Preface to The Essential Exponential! For the Future of Our Planet - a book by Albert A. Bartlett


The Essential Exponential! For the Future of Our Planet

by Albert A. Bartlett
University of Colorado at Boulder
with Robert G. Fuller,
Vicki L. Plano Clark
University of Nebraska - Lincoln
and John A. Rogers, Westside High School, Omaha NE



When I heard of the idea of gathering together all of Al Bartlett's exponential growth articles my immediate reaction was, "What a great idea!" There has been a generation, or two, of people who are likely unaware of the Bartlett works and one book where the articles are collected together can be a great resource. I had seen Al Bartlett present his exponential ideas a number of times and, of course, read many of his articles at the time of their publication. Al Bartlett's willingness to talk to any group; any time about his "forgotten fundamental" was legendary even at that time. He had given the presentation more than 1500 times to groups as varied as the local chamber of commerce and graduate-physics students. My strongest memory is the clarity of his message and the straight forwardness of his presentations. He came armed with a box of transparencies, stood by the overhead projector and commenced to lecture. He didn't move around, shouting, waving hands. Rather, his was a straightforward presentation of the facts. But every time I saw his presentation, he had the audience in sitting on the edge of their mental seats. They were following his logic. The reader will find that same clarity and straightforwardness in this publication. Al Bartlett writes as clearly as he presents. This is a must read for every literate person adult or student. I suspect that the economic and political science communities consider his ideas as ok physics and math but not relevant to them or their lives. Or, maybe that the message is just another "chicken little" event. Perhaps to counter any possible thought that Bartlett's ideas are those of some marginalized scientist, the editors have included a chapter of articles by other leading experts.

It's surprising to me that essential concepts of these papers from the 1970's have never made it into the mainstream media or science texts. These concepts are even more relevant today: the emergence of science education standards challenge science teachers to find interesting real-world contexts. Science teachers are in search of relevance, of good inquiry for their science lessons, of ways to integrate disciplines. The Bartlett exponential-function articles are the answer to the teacher's search. Al Bartlett's message is as true today as it was in 1976 when his first article appeared in The Physics Teacher. It applies to a wide range of situations and it has huge implications especially in our capitalist economy, which has growth as its underpinning. The punch line is that growth cannot go on forever. And, when the next change depends on how much exists now, surprising results occur.

Gerry Wheeler

Dr. Gerald F. Wheeler
Executive Director
National Science Teachers Association

Reprinted with permission