Home Albert Bartlett on Growth

Albert Bartlett on Growth

user profile picture Chris Martenson Dec 19, 2008
0 144
placeholder image

Albert Barlett is a man I hold in very high esteem.

First, for his ability to speak in clear, concise language, which is the hallmark of someone who has mastered their material.

Second, because he sees the obvious and dares to point it out.  Let me reframe that:  He sees things that are incredibly obvious to others once he points them out.  But because these things are most often "hidden in plain view," they are actually noticed by very few.

His work on growth and population deserves the widest attention possible.

Recently, I had a nice email exchange with Dr. Bartlett, and he closed with this:

Dear Chris,

Thanks so much for your very kind letter. I am happy to send you some reprints, which are attachments.

I don’t have time right now to write something for publication. I can hardly keep up with the daily work of reading and answering e-mails.

I will sent two or three messages with attachments.

Please feel free to post these if you wish.

With thanks and best wishes, I am,

Sincerely yours,


With that permission, here’s one of the articles he sent.  It’s fantastic.  It really puts the lance to one of the most unquestioned assumptions of our day – that being "growth is good."  

Growth is neither good nor bad – it merely delivers more of what we already have, but in larger quantities, with higher risks, costs, and complexity. Given this, shouldn’t it at least be questioned and challenged?

I’d love to center some of our discussions around this topic.



January 29, 2008


By Albert A. Bartlett
Printed in the Boulder Daily Camera, February 3, 2008.

It’s time to try again to correct the educationally credentialed but innumerate experts (innumeracy is the mathematical equivalent of illiteracy) who say that growth is inevitable. They fail to recognize that after maturity, continued growth is either obesity or cancer.

The arithmetic is clear. Steady growth produces impossibly large numbers in modest periods of time. SO GROWTH WILL STOP. Referring to Boulder, we have read the innumerate statement “So our choice is not whether we grow, but how we grow.” The authors of this statement would like us to believe that the battle against growth is lost, so our only role is to be the best possible losers. They write that we should give up the efforts to achieve a quiet stability for our community, and in defeat, we should “embrace the principles of Smart Growth.” We can understand this. That’s the game in which they are the big winners.

We must remember that “Smart Growth” and “Dumb Growth” both destroy the environment, but “Smart Growth” destroys the environment with good taste. Frosty Woolridge quotes a writer who points out the stark truth, “Growth is not the answer; it’s the problem.”

The central belief of the growth promotion community seems to be that there is an “…absolute need to create greater population density and more efficient land use within the City” by focusing on “on infill development within existing urban boundaries…”(Camera, Jan.20, 2008) When the promoters tried this tactic on the Washington School neighborhood all of Boulder fought back, saying that we’re not going to become losers in the City’s effort to cram more people into Boulder. The whole City is watching to see if the City Council will continue policies that reflect innumeracy and unsustainability.

The innumerate theme of the promoters is “The Front Range is going to grow whether we like it or not.” If this is true, it is because so many Front Range leaders are active and successful in promoting growth. The Legislature and all manner of public and private regional and local “civic groups” are promoting “economic development” which is the “politically correct” name for “growth.” Predictably, this will produce more well-to-do people, more homeless people, more employed people, more unemployed people, higher average salaries, more people living below the poverty line, more traffic congestion, higher parking fees, more school crowding, more crime, more unhappy neighborhoods, more expensive government, more tax revenue, higher taxes, more fiscal problems for state and local governments, more tax limitation measures, more air and water pollution, higher utility costs, less reliable utility service, less democracy, more congestion pricing on busy city streets and crowded highways, more unmanageable costs of maintaining public infrastructures, higher food costs and more destruction of the environment.

It’s not clear why the Legislature would think that the people would want all of these known consequences of growth. However, innumeracy reigns. The promoters have demonstrated great skill in getting around minor obstacles such as “the will of the people.”

In the meantime the innumerates act as though gasoline, natural gas and water will always be with us at low cost and in unlimited quantities. Crude oil prices have increased from about $20 a barrel in 2002 to $100 a barrel in 2008. This strongly suggests that the world production of conventional oil has peaked and is starting its inevitable decline, just as was predicted back in 1956. If this rate of increase continues we would look for oil to cost $500 a barrel in another six years. (2014). Natural gas production in North America has peaked, and this accounts for the rapid rise in the price of natural gas which is already creating hardships for some who like to have a warm home or a comfortable workplace in winter. Water shortages and talk of restrictions on water use are frequently in the news.

By their continued promotion of growth, the innumerates are speeding the arrival of painful but predictable shortages and consequent rationing of gasoline, natural gas and water in the Rocky Mountain area. These shortages and the accompanying high prices will remake the urban landscape in ways that are probably not included in current “long-range” planning efforts of the City, County and State.

These problems can’t be solved by a nickel’s worth of “Smart Growth” tacked onto to billions of dollars worth of urban sprawl.

The arithmetic of population, resources and growth is inexorable. The consequences of the arithmetic can’t be avoided by believing that “Wishing will make it so.” (Walt Disney’s First Law) Many years ago an innumerate graduate of the University of Colorado wrote to me, saying that he did not believe that this arithmetic holds in Boulder? What part of the arithmetic of growth is it that the innumerates don’t understand?

0 0 votes
Content Rating
Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Collapse all threads


Nothing yet

Most active members

2878 posts read
1565 posts read
1013 posts read
906 posts read
865 posts read


Learn more

Learn more
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x