Updated 7 October, 2003
Tribute to Garrett Hardin
William R. Catton, Jr.
Garrett Hardin's wisdom and clearly expressed challenges to conventional thoughtways will live on. Had his only publication been the 1968 paper in Science magazine, "The Tragedy of the Commons," that alone would have been a monumental intellectual legacy. Just where in his numerous books and papers occurred the simple truth about every "shortage" of some resource being a "longage" of demand for it, I don't recall. But his aphoristic statement of that concept perfectly reflects his keen awareness that we see not just with eyes but with ideas. He was a great purveyor of vision-widening ideas.
Only twice did I have opportunities for face-to-face conversations with Garrett Hardin, but I will long cherish having heard him address an audience at Washington State University under the title "Eskimos and Ecologists Are Happy" - meaning that one need not be demoralized either by living in an extremely limiting environment nor from studying a discipline that fosters maximum awareness of limits.
Shortly thereafter it was my privilege to publish a review of his 1993 book, Living Within Limits, in the journal Human Ecology Review. As usual with Hardin's books, it was filled with epigrammatic gems. One of my favorites: "With the coinage of 'sustainable development,' the defenders of the unsteady state have won a few more years' moratorium from the painful process of thinking." We who admired him must continue our efforts to end that moratorium.