Reflections on Sustainability, Population Growth, and the Environment

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Reflections on Sustainability, Population Growth, and the Environment

A Note from NPG

With the death in early September 2013 of Professor Al Bartlett at age 90, NPG – along with all others fighting for population limits that ensure a sustainable environment and lasting resource base for the future – lost an irreplaceable friend and ally.

During nearly forty years as Professor of Physics at the University of Colorado, and afterward in his retirement, Dr. Bartlett worked to educate both the young and their complacent elders about the dangerous illusion of unending growth. But his particular target over the years – in abundant articles in scholarly and nonprofit publications, and in the literally thousands of lectures and media appearances in the U.S. and abroad – was America’s innumeracy, the prevailing and often willful ignorance about the dire implications of exponential growth of population and consumption.

Articles written by Dr. Bartlett for NPG over the last three decades dealt with such themes as the correct meaning of “sustainability,” and with immigration’s stimulation of U.S. population growth. Originally written in 1994, this version of Professor Bartlett’s masterful work Reflections on Sustainability, Population Growth, and the Environment was revised in 1998. As noted by Dr. Bartlett in his 1998 revision:

The main message of the paper is contained in the first two Laws of Sustainability, which point out that in any society, population growth cannot be sustained, and that the larger the population, the more difficult it will be for the society to achieve sustainability.

The Brundtland Report (Brundtland 1987) is… [nearly two decades] old. The definition of sustainability given in that report remains the definition that is frequently cited by persons writing and speaking of sustainability.

Many parts of the original paper have been revised and updated, but the Laws, Hypotheses, Observations and Predictions relating to sustainability have had only minor revisions and additions.

For NPG’s purposes, we have republished only Sections 1, 2, and 6 of the original paper. The full work, complete in detail and subject matter, is available on Dr. Bartlett’s website ( NPG extends our heartfelt thanks to the family of Dr. Bartlett for their generous permission to reprint his fine work.

Read the entire paper here.

Albert Bartlett

Albert A. Bartlett (1923-2013) was Professor Emeritus in Nuclear Physics at University of Colorado at Boulder.Dr. Bartlett received a BA degree from Colgate University and MA and PhD degrees in Nuclear Physics from Harvard University in 1948 and 1951, respectively. He was a faculty member at the University of Colorado since 1950. He was President of the American Association of Physics Teachers in 1978. In 1981 he received the Association's Robert A. Millikan Award for his outstanding scholarly contributions to physics education.
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