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Dr. Albert Bartlett (1923-2013)


Copy of a guest editorical sent to my local community newspaper today (Sept 22, 2013):

Al Bartlet, University of Colorado


This past month a person of some importance passed away but my bet is that many, if not all, people reading this will have never heard of him. His name was Albert Bartlett. He was a Professor Emeritus in nuclear physics at the University of Colorado.

Why do I say of some importance? Well, he holds a ‘record,’ of sorts, for giving his presentation–entitled Arithmetic, Population, and Energy: Sustainability 101–1742 times across the globe. But what I find more impressive are the almost five million hits one of his lectures has received on youtube.

We agree upon little in this world. Did the Syrian government or the ‘rebels’ use chemical weapons? Are central bank monetary policies good for the economy or will they lead to high inflation, possibly hyperinflation? Have we passed Peak Oil or is there nothing to worry about with respect to fossil fuel depletion? Climate change is occurring but is it anthropogenic (mad-made) or a natural fluctuation or both?

However, we can agree that two times two is four and this is the basis Dr. Bartlett uses so convincingly to show, as he puts it, that “the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.”

Why is this important? The exponential function deals with steady growth, something we have been conditioned to desire, especially for the economy.

Dr. Bartlett simplifies the concept by looking at doubling time (the time it takes for something to grow by 100%) and then shows how quickly ANY steady growth can overwhelm a system.

What is the relevance of this for the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville?  I raise this startling reality as the Town has been the fastest growing community in the country the past few years, growing 54.3% over the five years of 2006-2011, just over a 9% increase per year.

This rate of increase requires just over 7 and 3/4 years to double, 15 and 1/2 years to quadruple, and in one person’s average lifetime of 80 years at this rate, Stouffville will have doubled its population over ten times, from the 2006 number of 24,390 to over 12 million.

Obviously this will not happen in the next 80 years since it would be next to impossible for the Town to host so many, unless we build straight up. However, if we wish to see what the ‘Country Close to the City’ will look like in just a few years, travel into Toronto and you’ll see.

It’s not what I had in mind when I moved into the area almost twenty years ago but I guess I can thank our town’s council, region, and province for the result.

And, if you wish to understand this concept of exponential growth better, watch Dr. Bartlett’s presentation on his website http://www.albartlett.org. It’s worth the time to help better understand some of the predicaments humans will face in the coming years.

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