The Garrett Hardin Society

Updated 21 October, 2003

Growth and the Thirty Pound Hummingbird

A Brief Tribute to Garrett and Jane Hardin

by Diana Hull

The Hardin's had a big square wooden table in their garden - underneath what I remember as an arbor; it was there that Jane served as many as 20 people for breakfast with her delicious recipe for Eggs Strada.

It was at one of these informal breakfasts in Santa Barbara that I first met Garrett, although I'd exchanged letters with him since the late 1970's when I still lived in Texas.

At that time we were both on the Population Committee of the Sierra Club and I'd become increasingly unhappy with their passivity on the population issue. And for that reason wrote to Garrett, after buying and reading several of his books.

I had no idea then that I would be moving to Santa Barbara or that Garret and Jane would be a part of that small group that founded the organization that I would be leading 25 years later.

Jane was the long time treasurer of CAPS and Garrett was on our Advisory Board until his death.

In writing a longer Hardin Obituary, I included most of his major contributions, which are familiar to Hardin fans. But after re-reading the collection of articles by Garrett again, and the discussion of his work by so many admirers in that inspiring Fall 2001 issue of Social Contract, well I had serious doubts that I could enlarge on what had already been said about his seminal ideas, which, to a large extent, form the "ground" on which the population reduction movement stands.

There is a full menu of choices to anoint as his most important. His contribution - perhaps it was the warning - that exceeding carrying capacity in the present can start a downward spiral toward zero - after which environmental recovery becomes impossible

Or his challenge to that "intuitive ideal" about the sanctity of life - when we should be "sanctifying" sustainability - which is the only policy that can give us a future.

But looking through CAPS' old office files that had been moved from Sacramento to Los Angeles and then to Santa Barbara, I discovered there were still more Hardin ideas that were new, at least to me.

So I have picked one topic out of this treasure trove that seems particularly pertinent to the post 9/11 atmosphere we are living in today.

It seems as if the very same critics who are so opposed to our freeing the Iraqis are also becoming more shrill about freedoms Americans could be losing in this effort to protect ourselves from further terrorist attacks.

But as Garrett pointed out more than 20 years ago, the incremental loss of freedom has been creeping up on us for a very long time. Even, I might add, when John Ashcroft was still living in Springfield, Missouri and so was entirely innocent of causing freedom's loss when it began.

At a San Francisco press conference in 1986 Garrett said crowding was in serious conflict with our everyday freedoms and that the unhampered growth of cities was causing progressive losses: "the freedom to breathe clean air, the freedom of movement to go where we want and to live where we choose." Even then Garrett realized that growth had long since passed any advantage gained by the economy of scale and knew then we were losing one freedom after another.

The promoters of growth, he said, seemed unaware of the "scale effect," a major scientific principle. Growth in size, he reminded us, always causes a change in properties.

When Garrett discussed the importance of scale, he compared excess growth with the Thirty-Pound Hummingbird. There is no way that a humming bird can be scaled up to 30 pounds and still be a humming bird. Instead it becomes more like a slow-flying vulture.

So visualizing this marvelous, delicate creature transformed by such bulk, size and scale is a powerful image about how growth can destroy the essence of things.

Bigger is not only not better, Garrett said, bigger is also less free.

And in valuing freedom Garrett and Jane rejected "lingering too long" in the painful late winter of life.

And what we all wish is that Garrett's courageous ideas take flight at the hummingbird-speed of 80 wingbeats per second - fast enough to keep them aloft.

Garrett and Jane, we can sense your partaking of the nectar of heaven which you so richly deserve for well-lived lives. We wish you good hovering.

Diana Hull, Ph.D.
President, Californians for Population Stabilization
Presented at the FAIR Advisor's Meeting, October 18, 2003.