The Ostrich Factor

Garrett Hardin


"It is time to explore the possibilities of living in a non-growing sustainable world, a world in which temperance in global ambitions is a virtue . . . in optimizing the quality of life on Earth."

Hardin's Concept of commonizing costs and privatizing profits; CC-PP Game. globe




1, The Pursuit of Objectivity,                                                                         1.
2, Tertullian's Blessing,                                                                                   9.
3, How to Lie with Learned Words,                                                               17.
4, Foundations of Activist Science By Right or By Default,                            25.
5, The Stormy Marriage of Economics and Ecology,                                       31.
6, Consequentialism: Nature's Morality,                                                         45.
7, Natural Selection: God's Choice,                                                                 53.
8, Altruism,                                                                                                    63.
9, Coercion,                                                                                                    73.
10, Diseconomies of Scale: Ostrich Myopia,                                                     79.
11, The Dream of One World,                                                                          89.
12, Russell's Theorem,                                                                                     95.
13, A Martian View of Malthus,                                                                        99.
14, Equity, Equality, and Affirmative Action,                                                  107.
15, Multiculturalism: For and Against,                                                            119.
16, Ambivalent Value of Growth,                                                                    131.
17, The Extended Reach of Gresham's Law,                                                    155.
18, Summary: Can Our Ostriches Find the Will?                                               141.

bookThe Ostrich Factor: Our Population Myopia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.



"Adopting this approach, however, is sure to lead to a doubting of commonly held beliefs, always a painful experience. Among the most important of beliefs of our time are ones that most people, . . . take to be indubitable."



"Man by his nature desires to know."

Aristotle, Metaphysics,

p. 2.


What is beauty? "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

What is error? "Error is inherent in the mind of the scrutinizer."

"How does knowledge advance?"

"The heart of the difficulty lies in the phrase by acceptable means."

p. 4.

"But apparently many people are sure that the 2,000 year-old ethics development in Near Eastern villages is all we need to solve all the moral problems created by our cleverness in applying the natural sciences to a world community that is measured in billions."

pp. 4-5.

book"Implicitly Malthus realized that the environment has a limited carrying capacity for living things, but this term had to await the coming of the twentieth century."

p. 9.

"Thou shalt not transgress the carrying capacity."

p. 12.


"Malthus lived so near the beginning of the industrial-scientific revolution that he like many others, did not suspect the rapid changes that were coming."

"Malthus did not see that the earth's carrying capacity was being rapidly increased by human inventiveness."

p. 13.

"growth has its price"

p. 15.

The value of pruning

carrying capacity

bookThe contest over abortion and contraceptives

"how to recognize falsehood in the writings of others."

p. 17.

the "deceptive language" of natural law

p. 18.


"One wants to know the ratios of interacting numbers, the rates at which they are changing, the projections of these rates , and their competitive interaction."

"What foreseeable extinctions are significant, and which ones are merely trivial in their consequences."

"The ethical questions raised by birth control are inherently numerate."

p. 20.


Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)

"Natural rights is simple nonsense, natural and imprescriptible rights rhetorical nonsense, nonsense upon stilts."

p. 25.

BenthamJeremy Bentham was educated at Queen's College, Oxford University and upon becoming a barrister in eighteenth century England he became disinterested in the practice of law and disturbed by its practical lack of justice.

Of him, the Bentham Project at University College London writes:

"Bentham, he will always be associated with the doctrine of Utilitarianism and the principle of ' the greatest happiness of the greatest number '. This, however, was only his starting point for a radical critique of society, which aimed to test the usefulness of existing institutions, practices and beliefs against an objective evaluative standard. He was an outspoken advocate of law reform, a pugnacious critic of established political doctrines like natural law and contractarianism, and the first to produce a utilitarian justification for democracy."

Bentham's utilitarianism.


"Nothing is created out of that which does not exist: for if it were, everything would be created out of everything with no need for seeds."

p. 27.

"Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring paved the way for the alliance."

p. 31.

Ecology and Epicurus

"The words ecology and economy are both derived from the Greek root oikos, meaning home or household."

"The guiding mantras of ecologists:"

"Everything is connected to everything else."

"We can never do merely one thing."

" . . . reveal a deeply conservative bias."

"the economists at the meeting rejected the idea that resources could be finite."

p. 32.

"We see only what we have names for."


Any action

"every proposal . . . is sure to have unintended consequences."

p. 41.


book"distinguish between two controversial ideas that are all too often confused in the public mind: evolution and natural selection."

"The future of our population – the future of humanity – is under a cloud of evolutionary uncertainty."

p. 45.

"Repeated polls show that something like half of all Americans doubt the truth of biological evolution."

p. 46.

". . . resource constraints to produce differential and lasting effects on the survival of variants within a species, there must be a mechanism for originating new types of individuals and a mechanism that makes the differences, at least in part, inheritable.


"Is there gravitational attraction between two massive bodies in space?"


"If at any time in the future someone doubts our answer, he or she can test it anew."

p. 53.

Ian Tattersall, on Science.

book"Natural selection is an inescapable default position of all biology, and as such calls for no experimental proof. . . . . In truth we deduce natural selection from whatever exists."

p. 63.

bookHelvétius (1715-1771) French political philosopher

"the whole art of the legislator consists of forcing men, by the sentiment of self-love, to be always just to one another."

p. 74.

"All persuasion takes place through coercion."

p. 76.

"Fear of disapproval is the major force that keeps a society intact: . . ."

p. 77.



"the size of an interacting group affects the behavior of its members."

"But what are we to say if we find that costs – however reckoned – per unit of production or per unit of service increase with size?"

p. 79.

book"man conquers the world by conquering himself"

Zeno of Cytium, (c. 334 - 262 B.C.) Hellenistic philosopher of Stoicism in 3rd Century BC

professed the desire for a single, peaceful, hospitable, and tolerable world


"I wish to be called a citizen of the world."

Erasmus, 1580.

p. 90.


"In engineering terms, a multinational world (whatever its faults) has a built-in safety factor."

"Always when we pass beyond the family, it is the external enemy which supplies the cohesive force. . . ."

Bertrand Russell, 1948.

pp. 96-97.


"What can you do about overpopulation?" or so the Martian asked.


"Persuasion plus legal punishment can accomplish a great deal if both approaches are well designed."


"Propaganda in favor of reducing fertility must be accompanied by repressive legal measures."


Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Total fertility rate or TFR reveals the family size around the world:

"At the present time. . . you have an organization called Zero Population Growth. It is beating the drums for individual limitations of fertility. No doubt it is having some effect. But by itself, this approach cannot possibly achieve its goal. Why? Because of the old competitive exclusion principle . . . .

The ZPG organization has limited success among university audiences . . . .

Its eventual result is predictable: in the long run, it will decease the number of educated people compared with the uneducated." Not "a desirable result. ZPG invests in failure."

p. 106.


". . . trudging along a path presumed to lead to perpetual progress, . . . a curious bifurcation."

"Choice implies discrimination; those who find that word alarming are apt to deny the necessity of deciding by insisting on the equality of individuals."

"In the race of life, are all people truly equal?"

p. 107.


Ethnocentrism is the technical name for this view of things in which ones own group is the center of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it."

William Graham Sumner, Folkways, (1902)


" . . . it is quite obvious that some limit to the production of food, or other necessities of life, must exist."

Rev. Thomas Malthus, 1820

Justus von Liebig (1803-1873)

Liebig's law of the minimum can be stated in several ways:

"The growth of a species is limited by whatever required nutrient is least available."



"Space is not, in any simple sense, a limiting factor for human populations: the present population of the world could fit standing upon only half the area of . . . Rhode Island."

Ghost acres: "In a real sense, each American occupies about 9 aces of land if you include provision for highways, houses, factories, crops and recreational areas."

p. 132.


Are we "motivated by a form of greed."?

"admit that overpopulation would ruin the earth long before the scientists invented the technology required for our species to colonize space."

p. 135.

The counterfeit is preferable to the authentic

Gresham's Law:

"Bad money drives out good."

He traced Gresham's Law to Cicero:

"it defines where, under total freedom in a world of limits, the payoff lies."

p. 136.

Deception is rewarded by further deceit

"The people subsidized still complain of taxes."

"Free trade drives out fair trade."

p. 137.

book"I didn't see why I shouldn't take what I could . . . "


As an example of transgressing the carrying capacity of the Ocean ecosystem is the discussion of the epic collapse of "The Newfoundland cod fishery.1"

p. 143.

"More common is the partial subsidy, which still does harm because it commonizes the costs over the whole body politic while privatizing the profitable aspects among a much smaller group."

"Each beneficiary of this game receives a (relatively) large personal benefit from it, while each victim–each taxpayer–suffers only a small personal loss."

"All insurance against loss is one wing of the CC-PP Game, the existence of which discourages the insuring agent from trying too hard to rout out minor thievery"

"Many or most of the members of a community receive both gains and losses from the game."

p. 144.


"More bluntly, inaction becomes the order of the day."

p. 145.

"Subsidies have great survival power. Decades ago, the US government started paying for forest roads and other infrastructure sought by the lumber interests. Taxpayers are still subsidizing the destruction of the forests."

"Long ago our government established the practice of leasing public land to cattle ranchers at much less than the amount charged by private landowners; we are still doing this also."

"In the tobacco-growing states, we have for generations, been making it possible for farmers to grow tobacco profitably; during the same period, we have been spending even more money combatting the adverse effects of tobacco on the health of tens of millions of taxpayers."

p. 145.


The game is played so often, become so widespread, and commercially pervasive that the consequences are rarely noted and hardly ever applied to population, consumption, or contamination.

"Setting aside . . . it is clear that civilization has now advanced to a level where the rate of increase in technology by far exceeds the rate at which we dare create new demands on the available environment as a result of increases in population or in its demands made on the environment by rising standards of living."

"If the optimization of living conditions is the standard of judgment, then we must say, from here on out, that population growth must be minimized."

p. 150.

Possible Solutions to delay the inevitability of regress:

Green roofs

Green Buildings

Habitat for Humanity

Solar Energy Industries Association SEIA

Population Connection



bifurcation, meaning a splitting in two, forking, to go in two different directions, a diversion, divergent, contrasting or opposing directions.

Indubitable, meaning undoubtedly, unquestionably, doubtless, without inquiry. from negating dubious { in [not] + dubita [doubtful] } Latin: dubitare, to doubt



In 1992, the devestating collapse of the cod stocks off the east coast of Newfoundland forced the Canadian government to take drastic measures and close the fishery. Over 40,000 people lost there jobs. The communities are still struggling to recover. The marine ecosystem is still in a state of collapse.


The collapse of this vital and important fishery sounded a warning bell to governments around the world who were shocked that a relatively sophisticated, scientifically-based fisheries management program, not unlike their own, could have gone so wrong.


Coastal examples | Abrupt climate change

Capra | Ehrlich | Dasmann | Hardin | McHarg | McKibben | Niebuhr