March 13, 2012
“You cannot sustain population growth. It’s not debatable,” says CU-Boulder Professor Emeritus Al Bartlett. “It’s based on arithmetic. It’s not debatable unless you want to debate arithmetic."
In a newly-released video, entitled “Population, Consumption, and Climate: A Conversation with Al Bartlett,” the physics professor reprises themes from a talk on the arithmetic of population he first gave in 1969. He has since delivered that well-known lecture more than 1,700 times to audiences worldwide.
Using an animation that shows bacteria doubling in number over a fixed period of time, Bartlett illustrates the arithmetic of steady growth and how quickly resources are depleted as growth continues.
“There will be limits,” states Bartlett. We are approaching one such limit globally in petroleum. “New technologies in drilling for natural gas doesn’t change our supplies,” he points out. “It doesn’t change the amount of oil or natural gas that’s in the ground. What it does is let us use it up more rapidly.”
Bartlett goes on to explain that despite the fact that population growth rates in developing countries may be 3-4 times higher, the worst problem with population is in the United States because of our very high per capita demand for energy and resources.
“The average child born in the United States will have, over its lifetime, 10-20 times the impact on world resources as a child born in an underdeveloped nation,” he says. “So we’ve got to address the problem at home” by learning to conserve and live within our means.
In addition to putting enormous strain on the earth’s natural resources, excessive consumption contributes to climate change because resource extraction, manufacturing and transportation produce a great deal of carbon dioxide. And, according to Bartlett, “if any fraction of global warming can be attributed to the actions of humans, that’s all the proof you need to say the human population today is greater than the carrying capacity of the earth.”
Part of CU-Boulder’s “Learn More About Climate” initiative, which brings climate change-related information to communities across the state, “Population, Consumption, and Climate: A Conversation with Al Bartlett” is the seventh in a series of videos that can be viewed at LearnMoreAboutClimate.colorado.edu — an online tool that localizes climate change through interviews with leading scientists and everyday Coloradans to explain how climate change is affecting our state. The site also offers resources for teachers, students, policy makers and community members who want to learn more about this critical issue.
Professor Emeritus Bartlett joined the faculty at CU-Boulder in 1950. He continues to deliver his acclaimed lecture “Arithmetic, Population and Energy: Sustainability 101” to audiences in towns across Colorado. To view “Population, Consumption, and Climate: A Conversation with Al Bartlett,” please visit LearnMoreAboutClimate.colorado.edu.
Click here for a list of links related to climate, energy, and consumption.