Mutual Dependence

  • November 03, 2012
  • by Rebecca W. Rimel

Winter 2012 Trust Magazine

We all marked a major milestone this past fall when the world’s population surpassed 7 billion. That is nearly triple the number of people on Earth when The Pew Charitable Trusts began more than six decades ago and the telephone, television, and commercial air travel were not yet common fixtures of American life. As our population has grown, so too has our feeling that the world is getting smaller. Advances in transportation and communication have shrunk space and time so that goods can be delivered overnight to nearly any corner of the globe, conditions in financial markets oceans apart reverberate across time zones in a single day, and we expect news about events taking place half a world away as instantaneously as updates from friends and family. With this greater connectivity comes the realization that our actions can significantly impact one another and the planet we share. This poses serious challenges, but also offers opportunities—if we are willing to band together—to solve today’s most challenging problems.

Nowhere is the need for a collaborative solution more evident than in the Arctic. Climate change is warming this pristine area at twice the rate of the rest of the planet. The Arctic’s ice cap is melting, which is fundamentally changing its ecosystems and opening up previously impenetrable waters to energy drilling, commercial fishing, and shipping. We do not yet fully understand the impact that rising temperatures and increased industrialization will have on the fish, polar bears, whales, seabirds, and other animals that inhabit the Arctic, nor on the indigenous communities that have thrived for thousands of years with a traditional way of life dependent on the region’s natural bounty. Therefore, before permitting new development in Arctic waters, researchers should have the chance to study this relatively untouched area, so that science can form the basis for a comprehensive plan to preserve this special place for future generations. The Pew Environment Group is working with Arctic countries, local peoples, scientists, and conservationists to do just that.

As it will take a concerted international effort to protect the Arctic environment, the same can be said for an issue closer to most of our homes: safeguarding the pharmaceuticals we rely on every day. Historically, America has been the world’s leader in developing and producing the drugs that have played a crucial role in extending, improving, and protecting our lives. Today, however, drug manufacturing is a global enterprise: Up to 40 percent of drugs sold in the United States and 80 percent of the raw ingredients come from overseas, increasingly from developing nations where oversight is lower. According to a white paper published by the Pew Health Group, there is growing potential for counterfeit or substandard drugs reaching patients because of the outsourcing of manufacturing, the distribution system’s complexity, and the unfortunate reality of those who would take advantage of these conditions through fraud. In addition to documenting the problems in the drug-supply chain, the Pew Health Group has brought together federal regulators, manufacturers, pharmacists, and other stakeholders to discuss solutions, including strengthening the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s authority, improving manufacturing standards, and creating a better system for tracking drugs as they travel the world before arriving in our medicine cabinets.

While we can all relate to concerns over the public’s physical health, perhaps no less important is concern for one another’s spiritual health. For over a decade, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life has conducted surveys, demographic analyses, and other social science research to promote a deeper understanding of issues at the intersection of religion and public affairs. Last summer, the Pew Forum produced its second report analyzing the extent to which governments and societies encroach on their citizens’ religious beliefs and practices. In its first report, in December 2009, the Pew Forum had found that 70 percent of the world’s population was living in countries where governments imposed significant restrictions on religion or where there were high levels of religious hostilities in society. Using that original study as a baseline for comparison, the Pew Forum’s latest report found that, sadly, more than 2.2 billion people live in countries where government restrictions or social hostilities involving religion have risen.

Pew’s founders—the two sons and two daughters of Sun Oil Company founder Joseph N. Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew—would have been deeply disturbed by this news. Not only was their religious faith a cornerstone of their personal lives, but they also strongly believed in the religious freedom of others. This value formed the basis for their giving to religious organizations, missionary colleges, and refugee groups, and it remains integral to this institution as we honor their charitable traditions. Although Pew’s founders never could have foreseen some of the challenges our increasingly global society is facing today, they would have recognized the enduring responsibility we each have to serve our fellow man—all 7 billion of them. Our growing interconnectedness makes the words of Henry Ford, a fellow entrepreneur and contemporary of Joseph N. Pew, ring ever truer:

Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.