Musings on the Relativity of Time and The Arithmetic of Overpopulation


I celebrated my birthday recently. Beyond a certain age, birthdays become a double-edged sword. You’re glad you made it to the next one, but realize that there are far fewer years ahead of you than behind you. The list of absent friends grows ever longer. Colleagues grow grey; everyone else looks like they just graduated from middle school.

I used to console myself by calculating that I still had at least 25 more years to go, which made the end point seem very far off. But, now that would mean I’d live to an unrealistically old age, a concept supported by neither family history nor actuarial tables. I’m reminded of Einstein’s summary of his Theory of Relativity:

"When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour."

I guess I’ve been having too much fun. But that can’t go on forever. My immortality would not be good for the planet. It’s not sustainable. At the same time that medical advances have been adding years to our lifespans, as a species we haven’t been compensating for that at the other end of life’s spectrum. The Earth has a finite amount of resources with which to support all of the beings that live on it and I do worry that so few people today seem to be concerned about that fact.

The late Al Bartlett, Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, explores this issue in Population, Consumption, and Climate: A Conversation with Al Bartlett.

Watch the 10-minute video here: https://vimeo.com/37077892
Watch the one hour interview here: https://vimeo.com/37014682

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