable energy becomes, the more mainstream it will become because entrepeneurs will become interrested.
The percentage of businesses providing renewable or sustainable energy resources in the global energy market, will likely grow exponentially until it reaches nearly 100%, and mainstream consumption of fossil fuels will be a thing of the past.

As for the overpopulation :
I couldn't agree more.
But there's one side note I want to add: the earth will not be the boundary of our habitat much longer. I'm sure that Mars will know some form of human colonisation before this century is over. Who's to say where humans will walk by the time we reach 2200 ?
I'm not saying this will compensate for the disastrous effects of exponential growth, that surely cannot continue on a global/universal scale, but our inquisitive/explorative nature will surely allow for some population growth for centuries to come.
As long as we don't find means to extend our lives greatly, or find ways to achieve quasi-immortality through genetic breakthroughs.

I'm just saying: the situation looks dire, but we are on a crossroads here, at the start of a new technological fast-track that might change the look and feel of our societies in a more fundamental way than we could ever imagine.
Look at Einstein's relativity theory, quantum physics, elektro-magnetism, etc... those theories date from roughly a century ago. And look at how they changed the face of our societies over these past 100 years.
Then look at what we have just found out, or in what fields scientists are on the brink of major breakthroughs (this site is a great way to do just that !).
I for one would LOVE to take a peak at our world a hundred years from now. But I'm sure that if I were dropped in it now, it would feel as strange and alien to me as a visit to the opera :-)

That said, I do believe that the danger is very real. The math is very simpel, and very beautiful. It is this beauty that may blind us.
"We've been growing steadily for 59 minutes, and the jar is only half full. And you're telling me that in the next minute or so, we're gonna run out of space ???"

11 years ago

Easter Island all over again but on a globle scale.

11 years ago

mayday mayday mayday. Know where to land?

Jo McKay
11 years ago

Loved this when I first watched - wonder if facts are any more palatable now that a few more years have gone by. (surprising how human this ability to seemingly ignore 'the math' - the professor demonstrates that perhaps an even bigger problem is those who do not 'understand the math'). Clearly the Industries who prefer to keep a population confused or debating have contributed to abuse of the numbers games played out on dumbed down entertainment style, so called, News (tv & print).

11 years ago

As the world becomes more corporatized and coroprations continue to force growth on the world as a minimum requirement for existance, it is clear by this mathematics model, a more bleak future will reach us sooner than later. Fortunatly we are cleaver little primates who are working on extending the downward spiral of available conventional energy sources. There is always the possibility we will land on a soft pillow. However, we are still trapped on this planet..unable to access the energy reserves of the Universe. We may yet fail as a species for the same reason stated in this lecture.

11 years ago

I watched this on YouTube and the whole exponential growth of all aspects of human activity has had me wringing my hands with anticipation, both dreaded and welcomed. The major problem is not the capacity of the land, but the greed of those in power. If the land/energy/technology were distributed evenly then there wouldn't be much difficulty. But that is a big "IF". Many people have been killed over far less.

11 years ago

Amazing that even some even debate the simple math here. Oh wait, that was kinda the point of it. "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function."

The beauty of Al Bartlett's talk is that everything is in front of one's face to see and find for themselves. Yet many ignore that fact over their predetermined ignorant beliefs.

11 years ago

426...HEMI. yeah.

11 years ago

Cool, I have seen many people request this video be placed on this site, myself being one of them. Very informative video about how exponential growth is never sustainable. This has been proven over and over again, no matter what you are talking about if it grows exponentially it will eventually break down, change fundamentally, no longer possess the same internal properties. It is true for the nucleus of an atom, any organic system, economies, population stability, etc., etc. To be honest I think other factors will intervene as far as population growth goes, but the concept of exponential growth is still very important to understand.

11 years ago

@Cliff Thomas: I think the worlds population could sustain a negative growth factor for a few years. :P

I think the right hand column provides us with all the solutions we need to control the population. IE contraception/abortion, abstinence, small and later families. As long as the population and resources continue as they are, War and communicable disease will always be controlling factors.

As for energy and oil, I believe the world as a whole should be looking at alternatives quite seriously and putting the gears in motion NOW while we still have the resources to do so.

Marek Zelechowski
11 years ago


11 years ago

Thanks for posting this Vlatko.

I`ve seen it a few times and everyone should take this in. Whilst maths might not be your "thing" the concepts are very simple and very powerful. Don't miss this people! Whilst on initial impression it might be seen as a dry old man lecturing a class; it is truly a life changing talk which might change the way you think.

The sad thing is since 1969 he has been ignored.

11 years ago

• "All environmental problems are ultimately population problems. Less people mean less pollution and more people mean more pollution. We cannot advance anti-pollution technology and other measures fast enough to keep up with current population trends, especially when most of the increase is in places where there is little or no pollution control. "
Laird Wilcox

11 years ago

Been sayin' it for years.

11 years ago

Very disturbing and well laid out for the veiwer. I can find no fault with what he said. Although I had a sense of the impact of exponatial growth. I was still shocked when you follow the numbers to their conclusion. I'm proud to say my family is a zero growth family. Just one to replace each of us. And i hope my grandchildren are onlychilds. But doesent it sound wrong for some reason to say that? I think people with have to change their thinking whether they want to or not

11 years ago

Entertaining old man... THe ZeitGeisters need to watch this and add it to their lectures.

Philip Rodrigues Singer
11 years ago

This talk is brilliant!