Updated 9 June, 2003
Garrett Hardin Oral History Project
RUSSELL: Professor Garrett Hardin interview. The date is the 13th of July, 1983. The time is 3:00 p.m. The interview is being conducted at Professor Garrett Hardin's residence. All right, Professor Hardin. I guess we could start with your involvement with The Environmental Fund.
HARDIN: The curious thing is that I don't remember when I became officially involved with it. At one point, I must have been asked would I be one of the directors, and I must have said yes, but I have no recollection of it. All I know is that suddenly, about 1973, why it seemed to be in existence, and I was one of the directors. The meetings were of this small group of people who were very simpatico. This is one of the reasons I have no particular recollection of it, because we didn't have battles to fight among ourselves. We were fighting the battles with other people.
The thing that was in common with all of them was that they all had had an interest in population matters for many years. I've forgotten the figure, but somebody calculated once the number of years of experience with Planned Parenthood and population organizations represented by just the five directors, and it was up to something like fifty or sixty years, adding them all up. So, they had somehow spontaneously found each other and formed this organization.
The job Planned Parenthood was doing had almost nothing to do with population. And the distinction here is one that all the members of the board I think arrived at independently and agree on, namely that birth control is not population control. The program of Planned Parenthood is to spread birth control, not population control. And you can see this in the motto, which has been stated time after time in essentially the same words, that the goal of Planned Parenthood is to make it possible for every woman to have the number of children she wants when she wants them. Now, that would produce population control if, by some magic, each woman wanted the right number of children for the nation. But, there's no evidence that any couple thinking of having another child asks what is best for the nation. It just doesn't figure into their decision at all. So they have what seems like best for them, and there's nothing that makes that best for the nation.
I suppose one of the reasons we've fallen into this error is because
it's sort of in the pattern of Adam Smith's statement, his defense
of free enterprise--that if each enterpriser seeks his own interest,
it will, in fact, work out best for the nation. And you can make
a strong defense for that. But in the case of population control,
no defense can be made for this position at all. And that is a thing
we all agreed on.
HARDIN: Bill Paddock, one of the Paddock brothers--his older brother, Paul, was in the State Department. Bill was in various organizations having to do with agriculture. His training was in agriculture and he had a good many years of experience in Latin America in agriculture. He was the director of a research institute in Central America for awhile. And he had gone down there with, you might say, the conventional Peace Corps ideals of doing good for these people. And his wife did, too. And they became disillusioned as a result of what they saw. How little good one could do by these direct means, and yet the overpowering importance of the population problem. And he and his brother wrote this book, Famine 1975. Now, of course, this has led to ribald comments on the fact, where's that famine that was supposed to come in 1975? And you can hardly give a satisfactory answer. If you point out, according to the WHO, the World Health Organization, probably somewhere between ten-, twenty-million people die of starvation every year, that doesn't cut any ice, because this doesn't figure in the newspapers. And dying of starvation is sort of a statistical artifact, because actually, almost every one of them who dies, dies of a disease. But the disease is related to his poor nutrition. And, for example, I'm not even sure whether, on the official list of causes of death--there is a world list--I'm not even sure that starvation is one of them. But if it is, I'm sure it's very seldom checked. If anything is checked at all, it's the disease that administers the coup de grace.
RUSSELL: Heart failure or something of that nature.
HARDIN: Whatever. Yes. You see, that is what's listed. And the places where most of the people are dying, there is no certification of death at all. There's no doctor to certify. The person just dies and sinks into the river, or the gutter, or wherever it is. And that's all. He may be, in some sense, counted, but only counted as a corpse floating by. So, despite the fact that in a certain sense I think their prediction is not too far off, still there was not the massive die-off that they envisaged when they wrote the book, which was published in 1967, I think. They were thinking maybe a hundred million would die in a year, and this didn't happen. I think it's still possible it may happen, but it's at an unpredictable time. One thing people should remember who make predictions of disasters in the world, based on the best projections of current things, is a very wise remark that Adam Smith made once when somebody spoke of a certain policy leading to national ruin and he said, "there's a deal of ruin in every nation." There's a good deal of ruin in every nation. The fact is it's astonishing what they can put up with and make some sort of adjustment, and that crisis that you expect never quite occurs. It may be that overall the suffering may be greater, but not critical. It's just endemic, rather than critical.
RUSSELL: If we could digress just for a second.... If you could build a scenario that might create a population crash--I guess this is what we're actually talking about here--what would transpire?
HARDIN: Oh, well, I think it would depend on, to use a nice old-fashioned word, the concurrence of many circumstances. You see, one of the reasons there hasn't been this population crash has been the tremendous improvement in agriculture, particularly in the United States, and the unusually favorable weather since 1950, world-wide. It's been very favorable. One climatologist says it's the most favorable period we've had in a thousand years for agriculture in the northern hemisphere, which is the more important hemisphere, there's more land there, more production. So that's one thing.
Well, suppose that one of these days, the weather becomes unfavorable three or four years in a row, not just one year, but three or four years. And then it's possible that a new disease, plant disease, might come along and wipe things out. For example, that almost happened about fifteen years ago when the Texas sterile gene, as it's called, was almost universal in the corn crop in the United States, in the hybrid corn. And this turned out to be susceptible to one of the standard diseases and, in one year, we lost fifteen percent of the corn crop. Now a number of people who are expert in this field said if we'd had another week or two of hot, muggy weather, we would have lost eighty percent of the corn crop. It was that close. See, it's real--chance really enters in.
Now since then, we've gotten away from the Texas sterile gene, but there's always a tendency for agriculture to become monoculture, to standardize on one variety--the variety that has the greatest yield--because you can hardly ask a farmer to plant the second-best variety, you see. This is why they're all driven to plant the single variety that is best, which means that if a disease does come along that can hit that variety, it may just wipe it out.
So, you see, unfavorable weather, plus an unforeseeable but realistic catastrophe, like a new plant disease, a new variety of plant disease, plus again unforeseeable political difficulties, working their way out through transportation and storage. See, if several of these things come together in a series of years, then I think it's quite possible that we could have a real world-wide disaster. And the longer we go before we have this, the worse it's going to be, simply because the population increasing at about eighty million per year, is going to be that much bigger every year to suffer.
RUSSELL: And more dependent.
HARDIN: Yes, and more dependent. So, it's a very real possibility, but it's absolutely unpredictable as to the time.
RUSSELL: Well, getting back to the board of directors, I guess, now...
HARDIN: Okay. So that's Bill Paddock. Paul Paddock was never part of our group. I don't know whether.... I mean, maybe he didn't want to be, figured one in the family is enough. I don't know. Maybe also, his years of caution, being in the State Department--you know, you don't join anything. But I expect Paul Paddock didn't want to. I met him once here in Santa Barbara at the Biltmore Hotel. A very nice guy. He's dead now--died of a brain tumor. But Bill Paddock has been the one that we've had all along. Now then, there was Bud Roper. He got in as a friend of Justin Blackwelder. Justin Blackwelder brought in Bud Roper, and then he also brought in a fellow whose name I've forgotten from advertising. We mentioned him last time.
RUSSELL: Emerson Foote?
HARDIN: Yes. Emerson Foote. These were both old friends of Justin Blackwelder's and were his supporters and believed in his view of things. So they were a very simpatico bunch. Bud Roper. We had the advantage there. Because of him, we got free handouts of the results of Roper Polls that were of interest to us. Now later, we had the.... See, the Roper people--the questions they put on their polls are fed to them by organizations who pay to have them put on. And later, we paid to have some.... No. I guess what we did, we paid for a membership, which is something fantastic, like ten-thousand dollars a year or something, and then you're entitled to put a certain number of questions into their poll, which they will refine. You know, it's a lot of work, a good poll question. But this was very nice because we could get questions asked from the general public we wanted, their attitude toward population and so on, and get the results.
RUSSELL: I noticed in reading some of the papers this week that there seemed to be a little discrepancy between.... The board of directors seemed to be a little bit pessimistic about how their ideas were getting across, and then the poll came out and I think the figure was something like sixty percent of the people listed it as one of the major problems.
HARDIN: Yes. This is sort of a standing problem of the interpretation of polls in areas of this sort because the problem is, how do you ask a person a question so he has to put his money where his mouth is? And if he doesn't have to do that, the answer is not too valuable. People may say population is one of the major problems, but then the moment a particular issue comes up, such as should we allow this new shopping center in our town? The money that's involved and what it will do for their town, they say, oh, of course. And say, look it, it's going to be more crowding, more congestion, and so on. But, oh, there's money there. So, you see, in other words, they think there are too many people, but someplace else, is what it amounts to.
RUSSELL: Strictly a liberal reaction.
HARDIN: So, what do you do? How do you ask the right questions,
which we haven't had too good luck. For example, on the immigration
issue, Roper asked the question, I think in 1977 and 1979--the same
question: do you think the number of immigrants entering the United
States is too many, just right, too few, don't know. You see. Ninety-one
percent said too many. And close to ninety-one percent indicated
they would like to see it cut way, way back. But, when it comes
to the issues, such as this poor immigrant family in our city, will
you ship them back or will you use our army to police the borders?
Then they vote no. So it's a real tough area. In a certain sense,
the public agrees with us, but maybe not in the sense that gets
anything done. And that's a problem.
HARDIN: Yes, yes.
RUSSELL: A debatable issue.
HARDIN: That's right. A debatable issue, right.
RUSSELL: I guess one of the major figures, anyway, during the early seventies and maybe even today would be Blackwelder, if you wanted to...
HARDIN: Yes. Okay, Blackwelder was, from the very beginning, the
president of the organization. He's an old Washington hand. He's
served in innumerable offices in and around Washington, knows his
way around, and so on. And he was on the spot. The rest of us were
elsewhere. So, okay, you're president. Blackwelder had a number
of virtues. I mean, one is he knew his way around Washington. He'd
been around a long time. He had an immediate reaction to everybody.
His reaction to almost everybody was sour. He was kind of an H.
L. Mencken in his sour attitude towards almost everything. And also
a great gift with words in small quantities.
HARDIN: No. We would meet four times a year, in Washington. Well, we were dissatisfied with a number of things. One was that we weren't getting so much support as we'd like to get. One ad that we published in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times got a good raft of letters, some from influential people, who were then used on the next ad. And so on, you know. So there were some people who believed with us, but still, a small fraction. Not a big return in terms of what the whole country's like. Then, in about 1978, I guess, it was apparent that we had sort of reached a critical point.
I was back east for the meeting in June, and it was apparent that Blackwelder was not feeling well. And after I got here, got home, there was a call from Bill Paddock, who said some of the others had been meeting and they were very much concerned about signs of some sort of deterioration in Blackwelder. His inability to manage this meeting that we had, and worry about the two very important meetings that were coming up.
One of them was a meeting that Adolph Schmidt had worked for a year to arrange, between the most important people in... Well, he had addressed inquiries to two or three dozen of the environment and natural history organizations, trying, in most cases, not to get the top staff member, but the top member who really counted, like the chairman of the board, and so on. But sometimes getting the president, or a director. And he'd ended up with a list of about fourteen who were going to show up. And they were good organizations. And what we wanted to do was to present them our point of view--namely, that population was part of all their problems--that all the things they were fighting for, saving the whales, saving the porpoises, getting money for the New York Zoo--no matter what they're trying to do, they're all going to go down the drain if they don't address the issue of human population, which is simply going to put them out of business.
So that was the message we wanted to get across, and this would be Justin Blackwelder's duty, you see, as president of the organization, to present this. That was one meeting that was coming up in July. And then, two or three weeks later, there was another one scheduled, and this was the one for introducing the Global 2000 Report. Now the Global 2000 Report has a long history. We had been one of the pushers of it from the very beginning, supporting it and trying to get it through. There was a lot of opposition in the administration--the national administration--to it, and the White House didn't particularly want to touch it. It looked like trouble. And roadblocks were constantly being put in it's way, and we'd get in and try to remove the roadblock.
We were fighting behind the scenes to get this through. And it finally looked as though they were going to finish their report, and it would be given no publicity by the national government at all. I mean, just quietly dropped over the side, as the ship steamed past, you see. So we decided we're not going to permit that: we'll give it publicity. We'll introduce it, although we have no official connection with it at all. And we hadn't given any money toward it either. But, Gerald Barney, the director of it, we had supported him and exchanged ideas with him all along, and so on, and he was glad to have external support because he had so much internal opposition in the administration. So we planned this meeting for introducing it in, I think, early August, when it was supposed to be out. So this would be another thing that the president of the organization should present.
This other meeting, which I did not attend, was where two or three members of the board had gone before one of the big granting agencies--I don't remember now which one, but with millions to dispose of--made a presentation in order to have some money contributed to our cause, and apparently Blackwelder made a very poor presentation. But, with this by way of history, you can see why we were worried by this. So we had a special meeting in Washington. Well, they asked me, would I consent to take it over. And I said, well, I'll either come for a month or a year, but nothing in between. In other words, a month through these June meetings and then step out, or I'll take it for a year. And they said, well, please come for a year. So I said okay. Well, I said no, let me talk it over with my wife, and let's see about this. So we talked it over and our own affairs were in such a state, we decided it would be rather fun to go to Washington for a year. And the agreement being, it would be a no-profit, no-loss thing--the fund would pay for the rent on an apartment, and so forth and so on--and I would get no salary. I would simply do the job.
So, I went to Washington, and we had the board meeting. It was decided by that time the thing to do was to make me chairman of the board, a position that did not exist before then, but to leave Justin with his title of president, you see. So I'd be chairman of the board and he'd be president. So that was done. We also, at that point, invited in John Tanton as a board member. He had met with us once or twice, and I'd known him for several years. So, then I was in and out of Washington the rest of the summer. I had to go to these two meetings, for example--I presided at those and presented our position. Incidentally, on The Global 2000, our meeting with the public--we held a press conference in the Press Club in Washington--in a way, it was redundant because by this time, the administration decided, well, they would present this after all. So they presented it at a meeting in the State Department, about 9:00 in the morning. Our meeting was 2:00 in the afternoon. So they undercut us, but I'm sure--I mean, I'm not sure, but it's very possible they wouldn't have done that if they hadn't known that we were going to do it. So they undercut us. So that was all right, in a way. But having planned it, of course, we had to go ahead with it now, even though it was redundant. So I presided at those two meetings and stayed around Washington off and on for the rest of the summer.
And then, in September, we moved there, of whatever year it was--I forget these things; it's on record someplace--and had this year in Washington. Well, it was, on the whole, a fun year, but my God, it was full of stress, stepping into an organization like that. In the early days, Justin decided the smart thing to do was to incorporate as a private organization. Now, there are called 501(c)(3) organizations. They can be either private or public. Ordinarily, the only private organization is something like a library, which, of course, all it wants to do is take in money and support itself. Whereas, if you want to influence public opinion, you'd better incorporate under the public option. But if you incorporate under the public option, then you have to do various things, to justify your being public.
Well, if you're public, there's sort of a rule of thumb, and it's
nothing else--you're at the mercy of the Internal Revenue Service--sort
of a rule of thumb that you can use about twenty percent of your
money for lobbying. Between ten and thirty, you probably won't get
in trouble, but say twenty for the average figure. You know, go
around writing letters to congressmen, and so on, that are matters
of record, you see--that show that you've been trying to influence
legislation. But if you're a private organization, you can do zero
percent. Well, you see, if you're public, you can argue about how
much you're doing. You can fight the IRS. But, if you're private,
zero, such a flat figure, there's no argument. One letter and you're
RUSSELL: If you had to look back at your year's tenure, what would you cite as your high points of accomplishments?
HARDIN: Well, I had a number of things I wanted to do, and I guess I accomplished about fifty percent of them, which I suppose is the most you can expect to do. One of the things I felt that we absolutely had to change from a private to a public organization, because plainly, we wanted to influence legislation, and we cannot influence legislation by sitting in our ivory tower and issuing pronunciamentos and then never following them up. So we got to be public, but if we're public.... Well, one of the things I did. We have a good lawyer in Washington, a woman who has had a tremendous experience in this field, and she laid down all the conditions, and so on. And it turns out, if you are public, then you have to get about, again, about the same figure--twenty percent of your money--from small donations. You know, we should have a broader base of support. And I said one of the reasons is because we need to subject ourselves to the discipline of having to present ourselves to people and get money. If our message is any good, we better show we can sell it and we're not submitting ourselves to this discipline. And there was some objection, because it meant a lot more work, you know, but finally, they agreed. So I think that was my principal accomplishment.
I also wanted to get the name of the organization changed because it seemed to me it was misleading. The Environmental Fund. I have no recollection of it's ever being considered anything else. But we have nothing to do with environmental matters in the ordinary sense. We're not concerned with pollution, or anything of that sort. We say that people are at the source of the problem, and that's what we're trying to cure the environment through getting to the root cause--too many people. But we'd better put "population" in our name, rather than "environment," or, in addition to "environment." I thought I almost had them sold on that, and then I botched things. I mean, it was a personal failure. I didn't handle things--from the strict point of view of technique of statesmanship--I didn't handle it right. I think I could have won, but I didn't do it right. So I lost.
But I did get a new logo, which is this one on here, you see. You'd be surprised how long it took to work that out. I had one artist in. We worked on things, and then it wasn't quite right. So I hired another artist. Then we worked some more and finally we got it. I wanted the logo to give our message, namely, that as the population increases, the environment gets squeezed, you see, which is what it says.
RUSSELL: Very well.
HARDIN: And so that's what I had to satisfy myself with: a logo plus our old name, whereas I would rather have had a new name that had "population" in it, too.
RUSSELL: What name were you pushing?
HARDIN: Gosh, we had dozens. I don't remember now the one that I personally favored, but there were half a dozen or more that I would have accepted. But, as I say, I couldn't swing it with the board. So that was failure. But it was left with this, which I think was some slight improvement.
RUSSELL: How would you rank this Environmental Fund as far as your efforts in the population control area? Has it been the principal vehicle that you have selected to...?
HARDIN: Yes, because there are only two organizations in the country that I think can be said--well, say three organizations now--can be said to be working on the population angle. Not Planned Parenthood. One is Negative Population Growth in New York City, which is a one-man show. A very nice guy named Donald Mann. They put out very nice little newsletters, but they're ineffective. They simply have no push at all. Another one is FAIR [Federation for American Immigration Reform, Washington, D.C.]. It is the most effective of all, but it's a single issue thing: lower the immigration rate and control immigration, which happens to be the most important at the present time, so it's the most effective. John Tanton is the head of that; he's president of that, you see. And Bill Paddock was on that board of directors. So we have these interlocking directorates. And we work together very well. We exchange ideas, we exchange personnel. If they're short-handed, we send somebody over. If we're short-handed, they send somebody over to us. So it's a very nice, wholly unofficial relationship. And, as I say, it's more effective than we are, but it's a limited goal, whereas we take the whole population thing and want to do something about it. And I think we are improving. I think we are making progress, but it happens to be a very difficult job. It's hard to know what to do. We do have money. We think we can use more, but we've got to get more. And we are now embarked on direct mail campaigns and so on...
[PLEASE NOTE: SOME OF THE MATERIAL ON TAPE NO. 11 HAS BEEN SEQUESTERED UNTIL THE YEAR 2010 A.D. AT THE REQUEST OF DR. HARDIN.]