Dr. Bartlett examines the arithmetic of steady growth, continued over modest periods of time, in a finite environment and applies these concepts to populations and to fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal:
It’s a great pleasure to be here, and to have a chance just to share with you some very simple ideas about the problems we’re facing. Some of these problems are local, some are national, some are global.
They’re all tied together. They’re tied together by arithmetic, and the arithmetic isn’t very difficult. What I hope to do is, I hope to be able to convince you that the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.
What’s the first law of sustainability? You’ve heard thousands of people talking endlessly about sustainability; did they ever tell you the first law? Here it is: population growth and/or growth in the rates of consumption of resources cannot be sustained.
Now, you are important people because you can think. If there’s anything that is in short supply in the world today, it’s people who are willing to think. So here’s a challenge. Can you think of any problem, on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long term solution is in any demonstratable way, aided, assisted, or advanced by having larger populations in our local levels, state levels, national level, or global level? Can you think of anything that can get better if we crowd more people into our cities, our towns, into our state, our nation, or on this earth?
So I hope I’ve made a reasonable case for my opening statement, that I think the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand this very simple arithmetic.
Take the time, it is a brilliant lecture that is quite eye-opening. Especially when you look at what arguments politicians throw at us sometimes when talking about growth.