Originally named “Zero Population Growth” (ZPG), Population Connection was founded in 1968 by three environmental activists—a Connecticut lawyer named Richard Bowers, environmentalist professor Charles Remington, and Stanford biologist Paul Erhlich. Since its inception, this organization has warned that population growth, both in the United States and the world at large, is dangerously out of control.
To give shape to its agenda, ZPG drew heavily upon the theories put forth in Ehrlich’s 1968 work, The Population Bomb, which advanced the argument that as a direct consequence of increasing population worldwide, the 1970s would witness to a series of cataclysmic disasters, including global famines and “a substantial increase in the world death rate.” The lone solution to the gathering crisis, according to Ehrlich and ZPG, was “the conscious regulation of the numbers of human beings to meet the needs, not just of individual families, but of society as a whole.” When Ehrlich’s apocalyptic scenario failed to materialize, ZPG nonetheless continued to advance the notion that only by embracing “replacement levels” of fertility and limiting families to no more than two children could Americans avoid the disastrous consequences of this alleged overcrowding.
By the end of the 1990s, demographers noted that European birthrates had plunged to historic lows in the 1980s and 1990s — a pattern reflected in many nations, including even states in the Third World. In 2002 ZPG changed its name to “Population Connection,” explaining that its original name “was getting in the way of our work and interfering with our effectiveness.” Its message, however, remained the same, despite demographics that were radically different from Ehrlich’s prediction. In a fall 2004 policy paper, from John Seager, the President and CEO of Population Connection, maintained: “The world is beset with social, political, and environmental challenges and crises—many caused by rampant population growth. Voluntary population stabilization—even possible reduction —would help solve some of the worst problems we now face.”
Population Connection contends that reduced population growth would be a boon to the world’s poorest countries. Depopulation, Seagram argues, will mean “hope for the three billion people who struggle to survive on less than $3 a day. … A less crowded world might open up opportunities for them.”
Population Connection asserts: “The United States should assume a leadership role in international efforts to slow population growth and should set an example by adopting a national population policy which commits the United States to this goal. We should dramatically expend our foreign assistance efforts to achieve these ends. The United States should be spending at least as much to defend the integrity of our planet from environmental catastrophe as it spends to defend itself from war and nuclear holocaust.”
Toward the goal of reducing population growth both at home and abroad, Population Connection states that it supports “laws and social practices that ensure access for all women to medically safe and affordable abortion services.” It maintains that “U.S. population assistance under the Foreign Assistance Act should be available to fund abortion services in any country desiring such assistance in accordance with the laws of that country. Public programs such as Medicaid and federally-financed insurance plans … should be modified where necessary to ensure that all women, regardless of income, have access to medically safe abortion services.”
To disseminate its views more broadly, Population Connection makes use of its Population Education Trainers Network (PETNet). Founded in 1987 with 30 volunteer activists and educators, PETNet’s purpose is twofold: to recruit American schoolteachers to the organization’s drive to curb population growth; and to set these teachers to the task of inculcating in their pupils the merits of depopulation. With these aims, PopEd’s staff of four publishes two newsletters and several classroom texts—including the books Earth Matters andCounting on People for the elementary-school level, and People and the Planet for middle-school students. In addition, PopEd delegates to PETNet activists the task of conducting some 250 “teacher training workshops” annually to instruct teachers in “how to incorporate environmental and population issues into classroom materials.”
Population Connection actively lobbies Congress, pressing U.S. lawmakers to pass measures to limit family size to “no more than two children”; to make a reduction in population growth the target aim of both domestic and foreign policy; and to champion the use of contraceptives. As one Population Connection slogan puts it, “Save the world: Use a condom.”
Outreach campaigns like PETNet have helped Population Connection grow as an organization. Its staff currently consists of more than 200 people, and its membership increased from 45,000 in 1999 to more approximately 70,000 in 2004.
Population Connection receives financial support from the Compton Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Minneapolis Foundation, the Scherman Foundation, the Summit Foundation, the Turner Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and numerous other foundations. As of 2003, its assets totaled $2.52 million. That year, the organization received more than $4.48 million in revenues – $2.9 million from contributions, $865,743 from membership dues, $198,500 from grants, and the rest from miscellaneous sources.