by John Harlow
The Sunday Times
May 24, 2009
America's richest people meet to discuss
ways of tackling a 'disastrous' environmental, social and industrial
SOME of America’s leading billionaires have met secretly to consider how
their wealth could be used to slow the growth of the world’s population and
speed up improvements in health and education.
The philanthropists who attended a summit convened on the initiative of
Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, discussed joining forces to overcome
political and religious obstacles to change.
Described as the Good Club by one insider it included:
These members, along with Gates, have given away more than £45 billion since
1996 to causes ranging from health programs in developing countries to
ghetto schools nearer to home.
They gathered at the home of Sir Paul Nurse, a British Nobel prize
biochemist and president of the private Rockefeller University, in Manhattan
on May 5. The informal afternoon session was so discreet that some of the
billionaires’ aides were told they were at “security briefings”.
Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said the summit was
“We only learnt about it afterwards, by
accident. Normally these people are happy to talk good causes, but this
is different – maybe because they don’t want to be seen as a global
cabal,” he said.
Some details were emerging this weekend,
however. The billionaires were each given 15 minutes to present their
favorite cause. Over dinner they discussed how they might settle on an
“umbrella cause” that could harness their interests.
The issues debated included reforming the supervision of overseas aid
spending to setting up rural schools and water systems in developing
countries. Taking their cue from Gates they agreed that overpopulation was a
This could result in a challenge to some Third World politicians who believe
contraception and female education weaken traditional values.
Gates, 53, who is giving away most of his fortune, argued that healthier
families, freed from malaria and extreme poverty, would change their habits
and have fewer children within half a generation.
At a conference in Long Beach, California, last February, he had made
“Official projections say the world’s
population will peak at 9.3 billion [up from 6.6 billion today] but with
charitable initiatives, such as better reproductive healthcare, we think
we can cap that at 8.3 billion,” Gates said then.
Patricia Stonesifer, former chief executive of
the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gives more than £2 billion a
year to good causes, attended the Rockefeller summit. She said the
billionaires met to “discuss how to increase giving” and they intended to
“continue the dialogue” over the next few months.
Another guest said there was “nothing as crude as a vote” but a consensus
emerged that they would back a strategy in which population growth would be
tackled as a potentially disastrous environmental, social and industrial
“This is something so nightmarish that
everyone in this group agreed it needs big-brain answers,” said the
guest. “They need to be independent of government agencies, which are
unable to head off the disaster we all see looming.”
Why all the secrecy?
“They wanted to speak rich to rich without
worrying anything they said would end up in the newspapers, painting
them as an alternative world government,” he said.