Albert Allen Bartlett

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Albert Allen Bartlett
Albert A. Bartlett Los Alamos ID.png
Bartlett with Los Alamos wartime security badge (c. 1944)
Albert Allen Bartlett

(1923-03-21)21 March 1923
Died7 September 2013(2013-09-07) (aged 90)
Alma materColgate University
Harvard University
Known forPopulation growth
SpouseEleanor Bartlett
AwardsAAPT Distinguished Service Citation (1970)
Thomas Jefferson Award (1972)
Robert L. Stearns Award (1974)
Robert A. Millikan Award (1981)
AAPT Melba Newell Phillips Award (1990)
M. King Hubbert Award for Excellence in Energy Education (2005)
Lifetime Achievement Pacesetter Award (2006)
Global Media Award for Excellence in Population Reporting (2008)
Scientific career
InstitutionsLos Alamos National Laboratory
University of Colorado Boulder

Albert Allen Bartlett (March 21, 1923 – September 7, 2013)[2] was an emeritus professor of physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, US. As of July  2001 Professor Bartlett had lectured over 1,742 times since September, 1969 on Arithmetic, Population, and Energy.[3][4] Bartlett regarded the word combination "sustainable growth" as an oxymoron, and argued that modest annual percentage population increases could lead to exponential growth. He therefore regarded human overpopulation as "The Greatest Challenge" facing humanity.


Bartlett received a B.A. in physics at Colgate University (1944), and an M.A. (1948) and Ph.D. (1951) in physics at Harvard University. Bartlett joined the faculty at the University of Colorado at Boulder in September 1950. In 1978 he was national president of the American Association of Physics Teachers. He was 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 at the university. He won the Robert A. Millikan award.[5]

Views on population growth[edit]

Graph showing human population growth.
Chart showing change in oil prices since the 19th century. The top curve is inflation-adjusted
World population from 1800 to 2100, based on UN 2004 projections[6] (red, orange, green) and US Census Bureau historical estimates[7] (black).

Bartlett viewed sustainable growth as a contradiction. His view was that modest percentage growth will equate to huge escalations over relatively short periods of time.[8]

Over time, Bartlett argued, compound growth can yield enormous increases. For example, an investor earning a constant annual 7% return on their investment would find his or her capital doubling within 10 years. He applied the same exponential power to human population, and argued this would have calamitous results. He argued that a population of 10,000 individuals, if it were to grow at a constant rate of 7% per annum, would reach a population size of 10 million after 100 years.[9]

Bartlett regarded what he viewed as the failure to understand exponential growth as "The Greatest Challenge" facing humanity, and promoted sustainable living; he was an early advocate on the topic of overpopulation. He opposed the cornucopian school of thought (as advocated by people such as Julian Lincoln Simon), and referred to it as "The New Flat Earth Society".[10]

J. B. Calvert (1999) has proposed that Bartlett's law[11] will result in the exhaustion of petrochemical resources caused by exponential growth of the world population (in line with the Malthusian Growth Model).

Bartlett made statements relating to sustainability:

"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function."

and his Great Challenge:

"Can you think of any problem in any area of human endeavor on any scale, from microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way aided, assisted, or advanced by further increases in population, locally, nationally, or globally?"


Bartlett died on September 7, 2013.[5]


  • The Essential Exponential For the Future of Our Planet a collection of essays by Professor Bartlett (2004). Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. ISBN 0-9758973-0-6 [12]

Influence and legacy[edit]

In August 2013, a month before Bartlett's death, the Environmental Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder offered training on giving his presentation; the team "came together because they believe so strongly in Dr. Bartlett's message and want to ensure it continues to be delivered well into the future".[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Albert A. Bartlett Collection - GLMS 103 Archived 2013-05-03 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved July 2011
  2. ^ "Al Bartlett, retired CU-Boulder professor, dies at age 90". Boulder Daily Camera. 9 September 2013. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  3. ^ Fred Elbel. "Arithmetic, Population and Energy — a talk by Al Bartlett, Retrieved July 2011". Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  4. ^ Albert A. Bartlett (1994). Arithmetic, Population, and Energy (The Forgotten Fundamentals of the Energy Crisis). Academic Media Services, University of Colorado. Archived from the original on 2011-04-18. Retrieved December 16, 2011.
  5. ^ a b "CU-Boulder campus mourns death of longtime, celebrated professor Al Bartlett". 9 Sep 2013. Archived from the original on 2014-03-23. Retrieved 2014-03-23.
  6. ^ "World Population to 2300" (PDF). United Nations. 2004.
  7. ^ U.S. Census Bureau. "International Programs – People and Households". Archived from the original on 2013-10-13. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  8. ^ "Arithmetic, Population & Energy, Part I, at youtube, Retrieved July 2011". 2007-06-16. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  9. ^ Clark, Susan (2005-01-25). "Professor talks at an exponential rate, Energy Bulletin article by Todd Neff. Retrieved July 2011". Archived from the original on 2009-07-17. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  10. ^ "Bartlett at, Retrieved July 2011". Archived from the original on 2013-07-23. Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  11. ^ "Bartlett". Archived from the original on 2007-06-26.
  12. ^ Fred Elbel (2001-07-01). "More information and how to order, Retrieved July 2011". Retrieved 2013-11-22.
  13. ^ "CU-Boulder plots to extend life of al Bartlett's famous lecture". 3 August 2013.


External links[edit]