Biographical Sketch

Professor Albert Allen Bartlett

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 (1944) and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in physics are from Harvard University (1948), (1951). 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 served two terms as 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. Since 1969 he has given his lecture, "Arithmetic, Population, and Energy" over 1300 times 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.


Professor Bartlett lectures regularly to a wide variety of audiences from coast to coast on the topic "Arithmetic, Population, and Energy."

"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 explains in terms of 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.

September 19, 1999 is the 30th anniversary of the first time Professor Bartlett delivered the talk. In the 30 years since then he has given the talk 1325 times in 48 states, Canada, and overseas, to audiences including high school students, graduate students, community groups, scientific colloquia, scientific and non-scientific local and national conventions, and to Congressional staff people in Washington. Well over a thousand video tapes 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.

** 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); (303) 492 - 1857 Kathleen.Albers@Colorado.EDU


2935 19th Street, Boulder, Colorado, 80304-2719 Phone, (303) 443-0595: FAX (303) 492-3352 E-Mail:

Albert A. Bartlett; Professor Emeritus of Physics University of Colorado, Boulder, 80309-0390; (303) 492 7016 Department Office: (303) 492 6952: FAX (303) 492 3352

Home; 2935 19th Street, Boulder, CO, 80304-2719: (303) 443 0595

E-Mail: Albert.Bartlett@Colorado.EDU