Living Within Limits

We have failed to control overpopulation, Garrett Hardin argues, “because our brains are addled by compassion.” In his new study, LIVING WITHIN LIMITS, he makes a forceful case for worldwide population control as an ecological necessity. The planet earth is like a lifeboat that can hold only a certain number of people before it will sink. The old ideas of progress and limitless growth ignore the fact that the earth has a limited carrying capacity, beyond which the ecological systems that sustain all life will begin to collapse. While many agree that human overpopulation is a serious problem, the social taboos against population control prevent us from solving it.

In LIVING WITHIN LIMITS, Hardin analyzes the problem of overpopulation from an ecological perspective; refutes the arguments for economic growth, cheap nuclear energy, or intergalactic migration as answers to overpopulation; and proposes some hard solutions, which run counter to conventional altruistic or humanitarian instincts. He argues that we should not feed famine victims in Africa or permit unrestricted immigration from poor countries to rich ones because these actions only encourage overpopulation. Instead, nations with excessive population will have to suffer the consequences alone. Nor will voluntary restraints on reproduction be effective. Coercion will be needed to control population growth.

The conventional human practice of ruining one environment and then moving on will no longer work, Hardin argues, because there is nowhere left to go. LIVING WITHIN LIMITS is a controversial but essential text in the population debate.