Friday, May 30, 2008

Dr. Albert Bartlett: Arithmetic, Population and Energy

Bill Moyers interviewed Isaac Asimov. He asked Asimov, “What happens to the idea of the dignity of the human species if this population growth continues?” and Asimov says, “It’ll be completely destroyed. I like to use what I call my bathroom metaphor. If two people live in an apartment, and there are two bathrooms, then they both have freedom of the bathroom. You can go to the bathroom anytime you want, stay as long as you want, for whatever you need. And everyone believes in freedom of the bathroom. It should be right there in the constitution. But if you have twenty people in the apartment and two bathrooms, then no matter how much every person believes in freedom of the bathroom, there’s no such thing. You have to set up times for each person, you have to bang on the door, ‘Aren't you through yet?’ and so on.” And Asimov concluded with one of the most profound observations I've seen in years. He said, “In the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive overpopulation. Convenience and decency cannot survive overpopulation. As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn’t matter if someone dies, the more people there are, the less one individual matters.”


Pete Murphy said...

I am the author of a book titled "Five Short Blasts: A New Economic Theory Exposes The Fatal Flaw in Globalization and Its Consequences for America." I think you may find this book to be very interesting because population density lies at the heart of this new economic theory. To make a long story short, as population density rises beyond some optimum level, per capita consumption of products begins to decline out of the need to conserve space. People who live in crowded conditions simply don’t have enough space to use and store many products. This declining per capita consumption, in the face of rising productivity (per capita output, which always rises), inevitably yields rising unemployment and poverty.

For most people who see never-ending population growth as a problem, their concerns are rooted in a concern for the environment. Economists, on the other hand, shrug off such concerns, claiming that man is ingenious enough to overcome any obstacles to population growth. Resources can be used more efficiently and recycled, pollution can be abated, and so on. Making matters worse, they can’t envision how an economy can remain healthy without further population growth. So our government and business leaders hold fast to their “pro growth” approach.

This book, however, finally offers the “ultimate weapon” for environmentalists and anyone concerned about population growth - a solid economic argument for a reduced population. It explains how everyone’s wallet is directly impacted by growth which has become cancerous, driving up unemployment and eroding their finances and quality of life. It’s written in plain language, not economic gibberish, and is aimed at average Americans.

If you’re interested in learning more about this important new theory, you can visit my web site at There you can read the preface, join in the blog discussion and, of course, purchase the book if you like. It's also available at

Please forgive the somewhat “spammish” nature of the previous paragraph. I just don't know how else to inject this new perspective into the debate about overpopulation without drawing attention to the book that explains the theory.

Keep up your efforts to raise concern about our growing population problem!

Pete Murphy
Author, Five Short Blasts

Dave Gardner said...

Steve. How wonderful to find someone just up the street attempting to further this dialogue! Let's have a cup of coffee sometime.

Al Bartlett appears in the documentary I'm producing. He's a brilliant man who has a great way of pointing out to us what should be obvious. should be required reading.

Dave Gardner
Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity

Steve Bremner said...

Dave and Pete, Thanks for your excellent comments. I am just now watching Leonardo Dicaprio's "The 11th Hour", which you can now purchase from Amazon for $4.95. I recommend it.


I have been a longtime admirer of your efforts on behalf of limiting growth in Colorado Springs and through your web site . I would love to "have coffee" with you. Not at Starbucks though. The Spice of Life in Manitou Springs is a regular locale for me.