The Garrett Hardin Society

Articles and Essays by Garrett Hardin

An Ecolate View of the Human Predicament (view article)

"As a result of discussions carried out during the past decade I now suggest a better wording of the central idea: Under conditions of overpopulation, freedom in an unmanaged commons brings ruin to all."

read pdf document Carrying Capacity and Quality of Life, The Social Contract, Spring, 1991.

"We can maximize the number of human beings living at the lowest possible level of comfort, or we can try to optimize the quality of life for a much smaller population."

read pdf document Carrying Capacity As an Ethical Concept, The Social Contract, Fall, 2001.

"I argue that we would do well to accept 'Thou shalt not exceed the carrying capacity of any environment' as a legitimate member of a new Decalogue. When for the sake of momentary gain by human beings the carrying capacity is transgressed, the long-term interests of the same human beings - 'same' meaning themselves and their successors in time - are damaged."

Cultural Carrying Capacity, 1986. (view article)

"The naive question, 'What is the human carrying capacity of the earth?' evokes a reply that is of no human use. No thoughtful person is willing to assume that mere animal survival is acceptable when the animal is Homo sapiens. We want to know what the environment will carry in the way of cultural amenities, where the word culture is taken in the anthropological sense to include all of the artifacts of human existence: institutions, buildings, customs, inventions, knowledge... When dealing with human problems, I propose that we abandon the term carrying capacity in favor of cultural carrying capacity or, more briefly cultural capacity."

Ethical Implications of Carrying Capacity, by Garrett Hardin, 1977. (view article)

"The concept of carrying capacity calls for the conservative, balanced equation type of thinking that has led to the triumphs of thermodynamics and modern chemistry. But applied to human problems connected with exploiting the environment the concept of carrying capacity has been perceived as a threatening one. As regards populations of non-human animals and plants, we are just now beginning to grapple with the implications of carrying capacity. When it comes to humanity itself, it is doubtful if we yet have the courage to systematically examine all possibilities..."

Limited World, Limited Rights, Garrett Hardin, Society, May/June 1980 (view article)

From Shortage to Longage: Forty Years in the Population Vineyards, by Garrett Hardin, 1991. (view article)

Lifeboat Ethics: the Case Against Helping the Poor, Psychology Today, September 1974 (view article)

read pdf document Living on a Lifeboat, The Social Contract, Fall, 2001; reprinted from BioScience, October, 1974. (view article)

"Observant critics have shown how much harm we wealthy nations have already done to poor nations through our well-intentioned but misguided attempts to help them."

read pdf documentPerpetual Growth - The Next Dragon Facing Biology Teachers, The Social Contract, Fall, 1994.

"The idea of perpetual growth is embraced with religious fervor by mainstream economists and other worshipers of 'Progress' - the material sort of progress, that is... Our students are society's next generation-inpower. We owe it to them, to society at large, and to posterity to help students build their expectations on a realistic basis. Exponential growth needs to be seen as a severely time-limited process, for which costs must be paid. Growth is ultimately limited by the environment, a truth that ecologists encapsulate in the concept of 'carrying capacity'."

read pdf document Protection, Yes. But Against Whom? For Whom?, The Social Contract, Fall, 2001.

"The ecolate view is not welcome to timid minds. Even if you come up with a true answer, you may have a hard time persuading others that you are on the right track. But we have to try. Literacy, numeracy, ecolacy: we need all three abilities."

Rewards of Pejoristic Thinking, 1977. (view article)

"For a quarter of a century international philanthropy has been largely guided by optimistic laissez faire doctrines, and now there are a billion more poor people than there were when we started trying to save the world. Belief in providence dies hard."

read pdf document The Feast of Malthus - Living within limits, The Social Contract, Spring 1998.

"To save humanity from eating itself to extinction we must abandon the dominant religion of the past three centuries - Lockean individualism - and dedicate ourselves to a new - and also very old - commitment to community. This change in overall ideals will require many changes in particulars. As concerns the problems here discussed we must recognize that - One: Birth control is an individualistic goal, achievable by each individual (or couple) alone. Two: Population control is a philanthropic goal, not achievable by charitable actions alone."

read pdf document The Tragedy of the Commons, December, 1968, republished in The Social Contract, Fall, 2001. (view article)

"A finite world can support only a finite population; therefore, population growth must eventually equal zero... When this condition is met, what will be the situation of mankind? Specifically, can Bentham's goal of 'the greatest good for the greatest number' be realized?"

Also see links to commons-related websites and explanatory commons cartoons.

The Tragedy of the Commons - Extension, 1998, published by The American Association for the Advancement of Science (view article)

My first attempt at interdisciplinary analysis led to an essay, "The Tragedy of the Commons."

read pdf document The Toughlove Solution, By Garrett Hardin Newsweek, October 26, 1981, p. 45.

read pdf document There Is No Global Population Problem, The Social Contract, Fall, 2001. (view article).

"The moral is surely obvious: Never globalize a problem if it can possibly be solved locally. It may be chic but it is not wise to tack the adjective global onto the names of problems that are merely widespread - for example, 'global hunger,' 'global poverty,' and the 'global population problem.' We will make no progress with population problems, which are a root cause of both hunger and poverty, until we deglobalize them.
Populations, like potholes, are produced locally and, unlike atmospheric pollution, remain local - unless some people are so unwise as to globalize them by permitting population excesses to migrate into the better-endowed countries. Marx's formula, 'to each according to his needs,' is a recipe for national suicide. 'Don't try to solve your population problem by exporting your excess people to us.' All nations should take this position, and most do. Unfortunately, many Americans seem to believe that our nation can solve everyone else's population problems."

read pdf document Two Cultures - or Three Filters? -On being ecolate as well as literate and numerate, The Social Contract, Spring, 1999.

"I have augmented C. P. Snow's two paths to a culture (the literate path and the numerate path) with a third one, the 'ecolate' path... It is now clear that as the human mind processes the inputs from experience it uses three different filters, each connected with its characteristic question. -
Literacy: What are the appropriate words? Numeracy: What are the operational numbers? Ecolacy: And then what? More consistently than the first two filters, the ecolate filter is focused on time and the probable consequences of a proposed action. Ecolacy presumes a consequentialist ethics (which is often at odds with the motivational ethics produced by earlier, and predominantly literate, intellectuals)."

read pdf document What Heretics Are For, The Social Contract, Fall, 2001; preface to Naked Emperors: Essays of a Taboo Stalker (1982).

"The progress of science - indeed of all positive knowledge - depends on the courage of Thoreau's 'majority of one' in the face of nearly unanimous error."

Who Benefits? Who pays?, from Filters Against Folly (1985) (view article)

"The idea of negative responsibility is ... a paradoxical concept, but an immensely useful one. The unmanaged commons exhibits negative responsibility, since it actually pays the individual decision maker to make the wrong decision. It is this negative responsibility that generates the tragedy."


Letters by Garrett Hardin

Letter to International Academy for Preventive Medicine, June, 2001



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