Updated 17 October, 2003
Tribute to Garrett Hardin
by Craig Straub
I was first introduced to the writings of Dr. Hardin as an undergraduate through assigned readings for the courses of Environmental Ethics and Environmental Problem Solving. I was immediately captivated by his writing style and content, every sentence loaded, just like C.S. Lewis. For the first time my tightly held evangelical view that "Jesus loves the little children" equates to saving every last life was dismantled after being steam-rolled by "Lifeboat Ethics." My initial disagreements with his proposals found me perpetually disrobed with embarrassment, excusing myself from further discussion until I did my library work.
After graduate school I began working in the field of Ecological Restoration. It was in the third year of my professional career that Dr. Hardin's ideologies haunted me with conviction. An article in the Atlantic Monthly entitled "The West Against the Rest" caused me six months of contemplation, resulting in a life-altering experience to reclaim the field of Human Ecology. Discussions with Garrett indicated that the meaning of Human Ecology had deviated substantially in academia from his intent at UCSB and it was of utmost importance to intervene misuse of the term. Degree offerings in Human Ecology within academic institutions were now related to Home Economics.
My quest and Garrett's wish, to reclaim the field of Human Ecology, resulted in the formation of a doctoral program in Human Ecology focusing on the relations of the human community and the natural environment. Crossing over traditional boundaries to integrate ecological, economic, demographic, and ethical functions into daily human living habits, promoting conservation and restoration of the natural environment. The textbook from my Environmental Problem Solving course entitled "Filters Against Folly" became the basis of my dissertation. Garrett suggested that the layperson is able to understand complex issues by using the three filters produced by education: literacy, numeracy, and ecolacy. I tested his hypothesis by developing a problem-solving methodology which analyzed expert statements on the complex issue of immigration in the United States by using the three cognitive filters.
In 1997, I had the distinct privilege of conducting an interview with Garrett at his home for the Social Contract Journal. Upon making arrangements for my visit, Garrett and Jane insisted I stay at their home. What an incredible weekend: discussions with Garrett in his study, dinner with family on the ocean, story telling in the living room, socratic method breakfast discussion with Garrett and David and enjoyment of the backyard ecosystem. This was a once in a lifetime experience, great people rich in wisdom, living simple and intentional. I even slept in the same bed as Linus Pauling.
Garrett inspired me to become a human ecologist, expanding the definition of ecology to include the behavior of human community. Dr. Hardin asked hard ethical questions to develop and challenge one's critical thinking skills. His assertion that we can never merely do one thing causes critical assessment of proposed intervention in an existing system to ensure we do not carry out actions we will regret later. I am indebted to "The Father of Human Ecology" for convicting my mind to recognize the importance of becoming posterity's trustee of nature's riches and for providing a foundation for the intellectual courage to occupy residence in the "hot seat".