The Garrett Hardin Society

Updated 26 September, 2003

Pioneering professor, wife die in apparent double suicide

by Scott Steepleton

September 18, 2003

Garrett James Hardin, a pioneer in the field of population's effect on Earth, died over the weekend along with his wife in an apparent double suicide.

The bodies of Mr. Hardin and his wife, Jane, were found inside their Santa Barbara home Sunday. Mr. Hardin was a professor emeritus at UCSB whose groundbreaking 1968 essay "The Tragedy of the Commons" put forth the notion that human misery would increase greatly without the recognition that livable space on Earth is finite.

He was 88 and she was 81. The couple were married Sept. 7, 1941, and last week celebrated their 62nd anniversary.

Sharon Clausen, one of the couple's four children, said they were in poor health, her father being frail and suffering from a heart condition while her mother had a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"They were both members of the Hemlock Society (End-of-Life Choices) and felt very strongly that they wanted to choose their own time to die," said Ms. Clausen.

Autopsies were being conducted on the bodies, and as of Wednesday the results had not been released.

Ms. Clausen said there was no doubt her parents took their own lives. "They did what they wanted to do," she said.

Mr. Hardin didn't let politics get in the way of his beliefs. He was vilified by the left for calls to limit immigration while his abortion rights views brought criticism from the Republican Party, of which he was a lifelong member. He and his wife were longtime supporters of Planned Parenthood, and in 1973 helped operate an "underground railroad" in which 200 local women went to Mexico seeking abortions.

Goleta City Councilwoman Margaret Connell, a friend of the Hardins since 1956, said Mr. Hardin's research and writing on reproductive rights "were fundamental in getting the state Legislature to pass therapeutic abortion bills in the 1960s."

Mr. Hardin enjoyed making a stir, said those who knew him. He wrote at least a dozen books, but "The Tragedy of the Commons" was his most influential work.

Former Santa Barbara County planning commissioner Ed Maschke, a longtime friend and one-time student of Mr. Hardin's, called the essay life-altering.

"One reason I came to Santa Barbara was, through a course in zoology, I came across 'The Tragedy of the Commons.' Garrett was teaching at the time and I ended up taking 24 units from him," said Mr. Maschke, 55, of Lompoc. "I got to know he and his wife. He was truly a teacher. He certainly made you question everything, and that in my mind is the essence of a true teacher."

Like Socrates and Aristotle, Mr. Hardin, who retired in 1978 after more than 30 years on the UCSB faculty, pushed students to question their way of thinking, recalled Mr. Maschke, and that was irritating to many folks.

"Some people would say to him that his ideas were uppity, that there are many people who have less and that we have to help them, but he would say, 'That's not my job. My job is to question the assumptions that we are making as a society, as a government,'Ê" recalled Mr. Maschke.

Mr. Hardin was diagnosed with polio as a child and later used crutches and then a wheelchair.

That the Hardins may have ended their own lives "is not out of character at all," he added. "The sadness is that I called him awhile back and had hoped to see him. Now I can't."

Mr. Hardin, who wrote well into retirement, received many honors, including the 1997 Constantine Panunzio Distinguished Emeriti Award, which is given each year to a retired faculty member of the nine-campus UC system for continued scholarly achievement.

He was trained as an ecologist and microbiologist and was a professor of human ecology.

Rupert Cutler, assistant secretary of agriculture under President Carter and former executive director of a group known as Population/Environment Balance, of which Mr. Hardin was a founder, called him the best spokesman for the idea that continued growth of the human population would destroy the very environment on which humans depend for their survival.

"My clearest memory of Garrett Hardin was when the two of us were being interviewed by a reporter from the Arizona Republic and how the reporter was obviously uneasy with Garrett's saying that the best days of the Valley of the Sun were behind it," he said. Growth, Mr. Hardin said, had sucked away the area's "cultural carrying capacity."

Mr. Cutler, 69, a city councilman in Roanoke, Va., said the professor's voice will be greatly missed.

"As the human population continues to grow, his message is all the more valid and important," he said. "Part of the result of his death might be more attention paid to his writings in a retrospective sense, at least I hope that's the case."

The Hardins' granddaughter, Sarah Hardin, saw them as a "sort of a second set of parents for me. I spent a good portion of my life growing up with Garrett and Jane Hardin," said Ms. Hardin, 27, of Santa Barbara. "I admire both of them greatly. His incredible ideas and his writings, and Grandma Jane for being the backbone that allowed him to do it."

In addition to Ms. Clausen, who lives in Mendocino County, the Hardins are survived by daughter Hyla Fetler of Santa Barbara and sons Peter Hardin of Amador County and David Hardin of Santa Barbara.

A memorial service is planned for 1:30 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Unitarian Society, 1535 Santa Barbara St. Memorial contributions may be made to Planned Parenthood or Music Academy of the West.

Copyright 2003 Santa Barbara News-Press
Reprinted with permission