One of the great tragedies of the 20th Century has been the failure of people to confront the problem of human overpopulation, which has been doubling in increasingly shorter periods of time. This failure has not been due to a dearth of prophets, nor to a lack of signs. The latter have erupted at Daschau, in Bosnia, in Somalia, in Rwanda, and have manifested themselves as choking smogs in China, Indonesia and Mexico, in vanishing rainforests and in the accelerated extinction of species. Developing countries, where birth rates are the highest, are experiencing starvation, deforestation, desertification and the dissolution of the social fabric, while global deterioration is being exacerbated by damaging technologies and extravagant use of natural resources in the developed nations, particularly in the United States. Politicians and religious communities are blind to the problem, and even many of our environmental organizations duck the issue.
At the Foundation’s initial meeting in 1953, the trustees recognized overpopulation as a primary threat to the biosphere, but at the time saw no way in which a small amount of money could effectively attack the problem. Then in 1991 the existence of Population Communications International (PCI) came to their attention. This organization, with its headquarters at 777 United Nations Plaza in New York City, was exploiting the mass media to influence attitudes and decision making regarding family size in many countries around the world. It was working with broadcasters in developing countries to produce long-running soap operas that create characters who serve as role models to promote the elevation of the status of women, the use of family planning and the desirability of small families. More recently information on AIDS transmission has been included. This approach has proved highly successful as demonstrated through exacting research. Between 1993 and 2002, the Foundation supported PCI with grants totaling $53,000, and has more recently supported the Population Media Center (PMC). PMC was established in 1998 by William N. Ryerson, one of PCI’s former executives, to carry on similar work. These two organizations have developed programs in the most overpopulated countries of Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.
In the Caribbean, the RARE Center for Tropical Conservation came to realize that the success of its conservation programs was going to depend upon controlling population growth. As a first step, in 1994, it initiated a family planning project on the British island of St. Lucia, which was supported by two seminal grants from the Foundation coming to $10,000. This program was later expanded to cover four more islands through cooperation with PCI.
In South America, the Amazonian Peoples Resources Initiative (APRI) has been helping dozens of indigenous communities dispersed over the Chambira Basin and the Bajo Maranon of the Peruvian Amazon by sponsoring initiatives in health, education, research and community-based enterprise. Emphasis is being placed upon reproductive health and family planning. Radio broadcasts are greatly enhancing APRI’s ability to bring its family planning message to a wide regional audience, and it is being well received. Commencing in 1997, the Foundation has made grants towards this program totaling $10,000.
Three other population programs have also been supported through the years. One was the Vermont Population Alliance, designed to bring Vermont environmentalists to a higher level of understanding and activism concerning population, consumption, environmental issues and sustainable lifestyles. Another, the Carrying Capacity Network, concerned with the carrying capacity of the environment, maintains a clearinghouse for relevant information. A third was the Stanford Health Policy Forum which sponsored a symposium entitled “Population Growth and Environmental Change”.