From The Sunday Times
May 24, 2009 Billionaire club in bid to curb
people meet to discuss ways of tackling a 'disastrous' environmental,
social and industrial threat
John Harlow, Los Angeles
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
The philanthropists who attended a summit convened
on the initiative of Bill 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 David Rockefeller Jr, the patriarch of America’s wealthiest
dynasty, Warren Buffett and George Soros, the financiers, Michael
Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, and the media moguls Ted Turner and
These members, along with Gates, have given away
more than £45 billion since 1996 to causes ranging from health
programmes in developing countries to ghetto schools nearer to home.
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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
Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of
Philanthropy, said the summit was unprecedented. “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 favourite
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 priority.
This could result in a challenge to some Third World
politicians who believe contraception and female education weaken
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
At a conference in Long Beach, California, last
February, he had made similar points. “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 threat.
“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.