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Arithmetic, Population, and Energy by Dr. Albert A. Bartlett - Packbat's Journal
Tuesday, Apr. 6th, 2010
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Arithmetic, Population, and Energy by Dr. Albert A. Bartlett
Via roaminrob: Arithmetic, Population, and Energy by Dr. Albert A. Bartlett, uploaded in eight parts. ~75 minutes.

Part One.

I've posted some links because I was curious about your opinion; this one I think is important, clear, and convincing. Unfortunately, I don't see a good way of summarizing it - wonderingmind42, who uploaded it, did a pretty iffy job with the title, in my book - but I'll try: the lecture is about the nature of steady percentage growth (e.g. 7%/year) and the policy implications that come out of the arithmetic. You don't need anything more than multiplication and division to follow the reasoning - the most difficult calculation is for the doubling time, and that goes

years to double = 70 / % growth per year

which is accurate to one part in twenty for any growth rate up to 12%/year.

I think it's worth at least 90 minutes of your time - 75 minutes is a steal at the price.

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(6 comments | Leave a comment)

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Date:2010/04/07 0404 (UTC)
Wait a minute, is this another one of those "overpopulation is imminent, we are going to run out of food, and death, famine and destruction is going to happen"? Because that old saw has been around since Malthus, and it keeps not happening. I am going to check it out, though, but advances in technology and science in the area of agriculture have enabled us to avoid the Malthusian prophecy, and I still think we have more wiggle room (vegetarianism, anyone?).

But I may be speaking too soon, and I'll check it out as soon as I'm done with these constructions (college geometry).
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Date:2010/04/07 0417 (UTC)
Oh dear god, it is. Another Malthusian argument. Nothing is wrong with the simple idea of population growth following a logarithmic law.

But, like has been said before, science and technology allow food development to keep pace with population. And we can restrict our diets if we need or choose to.

Plus, hasn't it been shown that population growth rate in first-world, civilized societies eventually flattens out? Like Japan?


Anyways, given a simple laboratory model, yes, the logarithmic law would hold. But this is the real world, and the logarithmic model is too simple to accurately portray all the external, real-world factors. Meh, just my opinion. Hey, quit crowding me, scoot over! *pushes people away to make some room*
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Date:2010/04/07 0430 (UTC)
Who on earth was Malthus, and what has his argument to do with this?
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Date:2010/04/07 0439 (UTC)
This sums it up pretty well.


It's just my opinion that the logarithmic model alone is too simplistic to be directly used as a population model. But hey, *shrug*, I'm not that invested in that opinion, and I'm amenable to other evidence, but I just think that it's not likely to happen; human beings are pretty flexible and we'll either come up with different ways to feed ourselves (porch gardens?) or work something out that we haven't forseen yet. Plus, I think that the populations of the urban civilized world eventually stabilize and even drop, but that opinion needs more facts than just Japan to back it up. But *yawn*, that Ghost Recon isn't going to play itself!
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Date:2010/04/07 1040 (UTC)
Looking at the link, it seems that Malthus argued that the rate at which resource production can increase is a hard limit on the rate of population growth. This is a condition that applies at every point in time, and yes, it's been proven false. Dr. Bartlett is saying that the maximum possible resource production (or, alternatively, the total available resources) is a hard limit on the maximum population. This condition applies at exactly one point in time: when the resource is running out.

Thermodynamically, there does exist a hard limit on total available resources: the total negentropy available in the world. Pragmatically, there will be intermediate limits - for example, the expiration of fossil fuel supplies, or the exploitation of all available farmland - which will require the development of new resources to overcome.

I'll agree with you that the logarithmic model is simplistic - but like roaminrob said, policy is often written with a desire to enforce it. And that is a bad idea - enforcing growth - because it makes the supply run out extremely quickly.
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Date:2010/04/07 0501 (UTC)
The video was originally posted in the context of the importance of mathematics education, and in that context, it does make a strong argument for the lack of understanding of basic math concepts, like exponential growth. For example, I live in a small town which is notable mostly only for its natural beauty, but there is a strong effort here to establish a minimum of 2% growth per year. How many of our residents do you think understands that that represents a doubling of population every 35 years? Not very many.

However, Dr. Bartlett is very outspoken on the political topics of unchecked growth and the limited availability of natural resources.

On that topic, I have conflicting guesses. I think it's inarguable that we do have limited resources, and that a rapid, unchecked population growth will lead eventually to disaster. And, while you would point to the self-regulating populations of small isolated environments like Japan, which are largely xenophobic to begin with, I would point to the disasters of famine and drought in widespread areas of India and Africa.

Potentially, yes, science and technology can support a massive amount of population growth. Already, rice has been genetically engineered to be tolerant of a wider variety of growing conditions in India, and energy research has been exciting lately. And, Dyson made a compelling argument too that the advancement of a species relies to a certain extent on rapid growth. That said, it remains to be seen whether science and technology can outpace our demand for resources, and I'm undecided on whether or not that's a gamble worth making right now.
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