Energy Vanguard Blog

The End of Growth - Mathematics & Peak Oil

Posted by Allison Bailes on Tue, Sep 7, 2010

economic growth peak oil steady state economy2005 was an important year for me. Not only was I learning how to do Manual J load calculations, crawl space encapsulation, and home performance contracting, but I also drank peak oil kool-aid by the bucketful. I read everything I could find on the subject, started writing and speaking about it, and even went to the very first ASPO-USA conference in Denver.

Even with all the scary talk about life in a post-peak oil world and how dire the situation is, however, almost none of the official speakers at the conference (or either of the next two, which I also attended) seemed willing to question the belief that underlies almost every discussion about economics - that economic growth must continue.peak oil albert bartlett exponential growth

One of the people I talked with at that conference was Dr. Albert A. Bartlett, an emeritus physics professor from University of Colorado. I'd already met him 15 years earlier at the American Association of Physics Teachers conference in Minneapolis and loved reading his columns in The Physics Teacher magazine.

Not only was Dr. Bartlett willing to broach this subject at the conference, but he's been doing it for decades. Below is part 1 of his 8 part video series on exponential growth, a talk that he's given over 1600 times.

You can see the whole series on one page, too.

If you haven't yet considered where constant growth eventually leads, perhaps Dr. Bartlett's videos will open your eyes. We either can give up our attachment to constant economic growth willingly and learn how to create a steady state economy, or we can find out the hard way how not depend on economic growth.

I think Kenneth Boulding put it best:

"Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist."


Photo of logs from, by Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden

Tags: energy security, energy conservation, peak oil