Who was Albert Bartlett?

Albert Bartlett was Professor Emeritus at the University of Boulder, Colorado. He died last month at the age of ninety, but his spirit lives on.

The good professorís website is still being maintained, and is likely to be so for a very long time. Although like many time-serving academics he produced a considerable body of work, he will be remembered principally for one lecture. But he did deliver it over seventeen hundred times!

You will find this on his aforementioned website, but probably the best version can be found in eight parts on YouTube. The first part of this has clocked up nearly five million views in a little over six years.

This lecture includes probably his most famous quote: ďThe greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.Ē

If that hasnít yet found its way into one of the Oxford dictionaries then it will at some point. And if we continue to ignore it, it will be our epitaph as well as his. If you donít understand why, check out the full version of this lecture at 22 minutes and his mind-blowing analogy of the bacteria in the jar.

Professor Albert Bartlett delivering his classic lecture on arithmetic, energy and population, a lecture he would eventually give over 1,700 times.

As Professor Bartlett points out, this is not doom-mongering, it is simple arithmetic, not opinion, nor philosophy. This means it is something with which no reasonable person can argue, yet still the madmen in Washington and every other centre of power tell us that what we need is growth in our economies.

Currently, the Chinese economy is growing at over 7% a year, yet as Professor Bartlett points out, at 7% annual growth, an economy (or anything) will double in ten years. If its consumption of energy - in particular coal - keeps pace, then again as the Professor points out, in two decades, China will do what America did in the 1960s and 70s. Namely in the next ten years it will use more energy than it has in its entire previous history, and in the ten years after that it will do the same again. With India and other world economies exploding, for how long can this continue? Somehow we have to stop this madness and find a way to create prosperity without growth. Just as importantly we have to find a way to curb population growth, because if we donít, Mother Nature will do it for us.

Sir Isaac Newton came up with three laws of motion; Al Bartlett came up with no fewer than 21 laws of sustainability. As like his famous lecture they are based on arithmetic, Newton would surely have approved.

[The above article was published originally October 2, 2013.]

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