Frosty Wooldridge


More About: Environment

Part 1: Human overpopulation continues as the most avoided issue in America

For over thirty years, I attended lectures at the University of Colorado where Physics professor Dr. Albert Bartlett lectured and promoted discussion on human overpopulation.  His extraordinary lecture on “Arithmetic, Population and Energy”  can be seen at
He presented it over 1,600 times around the world.   While the world ignored his and many other top scientists in the world, including Dr. Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, in 2010, the population noose tightens around this civilization’s neck.  Other top experts join the chorus such as Richard Heinberg, Dr. William Catton, Jared Diamond, William Ryerson, Dave Paxson, Aldolpho Doring, Dr. Diana Hull and Amanda Zackem.
With all the environmental degradation swirling around the USA and the planet, wouldn’t you think our leaders and common citizens would connect the dots?  Unfortunately, no one wants to connect the dots, and in fact, they avoid connecting anything to human overpopulation—at any cost.  That emotional-religious-cultural phenomenon cannot continue much longer as consequences build beyond ignoring and/or solution.
“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 of population, locally, nationally, or globally.”  Dr. Albert Bartlett
In this 12 part series, you will appreciate America’s accelerating population, energy, water and resource predicament as few others in this country.  The goal: educate enough Americans to force the population issue onto the front page of the media.  As you know, America expects an added 100 million people within 25 years.  That number cannot be sustained in our country where water shortages already manifest in six states. It cannot be sustained as to food production.  That 100 million cannot begin to allow quality of  life for all citizens of America.  Thankfully, we can change course and move toward a sustainable future for all living creatures on this finite planet.
Dr. Bartlett attempts to educate Americans with his simple mathematical equation:
“The related terms, "sustainable" and "sustainability" have become popular and are used to describe a wide variety of activities which are generally ecologically laudable,” said Bartlett. “At the same time, the term "compromise" is heard more frequently because the needs of the environment often are in conflict with the needs of humans. A brief examination of the question of compromise shows that a series of ten compromises, each of which saves 70% of the remaining environment, results in the saving of only 3% of the environment.
"Judging from the ways in which the terms "sustainable" and "sustainability" are used, their definitions are not very precise, especially when compromises are involved. An attempt is made here to give firm definition to these terms and to translate the definition into a series of laws and hypotheses which, it is hoped, will clarify the implications of their use. These are followed by a series of observations and predictions that relate to "sustainability."
“In the 1980s it became apparent to thoughtful individuals that populations, poverty, environmental degradation, and resource shortages were increasing at a rate that could not long be continued,” said Bartlett. “Perhaps most prominent among the publications that identified these problems in hard quantitative terms and then provided extrapolations into the future as well as recommendations for corrective actions, was the book Limits to Growth (Meadows,, 1972) which simultaneously evoked admiration and consternation. The consternation came from traditional "Growth is Good" groups all over the world.
“Their rush to rebuttal was immediate and urgent, prompted perhaps by the thought that the message of Limits was too terrible to be true. (Cole,, 1973) As the message of Limits faded, the concept of limits became an increasing reality with which people had to deal. Perhaps, as an attempt to offset or deflect the message of Limits, the word "sustainable" began to appear as an adjective that modified common terms.
"It was drawn from the concept of "sustained yield" which had been used to describe agriculture and forestry when these enterprises were conducted in such a way that they could be continued indefinitely, i.e., they could be sustained. The use of the term "sustainable" provided comfort and reassurance to those who may momentarily have wondered if possibly there were limits. So the word was soon applied in many areas, and with less precise meaning, so that for example, "development" became "sustainable development," etc. One would see political leaders using the term "sustainable" to describe their goals as they worked hard to create more jobs, to increase population, and to increase rates of consumption of energy and resources. These terms seem to have been redefined flexibly to suit a variety of objectives and conveniences. 

“A sincere concern for the future is certainly the factor that motivates many who make frequent use of the word, "sustainable." But there are cases where one suspects that the word is used carelessly, perhaps as though the belief existed that the use of the adjective "sustainable" is all that is needed to create a sustainable society. 

"Sustainability" has become big-time. University centers and professional organizations have sprung up using the word "Sustainable" as a prominent part of their names. In some cases, these may be illustrative of what might be called the "Willie Sutton school of research management." (Sutton) For example, a governor recently appointed a state advisory committee on global warming. The charge to the committee was not to see what the state could do to reduce its contribution to global warming, but rather the committee was to work to attract to the state, companies and research grants dealing with the topic of global warming. 

“For many years, studies had been conducted on ways of improving the efficiency with which energy is used in our society. These studies have been given new luster by referring to them now as studies in the "sustainable use of energy." 

In the extreme case, one reads about "sustainable growth." 
"...the discussions have centered around the factors that will determine [a] level of sustainable growth of agricultural production." (Abelson, 1990) 
“If we accept the idea that "sustainable" means for long indefinite periods of time, then we can see that "sustainable growth" implies "increasing endlessly," which means that the growing quantity will tend to become infinite in size. The finite size of resources, ecosystems, the environment, and the Earth lead one to recognize that the term "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron. Yet the term is used by our leaders. In a recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency we read that:
“President Clinton and Vice President Gore wrote in Putting People First, "We will renew America's commitment to leave our children a better nation - - a nation whose air, water, and land are unspoiled, whose natural beauty is undimmed, and whose leadership for sustainable global growth is unsurpassed." (EPA, 1993) 
“And so we have a spectrum of uses of the term "sustainable." At one end of the spectrum, the term is used with precision by people who are introducing new concepts as a consequence of thinking profoundly about the long-term future of the human race. In the middle of the spectrum, the term is simply added as a modifier to the names and titles of very beneficial studies in efficiency, etc. that have been in progress for years. Near the other end of the spectrum, the term is used as a placebo. In some cases the term may be used mindlessly (or possibly with the intent to deceive) in order to try to shed a favorable light on continuing activities that may or may not be capable of continuing for long periods of time. At the very far end of the spectrum, we see the term used in a way that is internally contradictory.

“This wide spectrum of meanings is a source of confusion because people can ask, "Just exactly what is meant when the word 'sustainable' is used?" Is the use of the word "sustainable" sufficient to identify the user as one who is widely literate, numerate, and ecolate, in matters relating to the long-range problems of the human race? 

“Let us examine the use of the term "sustainable" in one of the major global reports to see if we can gain a better idea of the intended meaning of the word.”
Contact Dr. Bartlett at , Boulder, Colorado.
For additional information: contact Marilyn Hempel at
Additionally: William Ryerson at
Niki Calloway at ;
Gretchen Pfaff at;
Roy Beck at .

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