LETTERS TO THE EDITORS
To the Editors:
The tone of Vaclav Smil's obituary of Garrett Hardin dismayed me
Dr. Smil, a former demographer, dismisses Dr. Hardin's concern that
the world's population will reach "50 billion people." I
never knew Dr. Hardin to claim this high figure. Inquiring of Dr.
Smil, I was sent a short piece by Garrett entitled "Carrying
Capacity and Quality of Life" from the Spring 1991 edition of
The Social Contract. Fifty billion is an estimate of
the "physical carrying capacity" of the globe by a
"competent physicist" (not identified). In context, Dr.
Hardin is writing about "cultural carrying capacity,"
which is always less than the physical carrying capacity, the
quality of life and quantity of life being ultimately inversely
related. Thomas Malthus noted that there should be no more people in
a country than can "daily enjoy a glass of wine and piece of
beef for dinner." So to Garrett, even a maximum world
population at 10 billion, the current forecast per Dr. Smil, implies
great stress on the cultural carrying capacity.
Dr. Smil espouses the politically correct position that excessive
consumption is more the problem than global population, which he
posits as eventually self-regulating. But how? Consumption and total
population are both problems; it is just safer to attack the former.
Dr. Hardin, to his credit, was always more forthright.
Dr. Smil, an expatriate of what is now the Czech Republic, expresses
an inconsistent position when discussing Dr. Hardin's views on
immigration (to the United States). If consumption is the greater
problem, bringing well over 1 million people annually from the
lower-consumption Third World to the higher-consumption United
States aggravates and magnifies stress on the biosphere. (Also, the
immigration lessens the pressure on the Third World nations to deal
with their own population problems.)
While Dr. Smil finds "it no easy task to understand this
man," the constraints of late-20th-century political
correctness may be the limiting factor. Dr. Hardin had the temerity
and originality to address issues more forthrightly than is
currently the vogue. He will be missed.
William E. Murray, Jr.
Portola Valley, California