The Garrett Hardin Society

Updated 9 June, 2003

Garrett Hardin Oral History Project

Tape 8

RUSSELL: This is tape number eight in the Professor Garrett Hardin interview. The date: 15th of June, 1983. The time is 3:00 p.m. The interview is being conducted at Professor Garrett Hardin's residence. I thought we'd start today, Professor Hardin, we could talk about the "Lifeboat Ethics" the "Politics of Survival," and I'll read the other one. I'll get the other one and definitely read that. As we start it off, I thought that--again, I don't think we want to review the literature, because it's there to be read--but I thought it would be appropriate if you started off with the genesis of the idea--how the idea came to you and what you meant by it.

HARDIN: Okay. Well, first of all, I regard it as implicit in the Tragedy of the Commons, but I didn't take it up at the time I wrote that because I didn't want to cause any unnecessary controversy--I mean any avoidable controversy--at that time. I wanted to get the central idea clear. I had no immediate plans for publishing anything about it. I just hadn't thought it through. I didn't know when I would. Then, a young man with the Population Institute in Washington, D.C., got in touch with me by phone and said he wanted to have this symposium on...I believe it was on immigration, at the A.A.A.S. meetings in San Francisco, whatever that year was--I can't remember, '72, '73, what it was--and would I contribute to it. And I said I would.

I thought, well, this is a good time to talk about immigration as a special problem of the "commons." So I wrote the paper and presented it there. There was also a man from the I.N.S., Immigration and Naturalization Service, who I thought was quite good--I've forgotten his name--and a number of other people. I thought it was a good symposium. There was an editor from Psychology Today there, and he asked if he could publish it in Psychology Today. Well, I'd already submitted it to BioScience. I explained that to him. I said, "since they've already accepted it and it's going to be published there, that would mean dual publication." Well, he said, "that wouldn't matter because ours is a different sort of field." So I said, "if you don't mind that fact, it's all right with me." So I let them have it, and I don't remember how much there were in the way of changes. I think they shortened it for Psychology Today, but it's essentially the same article. And, as it happened, since they're in the commercial field, they actually got it out before BioScience--but that's all right.

Now, the one thing I didn't like about Psychology Today, in typical editorial fashion, they stuck a subtitle on it: "The Case Against Helping the Poor." Now that is not a subtitle I would ever have selected. It was not cleared with me; it just appeared. I know this is what commercial presses do all the time, but as I've said frequently since then, "I'm not against helping the poor. The question is, what constitutes help?" I'm against intervening in the affairs of other nations because of our past record of such well-meant interventions. Quite often, they do more harm than good, and in the long run, I think most of them do more harm than good. So I'm against intervention, but I'm not against helping. But the correction never catches up with the original mistake like this, so I'm stuck with it, and I just have to defend myself as best I can. But that's the history of those two articles. In a way--although I don't like the antagonism that the Psychology Today article brings out, at least it does get the idea around. The Psychology Today version has been very widely reprinted, and that's what most people refer to, including, I'm sorry to say, that unfortunate subtitle.

RUSSELL: In the class that I attended, where you were responding to the philosophy students, you mentioned your wife-beating conflict--maybe the use of the lifeboat analogy maybe should have been replaced by the continuation of the "commons" idea. Do you want to put something on the record in response to that?

HARDIN: Well, I have mixed feelings about that. Certainly, the lifeboat image provokes opposition, some of it unnecessary. On the other hand, it does get people's attention. I'm willing to take the abuse if I can get their attention. It's like the old story about the mule: you hit him over the head with a two-by-four to get his attention. I'm willing to do that.

The unfortunate thing about the lifeboat image is that there are really two lifeboat problems. I'm speaking now of real lifeboat situations. In the case of a lifeboat that is already loaded up to capacity, if the people on the lifeboat refuse to take on any more, they are never charged, or successfully charged, with having done anything wrong in a court of law. It's accepted that that is the nature of the situation and they don't have to take on extra passengers. However, in the case of a lifeboat which is already loaded, perhaps over capacity, and somebody starts throwing people off, that's another problem legally. And there is a very famous case of the ship "John Brown," off the east coast about the time of Lincoln's administration, as I recall. One of the sailors took it upon himself to throw people overboard, saying they were simply overloaded and that was it. He just threw over a number until he got down to the number he felt there should be. They got in port and then this sailor was charged with murder and, in fact, was convicted. The judge said that in such a case, if people should volunteer to go overboard, that would be all right; but no one could take it upon himself to be the judge. Therefore this man was a murderer. He was convicted. Well, there were mixed feelings about this, as you can imagine. And as I recall, after about six months, either the governor or the President--I can't remember which--pardoned him.

I think there's a general feeling that this was probably a good solution. He should have been convicted of murder, but, on the other hand, he should have been pardoned, too. People have mixed feelings about this. But you see, that's a different lifeboat problem, when you throw overboard people who are already on board. And about that, I don't think we can say the law is really clear. There have been very few cases.

Whereas with the other lifeboat problem, I think the law is quite clear. You're not compelled, you might say, to commit suicide by taking more people on board. And basically, what I am talking about when I use the lifeboat as an image for the national situation--I'm thinking of the case in which the lifeboat is not yet overcrowded, and I'm urging that we not overcrowd it--that we do not take on board more people. I don't know what to say about the other case; a case like India, or Haiti.

RUSSELL: I find it fascinating--I was fascinated when I was reading it--being an urban historian by training. Thinking of Sao Paulo, or thinking of our major urban centers--which, really, the population explosion primarily is because of the migration into these areas--of maybe dealing with the same analogy here, being able to say "no more." We can't allow more people to come in, looking at the suffering and the plight.

HARDIN: Yes. Well, of course, that's another problem within a country. What do you do about the urban-rural thing? That's a real tough one. Of course, you know, what they do in China is that you cannot move into a city unless you have a job. And you cannot have a job unless you are already a resident of the city. And that's it.

RUSSELL: That's inscrutable, isn't it?

HARDIN: It's a catch-22 as far as the individual is concerned, but that's it. You just can't do it. There's no freedom to move into the Chinese cities because they are, apparently, very consciously trying to avoid following the same route as all the other countries.

RUSSELL: Which would be disastrous for them. I wonder if you could comment a little bit about the controversy that you have faced as a result of this. Has there been any unpleasantness that you feel...? I've read it myself, and I can't see where there is controversy, and I don't know why people are upset.

HARDIN: Oh, well, they take this as the person who wrote it must totally lack any heart. And the ones who have lambasted me most severely clearly feel that very strongly. For example, I tend to block out unpleasant people.... The name of the man--he's now the pastor of Riverside Church in New York. He was very active in the civil rights....

RUSSELL: Was that Coffin?

HARDIN: Coffin, yes. We were part of a panel, part of a group discussion, at one of the eastern schools, and oh, he really let me have it. I regarded it as an absolutely unfair attack, every way. I mean for one thing, he was playing to the gallery. When it came time for him to speak, he took off his coat with a great gesture and showed his hairy chest and the necklace that was hanging on it, and so on. And oh, he just laid into me. I regarded this as utterly improper and undignified. Absolutely terrible. But I have had a very low opinion of him since then. He also went over to the Near East to try to independently make peace. Now this is absolutely unjustified because it's hard enough for us to try to intervene with an official agent, and to have independent people go over there and stir up these muddy waters I think is inexcusable. And yet he did that. So, I mean, that sort of person. And there have been two or three others, too. Since I felt that they were unfair and improper, it bothered me at the time, but not in any permanent way.

RUSSELL: Did it damage the case? Do you think using the lifeboat...?

HARDIN: I think the facts are on my side. People may not like to use the word "lifeboat," don't like to use the word "image," but they, really, more and more people are coming to see that we have to do something about restricting--they use all sorts of words, and so on--but the essence is to restrict, and that was my point.

RUSSELL: Then it came across.


RUSSELL: I wonder if we could go a little bit into the article and, as we said, one of the major problems as I was reading it--but I don't think very many people have read it--the parallel that you make there, or the putting the juxtaposition of the ecologists versus the do-gooder. And placing them next to each other. And talking about the idea of time--how the ecologist is aware of time, but the do-gooder is not. How do you see the idea holding as far as our view of society? Obviously, you come as an ecologist from a different point of view.

HARDIN: Well, I see the ecologist reviving an older attitude. It means getting closer to Edmund Burke, at a time when people regarded time as more of a problem, as more a part of moral issues and moral answers. Certainly Burke did, where he said once that--I have it approximately correct--that people will not have a regard for posterity if they do not look back to their ancestors. Now this, as I see it, was the view of a man who was, so to speak, standing in a baronial hall and looking at the portraits of his ancestors; the past was very real to him, and so he extended time into the future. I think this is a sound insight. I think that people who do have a keen identification with their past are more likely to be willing to make sacrifices for the future. This, I think, is a proper definition of conservatism. In that sense, I think I'm a conservative, and I think most ecologists are conservative. Time is a very real part of all moral problems.

RUSSELL: In reference to our ecology, I was thinking of California. How we waste water by growing grass and really prettying the environment that we have here, like in Santa Barbara, as an example. Are we setting a bad example, do you think, in that regard?

HARDIN: Well, I think one has to distinguish between renewable and non-renewable resources. And the fact is that water is clearly a renewable one; it's renewed every year, and so on. And one should not plan on hoarding water for posterity. There you merely want a system that's in equilibrium, that on the average you use each year only the amount of water that falls each year, and you're not required to save it. On the average, I mean. To be safe, of course, you should save some in the very wet years to use in the dry years, and so on. But on the average, use it, because it really won't make any difference. You can't hoard it indefinitely.

The question is, if you don't use water to grow grass, what do you use it for? We may have arguments. If you use it for growing food to send to Egypt, I'm against that. I think it would be better to grow the grass because poor Egypt is already overloaded with people. So it's a tough question.

RUSSELL: The thing I was trying to get at, there is reinforcing within the individual's mind this idea that I think most people would feel that we'll just solve our water problems. That eventually we will be able to move some plant in and have desalinization, so let the population grow as much as it wants. Do you think living within our bounds that we have...? You talked about a limited society and that we have to come to grips with it.

HARDIN: Oh, yes. Well, for this area, I certainly think we should live within the bounds of the water we have, and I will fight--in fact, I have fought--every proposal to move more water in here, because I know what it will be used for is building more houses and bringing in more people. I'm against that. In the long run, I think we'll get into a great deal of trouble if we do that. So I'd say, live within our limits, even if it means, say, cutting down on the right to grow grass. Now I did see that once, back in about 1948 or '49--I can't remember the year--there was a desperate shortage of water and the city of Santa Barbara, in that case, which was the important one then--there wasn't much in the way of Goleta--city of Santa Barbara passed a law against using water on lawns. Now that was a very easy one to enforce, because if your lawn was green, that was the evidence you had violated the law. So all over the city, these lovely lawns just turned brown, but that was right because it was either that or be short of drinking water. And there was no objection at that. The people who had lovely lawns hated it, but they knew this was the right decision.

RUSSELL: And they had to go along with it. I thought we could next turn to the problem of carrying capacity, and try to deal with it in a biological sense. Have you maybe expound a little bit on the range of population problem. I think people don't see that as an issue.

HARDIN: Well, I would like to go back before this, in a way, because there are two aspects of science that need to be considered. If you think of what science has meant in the last couple of centuries--what the broad trends are--there have really been two trends. One has been the discovery of what Whittaker called the impotence principles of science--the things that say what you cannot do, what the limits are. The great example above all others are the laws of thermodynamics, the first law and the second law. The first law, conservation; the second law, that useful energy constantly diminishes. Well, those--put in explicit form--came from the middle of the nineteenth century. That doesn't mean that people didn't have an approximate idea of them before, but until they were actually put into words, you can't say that scientists were entirely living by them. Once they put them into words, you could criticize them, you could see no escape from them. This really changed the whole tenor of science at a very basic level.

But, unfortunately, at the same time that this was coming to be accepted as the very heart of science--the discovery of the limiting principles--at the very same time, science on the technology side was having magnificent triumphs. One apparent limit after another was being set aside. We have this famous paper of Jevins in the middle of the nineteenth century, in which he put a date to the end of England's coal supplies and, of course, he was completely wrong. And then other people putting a limit to energy, and of course, we had atomic energy come in, too. We have things like several distinguished physicists saying that man would never fly in a heavier-than-air machine. And we did that. And so on. Well, this sort of thing happened time after time after time and got people used to thinking as the engineers do--and I think I said this last time--that the difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer. But we do them both.

The general public is more aware of, more impressed by, and more pleased by what appear to be the non-conservative aspects of science: we can do anything that we can dream of. Practicing scientists are more impressed by the conservative aspects, the things that set the limits, because they use these ideas every day in their work. For instance, the mere fact of a balanced chemical equation--you couldn't even write an equation if you didn't believe that there was conservation. And if you didn't believe there was conservation, you couldn't make chemical discoveries, really couldn't. Because the conservation laws are like the rules of accounting. They keep you honest. It seems quibbling when the accountant says that if, at the end of the month, you reckon up your books and there's one penny more on one side than the other you have to go back and work and work until you find out where that penny came from--until you balance the books. That seems like a quibble. Why not just throw a penny in the pot and have done with it? But no, no, no, he says. That's the discipline of accounting, and you've got to stick to it. The same way in science. You've got to make equations balance.

Carrying capacity falls under the heading of the conservative principles. For the animals other than human beings, which most people just call animals, the carrying capacity causes no essential trouble, no arguments. The carrying capacity for deer of a piece of land can be determined with considerable exactitude by the experts, who can look over the situation, make measurements, and so on. They'll come up with a figure. They'll say the carrying capacity of this square mile of land is seventy-five deer, say. And maybe it's seventy; maybe it's eighty. But it's about seventy-five. Now they acknowledge that there will be differences from year to year, but by the official carrying capacity, they mean the safe carrying capacity. In other words, you have to allow for bad years, as well as good years, and keep the number down to the bad year level so that you have a safety factor. Just as you have the carrying capacity of a bridge, you have a safety factor there. In the same way. But with that qualification, carrying capacity is a very sharp idea with non-human animals.

When we come to human animals, aside from the safety factor consideration, we run into some other factors that cause considerable trouble. Do you have in mind that people have meat in their diet, or are they going to eat a vegetarian diet? If they're going to eat a vegetarian diet, somewhere between five and ten times as many people can live on the same piece of land, and that's quite a difference. Are people going to live a luxurious life, or a very simple life? Are they going to ride around in expensive automobiles, or are they going to ride in buses and trains, and walk and ride bicycles, and so on? All of those things figure into the carrying capacity. In other words, the quality of life. The physical quality of life. And the simplest way to put this is in terms of energy. This isn't the whole story, but it is a very quick way to grab a hold of the problem. We require three-thousand kilocalories a day per person to simply live, and nothing more. Actually, Americans, at the latest reckoning, use two hundred and eleven thousand kilocalories a day per person. That's the quality of our life. When you come to countries like India and Bangladesh, they use, say, something like thirty or forty thousand kilocalories a day. Say thirty thousand. In other words, they use ten times as much energy as they need for food alone. But, what do they use it for? Well, they use it for their clothing. They don't need as much in a tropical climate as one would in a colder one, of course. And they have some automobiles. They have some buses, and machines of various sorts, and these use up some of the energy. But they live on a much smaller energy diet than we do. So, if you ask what is the carrying capacity for any piece of real estate, you have to specify at what level of living. There is no unique answer for carrying capacity. Asking that question immediately raises problems of value. What quality of life do you have in mind? The higher the quality of life, in the physical sense, the lower the carrying capacity. And vice versa.

RUSSELL: As far as the biosphere is concerned, in the engineering of it, we're in our infancy, aren't we? As far as actually trying to figure out the...

HARDIN: Well, I think at that point you have to ask a question which I've put a couple of times in articles: "Does God give a prize for the maximum number of people?" If you think He gives a prize for the maximum number of people, then you mean that people should live a life something like that of the Indians, or even worse, the Bangladeshi. Thirty-thousand calories a year, or even less. In other words, food, simple clothing, shank's mare transportation for the most part, and so on. A very simple life. Then the carrying capacity of the earth then becomes very big. Much bigger than the present population, which is getting near five billion. Probably it's ten, fifteen billion. But, does God give a prize for that? You have to ask yourself that.

RUSSELL: And no one knows the answer.

HARDIN: No one knows the answer. Most people don't want to ask it. They just act as if they've already answered it--yes, He does give a prize. Then the carrying capacity turns out to be fifteen or twenty billion. But if you say, no, I don't regard that as a kind of life we should live, and then you lay out the sort of life we should live, say, that of most lower middle-class Americans, then you'll discover the carrying capacity is far less than the present five billion.

Oh, one other thing I've failed to mention, of course--and this is important--has been that technology has clearly increased the carrying capacity of the earth in the last couple of hundred years. You see, it isn't a fixed value. The question is, will technology continue to increase the carrying capacity without limit, or will there be limits? I think there are good arguments for there being limits, and also good arguments for saying that technology has not increased the carrying capacity of the earth as much as we think it has, because so many of the advances in technology have been primarily advances in transportation. Moving coal from one place to another; moving oil from one place to another. And you can get the advantage of that advance only once, and having got it, then you're through. And we're just about through with the advances in transportation.

RUSSELL: Thinking of the time span to the concept of misusing the soil...

HARDIN: Oh, yes. There's another place we fool ourselves. Much of this supposed increase is really a phantom increase, an increase at the expense of the future. The soil is going down the drain. Eventually, we'll have to pay for that, which means, at the very least, putting more energy into rebuilding the soil, which means the energy we put into that we can't put into simple living: energy for repair.

RUSSELL: Who should establish limits do you think in society?

HARDIN: There's a sixty-four dollar question. I have no idea. I don't know how one can.... You know, what does the word "should" mean? I think all one can say is that, if it is a totalitarian society, then clearly the limits--when this is faced--the limits will be established by the governing group, whoever it is. And in a sense, the Chinese are facing that now and they have decided that their society, which now has slightly over a billion people in it, should eventually have much less than a billion. I think they hope for a quarter of a billion. It's a remarkable decision. Now, with our nation the way it is we have to learn to control market forces to get the population we want: that raises all sorts of funny problems. We haven't faced.... I don't have a simple answer, but it's an extremely complex question for a non-totalitarian society. Maybe it can't be solved within such a society. There may be a sort of Gresham's Law ("Bad money drives out good") that says that bad living standards drive out good living standards.

RUSSELL: The farm lobby, with more grain to be sold, and the farmer's motives...

HARDIN: Yes. All these conflicting things--each group seeking it's own interest--will result in a bad answer for all of us, I'm afraid.

I would hope that a subject like population control would become an active subject for discussion in the educational realm soon and will continue so for decades, during which time we flounder away toward some sort of answers, which I hope will be less severe and rigid than China's. But if we don't make progress through debate, progress will be made other ways.

RUSSELL: I was thinking in the area of mandating curriculum. We would maybe have to make a value judgment as to what would be more important for the mass of humanity--a biology course or an ecology course? To satisfy the requirements and maybe change it into the type of input that we would credit...

HARDIN: Yes. There's a good example of vested interests. About ten years ago, one biologist, I think at the University of Michigan, divided all of biology into two sorts: skin out and skin in! A wonderful simplification! "Skin in" biology is DNA and what's going on in the cells and all that; "skin out" is the relation of organisms to each other, roughly, ecology. And in my view, that which is most important for most people is the "skin out" biology, rather than the "skin in." I think the emphasis on DNA, and so forth, is vastly misplaced for the general student. Molecular biology has been a marvelously exciting adventure for biologists. Intellectually, it is just marvelous. But the details of DNA behavior have really nothing to do with every day problems. But, the tragedy is this: biologists are trained by their professor who trained them in DNA knowledge, so they want to treat their students in the same way. The educational tragedy of a priesthood.

RUSSELL: Talking to doctors, and as far as their profession is concerned, if you were to discuss oh, calorie intake, or talk about dietary problems with the average physician, he is probably as ignorant as the lay person. Do you think the same could be said of most biologists...?

HARDIN: I don't think quite so much. They're not so much ignorant, because ecology--the concepts--are really very simple and easily learned. I think the principle fault is that since they are fairly simple, fairly easily learned, they don't have the attraction for the professional biologist that the difficult things do. It's fun to work through the difficult materials, to work through the structure of DNA and the experiments by which this structure was deduced. I mean, they are marvelous--absolutely exciting. And it's the excitement of the chase that gets the professional to want to try to convince his students, isn't that a wonderful, exciting thing. I think that's the problem. Ecology is just not intellectually as exciting as molecular biology.

RUSSELL: An English teacher would rather teach Chekhov than teach writing, although writing might be more beneficial for the student.

HARDIN: Yes. That's right, yes. I mean, writing, as they say, a business letter, writing a note of resignation, these are things that you have to do and do well. Whereas the really fancy stuff, well, say, Chaucer or old English or something, you know, that fascinates the professional, but it doesn't have much interest for John Q. Citizen.

RUSSELL: The crux of the problem, then, really, we're getting back to the Greek concept of politics, that probably the most important thing is how we treat one another and the big decisions will be handled in this arena. And yet we shy away from it.

HARDIN: That's right. Well, Aristotle said, "man is a political animal," and he put his finger on a real key point. But, having said that, now I have to go, like the typical college professor, and find fault again. Political scientists have noticed what I've done to a certain extent, and I was invited to a national convention of political scientists three or four years ago, to give a talk, which I did. I thought, "While I'm here, I'll just stay two or three days and listen in on others. I was appalled, frankly, the level of triviality and the lack of depth, the way that they dealt with things! I had the feeling that most of these people hoped that some day they'd be on the staff of one of the senators. A lot of them will be. That sort of practical, every day, superficial, in the deepest sense--that's a funny thing to say--superficial way of approaching things. No depth at all. So I would not want to turn the education over to the political scientists of the present day, simply because of their lack of depth.

RUSSELL: The biologists, therefore, should become more politically oriented.

HARDIN: Well, I would like to see that. I think some of the best of them--some of the most insightful--have been ecologists, but only a few of the ecologists. Because besides being a great generalizing science, ecology is also a mass of specializing things. If you look at the journal named Ecology, the level of most of the articles compares favorably with those in the political science journals. They're superficial. Details here, and so on, with no overall vision apparent.

RUSSELL: Hackneyed, regurgitated material over and over?

HARDIN: Essentially, the same thing discovered with a new organism. You see, biologists could do that forever. Ecologists can go on forever with ten million species--the same principle discovered with another one.

RUSSELL: Case study after case study. We'll pile them end to end.

HARDIN: That's right. And I'm afraid that's what most of it is.

RUSSELL: In reference to analyzing the carrying capacity for the world, I was going to make an analogy that we might be able to keep alive here. If we were to analyze the world as far as carrying capacity, do we have to also deal with the idea of superiority. Would it be better to allow the United States, with it's high level of science, high level of technology, to proliferate and, therefore, move against, maybe, Mexico and these other nations as a result of allowing.... In other words, if we were to manage the commons in the proper way, would we get into a problem where we would maybe be saying, well, these people are more fit and, therefore, should be allowed to grow, whereas we'd curtail the population growth here?

HARDIN: Yes. Well, I'm afraid I have to part ways with you here very early, because I think it's a great mistake to consider this on a global basis. I see no prospect, in terms of all that I know, or think I know, about human nature--I see no prospect of having a world government. And I'm not even convinced that this would be good. So, I think whatever is done has to be done in terms of nations, or some other unit. In other words, a unit that claims sovereignty--the largest unit that claims sovereignty--must also be told that it is therefore responsible for living within it's limits, whatever they are. And if the people on an island, say the Galápagos Islands--and actually, they are owned I guess by Ecuador--but suppose the Galápagos Islands were a separate nation, which they could well be. If they were a separate nation, then they should be told, you have to live within the limits of whatever this territory offers you, and don't expect to be bailed out by others. Because this is a poor piece of real estate, and the carrying capacity of the Galápagos Islands, I suspect, is around a thousand at, you know, a reasonably modest level of living. Actually, I think there are about five thousand living there now, but that's four thousand of them living on what they take from the tourists that come there, I'm sure. But it's just a poor piece of real estate, and I don't think the fact that it's poor should constitute any claim on the charity of other people.

Take another example. Sometimes statements have been made in recent years that the land-locked nations should be furnished a share of the riches of the ocean; it's not their fault that they're land-locked. Well, this, I think, is ridiculous, because you start doing that and you're going to end up by saying, well, the people in Greenland ought to have a chance to lie under the palm trees, too. And the people in Cuba ought to have a chance to ski. This becomes ridiculous. In other words, each place is peculiar, but don't regard this as an injustice. It's just the nature of the world.

Each sovereign nation should live within the limit of its resources, whatever they are. Now they can modify this somewhat if they have some special skills that they can make something, say, statues out of ivory, that other people can't. Then they can sell those and they can use that money as foreign exchange for buying things they don't have. I mean Cuba can, for example, buy snow machines and create some ski runs on its little mountains, if it wants to spend its money that way. But it shouldn't expect the rest of the world to furnish the money. Iceland or Greenland say, could put up some hot houses and use artificial illumination, grow a few palm trees and have some of their people lie under the palm trees, if they really want to. But that's their decision. But they shouldn't expect to be given a section of tropical beach elsewhere, just because they don't have it. In the same way, I don't think the land-locked nations should expect to be given seafood. If they can buy it with some of their foreign exchange, fine. But I don't see that they should have any right to it.

RUSSELL: Being that man is an animal and moving into the concept of territory, which is one of the concepts that you treat here, how do we get man to realize that--being a human and, as we've said, we've conquered disease, we've conquered all these other things--how do we get man to realize that he can't expand his territory beyond...?

HARDIN: Well, the first thing that each nation that has what might be called a surplus now should do is to come out firmly against the Marxian ideal, "to each according to his needs," and say, oh, no, we don't support that at all. And we'll do what we can according to our ability and you do what you can according to your ability. But needs do not enter into it. Needs do not create right. If you recognize that your need does not constitute a demand on the substance of other countries, then you've got to live within your income, within your resources. How do you do it? And you're going to discover one thing you have to do is control your population size. I think that's the key to peace.

RUSSELL: There's one term that, when you read the article, and not being a biologist, I had a hard time visualizing, and that's "population crash." As we would see that as obviously some 1984 dilemma that would befall the world. Could you give any--for the record, if someone wants to pick up this piece of literature and read it--from the animal world...

HARDIN: Yes. Because we do have a few very well authenticated cases, where there aren't any complications. Often there are complications and you end up with an ambiguous answer. One clear case is St. Matthew Island in the Bering Sea, where some reindeer were released--why they were released I've never had anybody explain to me--but somebody, for a hobby or God knows what, released some reindeer there. And for about twenty years they increased exponentially. It was just marvelous. See, here was all this food--all this reindeer moss. No predators. And the numbers just went up, up, up, up.

Then, in one year, the number crashed from--I've forgotten; I can look up these figures, but--something like six thousand to twenty in one year. Absolutely massive die-off. Now that's the sort of thing that's meant by a population crash: when you've overshot the carrying capacity, the adjustment is not gentle. It's a real crash.

The same thing could happen to us in respect to soil. Suppose a nation has the average for the world, seven inches of soil. Suppose you need half an inch to get along. Well, for year after year, as this seven inches goes down, the productivity goes down slightly, slightly, slightly, but then, finally, when you get down to that last half inch, and then maybe you have an unusually heavy rain some year and it washes all of it off, then you're down to zero. And that is the way it happens--very fast. Within a year or a very few years you have the productivity go way down, and, in the meantime, you have a population that assumes a decent depth of soil. Suddenly, they are out of food.

RUSSELL: I was thinking when I was reading this and applying it--I guess we're creatures of our own discipline--but looking at the urban center. And rather than a population crash, talking about a psychological crash.

HARDIN: Well, yes, the urban setting is very common, because, for one thing, a city is never living on the carrying capacity of the city--it's living on the carrying capacity of the whole country. So it's real complicated. But I think you've got a good point. It may be that the things we need to fear now are not so much sheer starvation as psychological or political crashes. The moment you say that you put yourself in an area where we have much less certain knowledge and much less ability to predict. We don't know what will happen, but we can imagine some very dreadful things.

RUSSELL: I was thinking of the experiments with rats.

HARDIN: Yes. The rats are relevant, but not immediately applicable to human beings for many reasons. And, of course, as many people point out, rats have little culture. There's no possibility of charismatic leaders lecturing to them, sermonizing, saying now you've got to be better, and so on.

Another thing: the rat stories are slightly false in this sense--that where there was the most trouble was where there were rats essentially without clear territory. They were put into an artificial situation and had not developed the defenses that come with territory, and so they just grew, grew, grew much larger than they would have if they'd had territory. So it was partly a social disorganization phenomenon, due to highly artificial circumstances. In later experiments, doing somewhat the same thing, but allowing the animals to establish territories, resulted in much less psychological disruption.

RUSSELL: I can't think of the name of the book, but it really caught my attention about four or five years ago, and as you were talking, I was thinking about it. The gentleman who went to Africa--he was an anthropologist--and wrote a book about carrying capacity and the way of love, and compared our society with the African society, and a tribe that was starving to death. And how the mother rejoiced that the lion had eaten the baby, because the lion would stop, and they might have a chance at food for themselves. Versus our society, not having love because of too much, and what it could do to the individual.

HARDIN: Well, that didn't sound... Are you thinking of Colin Turnbull?

RUSSELL: I think so. With the...

HARDIN: Yes. The Ikes? The stories of the Ikes? I thought he had slightly different points to make. The story of the Ikes was more comparable to that of Calhoun's rats, which is what you're talking about, because the Ikes.... This is in Uganda. The native government--now this was not Europeans or anything, thank God--but the native government had moved the Ikes from one place to another, like our moving the Cherokees from one place to another, so they deprived them of all the psychological and traditional support that a traditional territory gives. And this other territory that the Uganda government moved them to was a very poor territory. They just couldn't make a go of it, and so they were dying off. And in the process of dying off in this strange place, it became this classic "every man against every man." And mothers against children. I mean, mothers take food away from children. Children would steal from their parents. Children would steal from each other. Nobody had any, you know, love for anybody else. That was really the story he was telling. And a very dreadful story. In a way, almost the most dreadful part of it, when you stop and think about it, was his part in this. Because to observe this, he had a Land-Rover that could be closed up, and he had all the food he needed inside the Land-Rover. And he'd sit inside the Land-Rover and observe these people. When he got out, he locked it all up so that they couldn't get to his food. So he could observe them. There are not many people....

RUSSELL: I'd have gone mad...

HARDIN: Well, I'm glad he did it, but there are not many people who have the guts to do that. I mean, that's absolutely.... And yet he had to, because if he'd started sharing food with them, then the whole situation would have changed, and he couldn't observe what had happened to them, you see. I think he was there for three years. I don't see how he stood it.

RUSSELL: Very difficult. To deal with this concept of revolution--the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution, and you know, it's like the chicken or the egg. And then as it developed, we go to World War I and our order breaks down. Existentialism comes in. I guess from the philosophical point of view, you might take existentialism and look at the idea that, you know, we're living for the moment and not have something as far as time is concerned. My emphasis here is that, where are the literary figures that...? We have a Dickens that you referred to that looked at the industrial revolution and was able to look at it, and maybe we need some literary figures that would be able to carry the torch for a while and get people to see things...

HARDIN: I don't know. That really throws me. I haven't any answer at all. You know, the thing that so many people noticed that, although maybe you can cite a number of important books that came out of the First World War--All Quiet on the Western Front, and Hemingway, and this, that, and the other--people have had trouble with the Second World War, finding anything comparable. And I think they have. Maybe it's because we're too sophisticated--we take...

RUSSELL: Hiroshima is the only one I can think of.

HARDIN: What's that? Hiroshima? Oh, John Hersey's. Yes, that could... I would agree with you there. Now that was not a novel, of course. That was straight reporting, but that was perhaps a most...

RUSSELL: That was my thinking. If someone could, you know, do what he did for atomic energy--do the same thing for population explosion. Because here we have this... Although that one book was a scientific analysis of these people and what happened to them as far as, you know, food, and yet we have nothing...

HARDIN: Gosh, thing's are so complex now, you know. How do you take certain events and have them stand for the whole? The selectivity is so great that you're not sure that there's any validity in what you're saying. Real tough.

RUSSELL: It would have to be an artist...

HARDIN: Or, it may be that the great novels have been written and have been remaindered and forty years from now we'll discover them, and say, now here's..!

RUSSELL: Tolkien or something like that.... Well, let me see. What else do I have here. Well, I thought maybe we could talk a little bit about, as a symbol of our myopic view of the Third World at the Bucharest Conference, and their symbol of take care of the people and the population will take care of itself. The mentality of that type of statement.

HARDIN: Yes. They did this at a time when, for various reasons, the Third Worlders sort of had the world by the tail, you know. Anything they said, nobody had the nerve to contradict them. There was a period in the metamorphosis of the blacks where the same thing happened, and this was a bad period for them, because an awful lot of silly things were said because the whites didn't have the nerve to contradict them. Well, I think we've gotten past that now and if something silly is said, other people, including blacks, say that's silly. Well, Bucharest was the height of silliness for the Third World: take care of the people and population will take care of itself, as somebody said at that conference. And they also said at that conference, the best contraceptive is development. Well, I was pleased to note the other day that the president of the Population Council, which is one of the more influential population groups, it's in New York City--supported by Rockefeller Well, Rockefeller and Ford both, I guess. I've forgotten. But well-supported. The president of the Population Council said that's nonsense. He said development is no contraceptive. He said the only contraceptive is contraception and the willingness to use it.

RUSSELL: That's pretty good.

HARDIN: So, that's ten years later, though, at the time--I've forgotten who was president back in 1973, but whoever was president of the Population Council wasn't saying anything then. He was just being quiet while they said all those silly things at Bucharest.

RUSSELL: The idea of growing--for the Third World--intellectually.... We know that they're taking hold of their own national states now and wanting to write their own history. Do you see any movement--ecological movements--within the Third World? Are there any lights that you can see?

HARDIN: Well, there are some, but of a few people there. The trouble is, most of the people in the third world have not a good grasp of large issues at all. This is partly because of the large illiteracy, and so forth and so on. There are people in the east African countries, Kenya and Tanzania--I won't say Uganda, but Kenya and Tanzania--who understand the problems that they're up against from the ecological point of view. They don't know what to do about it because they don't have the power--the political power, the economic power--to do what needs to be done. But they understand it. That's good that they understand it. And there are very cooperative ventures going on now between westerners and the Third World. And there's countries trying to do something about it. For example, there is a man whose name I forget for the moment who is farming the wild animals in Kenya. He said that one of the surest ways of preserving these is to make it worth people's while from an economic point of view. So he said, turn over a large area of land to an economic unit and let them farm these animals, because then they will stop the poaching because poaching is against their interests. You don't have to get the government to do it. And since they can sell the meat at a reasonable price and make a profit, they're going to want to maximize these wild animals. And he has, for example, opened up a restaurant in which you can get impala steak, and so forth and so on. All the various cuts of these various animals, and so on. At high prices. And westerners come there and pay it because they can brag about all these fancy foods that they've eaten. I'm the first kid on my block to have one, you know. Oh, I think this is very sound. And, you see, the local government people of Kenya are working with him on this. You know, giving him the necessary permissions to do this. And I'm sure that the poaching on his land is very little, because he's not going to put up with it.

RUSSELL: But population, as far as population control, other than the Chinese--it's pretty bleak, isn't it?

HARDIN: It's really bleak, really nothing hopeful in sight, except in a few places. Mostly among the Asiatics, like the Chinese. And certain promising things among some of the other southeast Asian places, where they've.... Small experiments, not whole countries, but small experiments that have worked out apparently fairly well. There was a tea plantation, a private tea plantation in India, where the--you could almost call it the government; actually it was a business which acted as a government--a paternalistic sort of manager offered to pay money into a retirement fund for the women who worked on the tea plantation. And the size of the payments was inversely proportional to the number of children they had. See, in other words, the more children you had, the lower the payments will be. The fewer the children you have, the bigger the payments will be. And this apparently had some success.

RUSSELL: It worked out pretty well?

HARDIN: I haven't heard recent reports. At least, it did for a few years. All these things you have to be cautious. Often, anything works for the first two or three years. You know, it's sort of the new kid on the block type of idea. You know, it works for a while, and then later it doesn't. And I don't know whether.... Well, the last I heard, it wasn't working very well because the firm had not raised the payments in keeping with inflation, and, of course, that's absolutely necessary. If you don't keep up the payments with inflation, well then, pretty soon there's no motive. So that was the last I heard, and it's sort of petering out.

RUSSELL: Probably the last thing we'll be able to discuss today... Do you envision, or is there an area, or a possibility of an area developing a population crash, the same way that we have observed...?

HARDIN: A population crash? Oh, I think that's very possible. It will probably have to be sort of.... Well, in a way it's happened already on a small scale in the Sahel. This happened several years ago. You'll find a lot of learned controversy over how bad it was, simply because nobody's there, really, to count. So, of course, the people who don't like the idea of population crash say, oh, that wasn't so bad--just a few people died. But they probably had a million people die, out of maybe five- or six-million, and that would constitute a pretty good crash. But, for a really large one, it'll probably be coincident with a lot of worldwide social disorganization generally. The reason I say that is because when one starts to occur on a large scale, then rescue efforts, at least the first and the second time, will be mounted. Of course, after about the third or fourth repetition of this, then maybe people won't mount rescue efforts. But, for instance, Bangladesh might have a dreadful failure of the monsoons, and so on. Ninety-three million people there. The rest of the world might well mount a rescue effort and keep the crash down to, say, twenty-five million dying. Whereas without that, there might be fifty or seventy-five million dying. It would be within the realm of possibility. But the first time, probably, there'd be rescue. But unless other countries are in such dire trouble, they just can't do it..


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