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Human Ingenuity Now Needed for Our Survival

Portrait of Pardhi tribal community members, Maharashtra, India. Credit: UNICEF/Sri Kolari

By Don Collins

The scientific and other human accomplishments in my 90-year lifetime are not only amazing but also seem to have apparently made too many of us arrogant and feckless about our future human survival on Earth. Or, if not arrogant or feckless, at least largely or unknowingly ignoring the urgency of the onset of devastating environmental threats.

Those conditions have been exhaustively described in every possible medium. See Cowspiracy and Seaspiracy, two recent documentaries by credible scientists about human attacks on our fragile environment. Jeff Bezos’ comment after his near outer space flight was about seeing the need to protect our tiny orb.

I attended the first Earth Day in Chicago in 1970 and had earlier had the pleasure of meeting at lunch with Fairfield Osborn at the NY Zoological Society’s NY station on Long Island. What a delightful, caring and prescient man. Fair, as he was known to his friends, wrote “Our Plundered Planet”, a bestselling book in 1948, which marked the initiation of our modern environmental movement.

Still, as our most respected scientific observers tell us, the underlying solution for global problems requires us to reduce our human numbers substantially or we threaten the survival of us Homo sapiens.

The global population is now almost 8 billion humans, with 3 billion more projected before 2100. The population at my first was about 2 billion so it has expanded 4 times in my lifetime!

The process of reducing human numbers so that we don’t destroy what sustains us can be done starting now gently, humanely, and quite safely. Or we can continue to proceed as we are now arrogantly, stupidly, selfishly and violently to drive our lives on this finite planet to ends. Authors have long envisioned the fictional end of human life.


I discuss this issue in my new book, “We Humans Overwhelm Our Earth: 11 or 2 Billion By 2100” now available on Amazon and other book web sites

This prioritization of population reduction is meant in any way to dismiss the urgent need for addressing climate issues as suggested by the UN.

In fact, many conservation efforts have been enormously effective, except when they haven’t been effective such as the continuing destruction of the Brazilian rain forests and other non-renewable resources. One of my cousins has been working there for the Nature Conservancy for many years, but we are losing the battle.

A recent suggestion that the UN form an Environmental Committee to draw action to this key issue. The link follows:


In short, annual human overuse of Earth’s bounties has reached its limits as we now can see from worldwide events reported daily.

I was in attendance at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo as a Press representative for several NGOs with which I was affiliated, including the Population Institute.

At that time, the media reaction was significant, although in retrospect transitory, but of course some commentators used words like “historic” or to quote from the UN website, “Out of Cairo came no less than a revolution”, as “Barbara Crossette, a former UN Bureau Chief of The New York Times, told the thirty-seventh session of the Commission on Population and Development as she delivered a keynote address on the theme “Has the Cairo Consensus Lost Momentum: A Journalist’s View”.

Now at 90, and as one associated since 1965 with many family planning and “population explosion focused” NGOs, I can observe with sadness my continuing disappointment at the vast shortcomings of leadership over these years in making women’s rights and access to family planning universal.

We are all well aware of the role of some religions in slowing adoption of family planning, but also there was far less enthusiasm from those who sought woman’s rights but balked in those pre Roe vs Wade at gaining women’s right to choice abortion.

This was an issue which was a major part of my activities earlier in my life as I worked closely with funding for abortion facilities, for example, with Al Moran, Executive Director of PPNYC and helping Rei Ravenholt start Ipas, which focused internationally on helping women gain safe abortions.

A film entitled “Whose Choice” which I funded on the continuing lag in abortion services can be viewed free at www.churchandstate.org.uk.

Since then, I have made major efforts to add more tools to let women be served, beyond just saying they should have more tools. Talk is easy, service is hard. Politics are ruthless. Rei’s premature departure as head of family planning at US Aid was certainly related to his vigorous initiatives for abortion.

My boss then was a major Population Council donor in the late 1960’s. Her $2 million a year unrestricted grants ($17 million in today’s dollars) ceased when the Council declined to do abortion projects, saying its Catholic board member would object.

I specifically recall the voice at the 1994 Cairo conference of Joan Dunlap, who had been an aide to Population Council’s John D. Rockefeller III in New York city. She clearly backed women’s rights, but her illegal abortion earlier in life apparently affected her reluctance, which she expressed to me at a lunch in the late 1960’s, to get involved with my abortion projects then.

Her attitude apparently changed as her 2012 obituary reports. Not unique on people evolving in attitudes, as for example also in the early 1970’s the PPFA affiliate in my hometown refused to do abortions at that time, forcing a group of us to start a freestanding clinic which did thousands of early abortions in its first year.

World population at the time of the 1994 ICPD was 5.6 million, now almost 8 billion, having grown 4 times in my lifetime. And world leaders and the media still don’t give the issue proper priority.

Do we act or continue on this downward path unnecessarily? The evidence is now immutable but still not fully addressed because of failed global leadership.

Remember those end-of-the-world fiction writers used to be thought of as far out in fantasy, but not anymore by respected scientists and naturalists such as Sir David Attenborough or E.O Wilson. In short “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy no longer seems so far-fetched.

In reading their articles one can realize the obvious truth of the above POV.

Donald A. Collins is a former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist. He is also a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., who has spent over 50 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Population Institute, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International (mow FHI360) and Ipas. He is a Yale undergraduate with MBA from New York University. He can be reached at dcoll28416@aol.com




Currently, world population is almost 8 billion, with 3.0 billion more projected before 2100. The process of reducing human numbers so that “we don’t destroy what sustains us can be done starting now gently, humanely, and quite safely”.

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