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Garrett Hardin (1915 – 2003) — American ecologist and human population control promoter. The optimum population is less than the maximum.

Garrett Hardin

Garrett Hardin, philosopher of the Tragedy of the Commons

Garrett Hardin quotes sourced from: BrainyQuote, SearchQuotes, GoodReads, ValuesInvestingWorld,

Garrett Hardin quotes

Why are ecologists and environmentalists so feared and hated? This is because in part what they have to say is new to the general public, and the new is always alarming.

A coldly rationalist individualist can deny that he has any obligation to make sacrifices for the future.

An attack on values is inevitably seen as an act of subversion.

Continuity is at the heart of conservatism: ecology serves that heart.

Incommensurables cannot be compared.

You cannot do only one thing.

But as population became denser, the natural chemical and biological recycling processes became overloaded, calling for a redefinition of property rights.

A finite world can support only a finite population; therefore, population growth must eventually equal zero.

Of course, a positive growth rate might be taken as evidence that a population is below its optimum.

The optimum population is, then, less than the maximum.

The social arrangements that produce responsibility are arrangements that create coercion, of some sort.

The only kind of coercion I recommend is mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected.

To say that we mutually agree to coercion is not to say that we are required to enjoy it, or even to pretend we enjoy it.

A technical solution may be defined as one that requires a change only in the techniques of the natural sciences, demanding little or nothing in the way of change in human values or ideas of morality.

But it is no good using the tongs of reason to pull the Fundamentalists’ chestnuts out of the fire of contradiction. Their real troubles lie elsewhere.

Education can counteract the natural tendency to do the wrong thing, but the inexorable succession of generations requires that the basis for this knowledge be constantly refreshed.

The rational man finds that his share of the cost of the wastes he discharges into the commons is less than the cost of purifying his wastes before releasing them.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights describes the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society. It follows that any choice and decision with regard to the size of the family must irrevocably rest with the family itself, and cannot be made by anyone else.

Using the commons as a cesspool does not harm the general public under frontier conditions, because there is no public, the same behavior in a metropolis is unbearable.

Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.

The natural world is organized into a web of life more complex than we know. We have only a limited ability to predict what will happen in time as the result of any intervention, however well meant, in the natural order of things. Caution and humility are the hallmarks of the ecolate attitude toward the world.

Fundamentalists are panicked by the apparent disintegration of the family, the disappearance of certainty and the decay of morality. Fear leads them to ask, if we cannot trust the Bible, what can we trust?

However, I think the major opposition to ecology has deeper roots than mere economics; ecology threatens widely held values so fundamental that they must be called religious.

In a finite world this means that the per capita share of the world’s goods must steadily decrease.

In an approximate way, the logic of commons has been understood for a long time, perhaps since the discovery of agriculture or the invention of private property in real estate.

Indeed, our particular concept of private property, which deters us from exhausting the positive resources of the earth, favors pollution.

It is a mistake to think that we can control the breeding of mankind in the long run by an appeal to conscience.

Moreover, the practical recommendations deduced from ecological principles threaten the vested interests of commerce; it is hardly surprising that the financial and political power created by these investments should be used sometimes to suppress environmental impact studies.

No one should be able to enter a wilderness by mechanical means.


Why are ecologists and environmentalists so feared and hated? This is because in part what they have to say is new to the general public, and the new is always alarming. It seems strange to me that Hardin, a man who dedicates his life to the subject of ecology, can miss the most important thing about life itself. The prime directive of all living things is to survive, and second only unto survival of the individual is the survival of its DNA. What Hardin consistently asks is for humans to voluntarily violate their own personal self-interest, and the self-interest of their personal DNA.

It is obvious that nature will maintain a balance of all natural forces in the long run, and that there are temporary methods humans have exerted for tipping things in our favor, but such things as fossil fuels have a limited supply, and when they are gone then we must exert the sweat of our brows again to feed ourselves. Limiting human population is probably the hardest of all possible public relations things to sell to the public and Hardin and Paul Ehrlich, the other population control promoter, have not faced that problem well. Since their message was first promoted to the public, the world population has doubled. The population increase has been at its greatest rate of all time, and that on top of the greatest total population of all time.

He does have it right when he writes, It is a mistake to think that we can control the breeding of mankind in the long run by an appeal to conscience; but until an enforceable population policy is forced upon every breeding person on Earth, the population will continue to grow with the food supply. That will continue until something breaks, and then nature will reset the balance, very much to the chagrin of the people then living.

An attack on values is inevitably seen as an act of subversion. That is the way people see a request to limit their reproduction. For a population policy to work every person in the world must believe that limiting their reproduction, not having excess children, is in their short-term self-interest as well as in humanity’s long-term self-interest. At present convincing every person of the Earth’s current population, seven billion people, of that opinion is impossible. Other natural process will have their way. Horrible, most horrible and ultimately, in a billion years, when looking back we would say natural laws prevailed and humans fell in line with them.