Garrett Hardin

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Garrett Hardin
Garrett Hardin.jpg
Garrett Hardin (1986)
Born 21 April 1915
Dallas, Texas
Died September 14, 2003(2003-09-14) (aged 88)
Santa Barbara, California
Fields Ecology
Known for The Tragedy of the Commons (essay)

Garrett James Hardin (April 21, 1915 – September 14, 2003) was an American ecologist who warned of the dangers of overpopulation. His exposition of the tragedy of the commons, in a famous 1968 paper in Science,[1] called attention to "the damage that innocent actions by individuals can inflict on the environment".[2] He is also known for Hardin's First Law of Human Ecology: "You cannot do only one thing"[3][page needed], which "modestly implies that there is at least one unwanted consequence."[4]


Hardin received a B.S. in zoology from the University of Chicago in 1936 and a PhD in microbiology from Stanford University in 1941. Moving to the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1946, he served there as Professor of Human Ecology from 1963 until his (nominal) retirement in 1978. He was among the first members of the Society for General Systems Research.

Major works and positions[edit]

A major focus of his career, and one to which he returned repeatedly, was the issue of human overpopulation. This led to writings on controversial subjects such as advocating abortion, which earned him criticism from the political right, and advocating eugenics by forced sterilization, and strict limits to non-western immigration, which earned him criticism from the political left. In his essays, he also tackled subjects such as conservation and creationism.[how?]

Alleged justification of genocide[edit]

In 1963, Hardin drew heavy criticism from the left for his alleged indulgence in theories that may justify genocide on the grounds of ecological balance. This thesis was put forward and defended by his readings of the early Christian philosopher Tertullian, who believed that famine and war were good for society as a whole as a means of solving the problem of overpopulation and resource-sharing.

Neomalthusian approach and tragedy of the commons Science essay[edit]

In 1968 Hardin tried to expand the conceptual model of the tragedy of the commons[5] on human population growth, the use of the Earth's natural resources, and the welfare state in an essay in the journal Science.[6] Hardin blamed the welfare state for allowing the tragedy of the commons; where the state provides for children and supports over-breeding as a fundamental human right, Malthusian catastrophe is inevitable. Hardin stated in his analysis of the tragedy of the commons that "Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all."[7] However environmental historians Joachim Radkau, Alfred Thomas Grove (a Geographer Emeritus and Fellow of Downing College, Cambridge and father of Richard Grove) and Oliver Rackham denounced Hardin literally "as an American with no notion at all how Commons actually work".[8] As well Hardins pessimist outlook was in contradiction with Elinor Ostrom later work on success of cooperative structures like the commons, for which she shared the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences together with Oliver E. Williamson.[9] In contrary to Hardin, neither commons or "Allmende" in the generic nor classical meaning are bound to fail, to the contrary, "the wealth of the commons" has gained renewed interest in the scientific community [10] Hardin's work was also criticised[11] as historically inaccurate in failing to account for the demographic transition, and for failing to distinguish between common property and open access resources.[12]

Lifeboat metaphor and denial of food aid[edit]

In September 1974, he published the article "Living on a Lifeboat" in BioScience magazine, arguing that contributing food to help the Ethiopian famine would add to overpopulation, which he considered the root of Ethiopia's problems.

Living Within Limits[edit]

In 1993, Hardin published Living Within Limits, which he described at the time as a summation of all his previous works. In this book, he argues that natural sciences are grounded in the concept of limits (such as the speed of light), while social sciences such as economics are grounded in concepts that have no limits (such as "infinite-Earth" economic models). He notes that most of the more notable scientific (as opposed to political) arguments concerning environmental economics are between natural scientists, such as Paul R. Ehrlich, and economists, such as Julian Simon. Hardin goes on to label those who reflexively argue for growth as "growthmaniacs",[13] and argues against the institutional faith in exponential growth on a finite planet, illustrating this with the example of compound interest, or "usury". This, he claims, must eventually fail, and he argues that society has been duped into confusing interest with debt.[14] Hardin writes, "At this late date millions of people believe in the fertility of money with an ardor seldom accorded to traditional religious doctrines".

Position in the Bell curve controversy and against affirmative action[edit]

In 1994, he was one of 52 signatories on "Mainstream Science on Intelligence,[15]" an editorial written by Linda Gottfredson and published in the Wall Street Journal, which declared the consensus of the signing scholars on issues related to race and intelligence following the publication of the book The Bell Curve. Like many of the other signatories of that editorial, Hardin was also a grantee of the Pioneer Fund, which funds controversial research on the topic of race and intelligence and is frequently described as promoting scientific racism. On February 11, 1998 he debated Christian philosopher William Lane Craig at University of California, Santa Barbara.[16][17]

Hardin's last book The Ostrich Factor: Our Population Myopia (1999), a warning about the threat of overpopulation to the Earth's sustainable economic future, called for coercive constraints on "unqualified reproductive rights" and argued that affirmative action is a form of racism.

Participation in the Death with dignity movement and suicide[edit]

Hardin, who suffered from a heart disorder, and his wife Jane, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease, were members of End-of-Life Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society, and believed in individuals choosing their own time to die. They committed suicide in their Santa Barbara home in September 2003, shortly after their 62nd wedding anniversary. He was 88 and she was 81.[18]



Selected journal articles[edit]

Chapters in books[edit]

  • 1991. Paramount positions in ecological economics. In Costanza, R. (editor) Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability, New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-07562-6
  • 1991. In: R. V. Andelson, (editor), Commons Without Tragedy, London : Shepheard-Walwyn, pp. 162–185. ISBN 0-389-20958-9 (U.S.)


Hardin's 1993 book Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos, received the 1993 Award in Science from the Phi Beta Kappa Society.[19][20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Tragedy of the Commons". Science 162 (3859): 1243–1248. 1968. doi:10.1126/science.162.3859.1243. PMID 5699198.  edit
  2. ^ Lavietes, Stuart (October 28, 2003). "Garrett Hardin, 88, Ecologist Who Warned About Excesses". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-24. 
  3. ^ Miller, George Tyler (1993). Environmental Science: Sustaining the Earth. Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 9780534178086. 
  4. ^ Hardin, Garrett (1985). Filters Against Folly: How to Survive Despite Economists, Ecologists, and the Merely Eloquent. Viking Penguin, Inc. ISBN 067080410X.  p 59
  5. ^ "The Tragedy of the Commons". Science 162 (3859): 1243–1248. 1968. doi:10.1126/science.162.3859.1243. PMID 5699198.  edit
  6. ^ Hardin, G. (1968-12-13). "The Tragedy of the Commons". Science (AAAS) 162 (3859): 1243–1248. doi:10.1126/science.162.3859.1243. PMID 5699198. Retrieved 22 October 2013. "it is the role of education to reveal to all the necessity of abandoning the freedom to breed. Only so, can we put an end to this aspect of the tragedy of the commons." 
  7. ^ Hardin, 1244
  8. ^ Nature and Power, A Global History of the Environment, by Joachim Radkau, 2008, p. 72, the quote about Hardins ignorance is to be found in The Nature of Mediterranean Europe: An Ecological History, by Alfred Thomas Grove, Oliver Rackham, Yale University Press, 2003, p. 88
  9. ^ Sveriges Riksbank's Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2009, Sveriges Riksbank, October 12, 2009, retrieved October 12, 2009 
  10. ^ A Collection of 73 essays that describe the enormous potential of the commons in conceptualizing and building a better future, edited by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, published in Commons –Für eine neue Politik jenseits von Markt und Staat, transcript verlag in April 2012.
  11. ^ Dasgupta, Partha. "Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment". 
  12. ^ Ciriacy-Wantrup S.V., Bishop R.C., 1975. "Common Property" as a Concept in Natural Resources Policy. Nat. Res. J. 15, 713–727
  13. ^ [1] Stalking the Wild Taboo - Stalkers: Hardin: Book Review:
  14. ^ "Living Within Limits" Faith in mathematically impossible exponential growth. The entire content of Chapter Eight.
  15. ^ Gottfredson, Linda (December 13, 1994). Mainstream Science on Intelligence. Wall Street Journal, p A18.
  16. ^ Christianity vs. Scientific Naturalism on YouTube February 11, 1998.
  17. ^ Williams, Peter S. A Sceptic's Guide to Atheism: God is Not Dead. Authentic Media. ISBN 978-1842276174. 
  18. ^ Steepleton, Scott (19 September 2003). "Pioneering professor, wife die in apparent double suicide". Santa Barbara News-Press. Retrieved 28 September 2007. 
  19. ^ "Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science — List of Previous Winners". Retrieved 6 December 2010. 
  20. ^ Living within Limits: Ecology, Economics and Population Taboos, Review and selected long quotes, paperback.

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