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While not well known among the general public, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea remains one of the most important global environmental agreements ever reached. Under the auspices of the United Nations, delegates from over 150 nations worked for almost a decade to develop a comprehensive legal regime to govern the oceans. Yet these delegates did not discuss and debate alone. They were joined by a transnational network of activists, lawyers, scientists, and other professionals concerned with humanity's changing relationship with the oceans. Between the late 1960s and early 1980s, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) brought these different groups together in conferences, workshops, and other informal gatherings to advance scholarship, shape policy, and educate the public. But without the direct sponsorship of participating states, NGOs had to look elsewhere for the resources necessary to realize their mission. Philanthropic organizations, such as the Ford Foundation, often supplied a crucial source of funding. With the financial backing of wealthy foundations, smaller NGOs could explore ideas, establish relationships, and highlight voices left out of the official negotiations.
After two years of intensive negotiations, 156 countries signed a Framework Convention on Climate Change at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. Bert Bolin, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 1988 to 1997, believed that it would not have happened if a "well-organized and scientifically credible assessment had not been available in 1990." In turn, the IPCC assessment was possible "only because assessments initiated by the US National Academy of Sciences and the international scientific community had begun a decade earlier." As stated by Bolin, "the emergence of the climate change issue was primarily scientifically driven." But how did the issue move from the realm of science to the realm of politics? Who were the agents of this process? A series of documents produced by scientists, NGO and foundation officers, preserved in archival collections at the Rockefeller Archive Center, provides previously unexplored information about how the climate change issue broke onto the international policy making agenda in the 1980s.
In 1977, Dr. Gordon Perkin, a Canadian obstetrician-gynecologist, and his colleague Dr. Richard Mahoney, an expert in contraceptive development, left their jobs at the Ford Foundation. Together with reproductive health expert Dr. Gordon Duncan, a consultant to the Foundation, the three researchers formed their own non-profit organization, the Program for the Introduction and Adaptation of Contraceptive Technology (PIACT). The trio left Ford on very good terms. Their former boss, Chief Program Officer Dr. Oscar Harkavy—known to friends and close colleagues as "Bud"—helped to ensure that the Ford Foundation became PIACT's first funder and one of its most consistent early boosters. With a pledge of $92,000 in seed money from the Foundation and donated office space in Seattle, the three co-founders set to work designing novel contraceptive programs for the developing world.
I am writing a global history of yellow fever aiming to interrogate the yellow fever story at the global, international, and national levels. Mark Harrison did this for a number of diseases in his recent study of commerce and contagion. Yellow fever has engendered a fund of excellent historical scholarship by Jamie Benchimol, Marcos Cueto, Ilana Löwy, Nancy Stepan, Liora Bigon, and many others. My research at the Rockefeller Archive Center examined materials created before the 1948 founding of the World Health Organization. I wanted to ask, for example, if we ought to think of yellow fever as a global disease. More precisely, when did it become that, if it did? It wasn't long ago that some of our colleagues, especially the more sociologically inclined, chanted the mantra that "All science is local!" This was in some ways a reaction to the historiography of Alexandre Koyré, a Russian émigré working in Paris who coined the term "scientific revolution." He and others enjoined historians of science to focus on theory while others claimed that quantification and replication of results constituted the heart of scientific advance.
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