A neglected source of clean energy

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
September 2023, Issue 43
By E. G. Nadeau

From rural Uganda to Madison, Wisconsin, renewable natural gas (RNG) is an important source of clean energy that also has other major environmental benefits.

What is RNG? It’s a gas derived from organic waste material such as livestock manure, food waste, garden and lawn clippings, and other animal and plant-based material. It is often concentrated on farms, in landfills, and in waste treatment facilities.

The big difference between “natural gas” and renewable natural gas is that the former is a fossil fuel and the latter is a clean energy resource derived from current waste products.

I first encountered the use of renewable natural gas as a clean energy resource when I was doing a research project on dairy cooperatives in Uganda in 2006. I met a middle-aged widow who was raising two daughters from the proceeds of a two- or three-cow dairy farm. She sold the milk to her local co-op and used the cow manure to produce biogas. She had learned a simple technique from a dairy co-op advisor on how to build a small manure digester and to pipe the gas into her house. The biogas provided the energy for two small lamps and a gas cooking stove. She was able to pay the school fees for her daughters from the sale of milk and to provide lighting for them to study in the evenings.

Photo by E.G. Nadeau

Biogas and its more purified product, renewable natural gas (RNG), can be generated by an anaerobic digester that can be as simple as the one used by the Ugandan dairy farmer or it can be a multi-million-dollar processing facility.

Renewable natural gas is a valuable environmental resource not only in communities in developing countries but those in developed countries as well, including Madison Wisconsin, where I live.

The difference between so-called “natural gas” and renewable natural gas
Many people have the misconception that “natural gas” is a clean fossil fuel. In fact, it’s a dirty, nonrenewable source of energy. Natural gas is made up of almost 90% methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and is a major contributor to global warming. Natural gas produces slightly more than half as much carbon dioxide as coal when it is combusted, but it is prone to leak significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere at the wellhead, during its distribution, and at the point of combustion. Some scientists have concluded that because of this leakage, natural gas may be just as bad for global warming as coal.

Renewable natural gas, in contrast, is carbon neutral because it is derived from an ongoing recycling of plant and animal products. It also has the benefit of reducing methane emissions from landfills, livestock, food scraps, and other degradable waste products.

According to the American Biogas Council, there is a cornucopia of benefits from RNG and other biomass processing. “Biogas systems protect our air, water, and soil by recycling organic waste into renewable energy and soil products, while reducing GHG emissions.

“In the U.S., there is an urgent need to manage the millions of tons of food, water and animal waste. The main benefits of biogas systems come from the fact that they are recycling all this material while also producing renewable energy and soil products which displace fossil fuels.

“When you put these and other benefits together, we can prevent tons of carbon emissions from entering our air, prevent nutrients from entering our waterways, create healthier soils with natural, non-fossil fuel-based fertilizers, and produce reliable, baseload renewable energy.”

The American Biogas Council identifies substantial growth opportunities for these biogas-related benefits. In the United States alone, the Council projects that more than 15,000 new biogas systems could be developed. Worldwide, there is massive potential for these systems.

A cluster of anaerobic digesters process organic waste to become renewable natural gas.

Following are two brief examples of biogas and RNG use

East Africa

In East Africa (including Uganda), farmers and local communities are turning organic waste into biogas for cooking, lighting, and other household uses, while at the same time reducing carbon dioxide and methane emissions.

Since the vast majority of households in developing countries use dirty and unhealthy fuels such as bottled natural gas or scarce resources such as wood or charcoal for cooking and heating, biogas is an excellent clean energy alternative.

Madison, Wisconsin, USA

My favorite thing about living in Madison is the chain of lakes that runs through the city and the surrounding countryside. This beautiful resource, however, is not what it used to be. Seventy years ago, the lakes were crystal clear – excellent for swimming, boating, and picnicking along the shorelines. Today, the lakes are plagued with weeds and periodic blooms of blue-green algae that are toxic to humans and animals. On several summer days each year, the lakes stink because of the decaying vegetation.

The primary cause of this deterioration of the lakes‘ quality? Phosphorus runoff from the increasingly large nearby dairy farms that provide nutrients for the weeds and algae. In the past few decades, far more phosphorus has been imported to the Madison-area watershed in the form of chemical fertilizers and animal feed than has been exported from it as dairy, meat, and grain products. Thus, the mess the lakes are in today.

Madison, Wisconsin, is situated on a chain of lakes that runs through the city and the surrounding countryside.

What does this lake problem have to do with renewable natural gas? Anaerobic digesters can radically reduce the amount of phosphorus runoff as well as the amount of methane generated by cow manure, landfills, and other sources of waste.

In fact, for the first time in the past seven decades or so, the Madison-area watershed is on the verge of exporting more phosphorus per year than it imports because of two recently installed manure digesters and one planned for 2024 or 2025, all of which will not only extract RNG from manure, but also remove harmful chemicals such as phosphorus. The long-term result will be increasingly clear lakes as well as the reduction of harmful methane emissions into the atmosphere.

The county landfill also has a new state-of-the-art processing facility that converts methane from landfills into RNG. The facility inserts this renewable gas – and that generated by manure digesters and other sources – into natural gas pipelines which allow the clean energy fuel to be used locally as well as transported to other parts of the country.


Renewable natural gas needs to become a better-understood and more frequently utilized resource for creating a clean energy future on small dairy farms in Uganda as well as in metropolitan areas in the United States and other countries.

Solar panels and agriculture can be best buds

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
July 2023, Issue 42
By E. G. Nadeau

The word agrivoltaics, defined as “the use of land for both agriculture and solar photovoltaic energy generation,” was coined in 1981, but it has not become a significant area of research and development until the past few years. This is a brief article about how agrivoltaics can be a boon to both clean energy production and farming.  

NREL, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the United States, has been assisting a number of agrivoltaic experiments since 2020. Some examples of solar farming are presented below.  

  • Jack’s Solar Garden is researching a diverse array of crops under solar panels in Colorado.
  • BlueWave Solar is combining solar panels with blueberry farming in Maine.
  • Pine Gate Renewables and other organizations are experimenting with elevated solar panels above cranberry bogs in Massachusetts.
  • Silicon Ranch is partnering with White Oak Pastures to graze several thousand head of sheep in combination with solar panels in Georgia, Tennessee, and Missouri.
  • Bare Honey is locating honeybee hives near solar panels that provide shade for pollinator-friendly plants on farms in Minnesota.

Agrivoltaics is taking off in other countries

  • Researchers in South Korea are successfully growing broccoli underneath solar panels.
  • A large solar power installation on salt flats in China is serving a triple function of facilitating salt farming, growing shrimp, and generating electricity.
  • A Kenyan project is using shade from solar panels to shelter vegetables from heat stress and water loss.

To put it simply: Solar panels produce clean energy; reduce the cost of electrical energy; reduce global warming; provide lease income to farmers, who in turn spend money in their local communities; generate jobs; provide shade that many crops and livestock need to thrive; are more efficient when they don’t get too hot; increase carbon sequestration; and can be configured in a variety of ways to accommodate different agricultural products.  

What’s the combined result? Something in the range of a win-win-win-win-win-win-win-win.  

With all of these benefits, why all the controversy about solar arrays on farms? One source of opposition is that some neighbors don’t like the looks of a large expanse of solar panels. Whether a field of solar panels is ugly or beautiful is in the eyes of the beholder. No matter what the potential benefits are, some local community residents are likely to express concern about the NIMBY (not in my backyard) problem.  

One genuine problem that some solar arrays cause is that they reduce the amount of productive agricultural land. This article makes the case that more and more solar arrays are being constructed in ways that complement and, in some cases, improve agriculture, rather than harm it.  

By some estimates, solar panels may need to be located on 1% of the land area in the United States and other countries. Some panels may be on rooftops or on land surfaces that are not agricultural, but there is no question that many of the solar arrays will need to be located on farmland. Thus, it is critically important to develop a range of strategies in which such arrays and farming are mutually beneficial.  

We also shouldn’t forget that much farmland is currently not being used sustainably. For example, in the state of Wisconsin alone, a million acres of corn are used for the production of ethanol, a “renewable” energy use that is considered by many to be highly inefficient in, if not detrimental to, combating global warming. Agrivoltaics can play a very constructive role in reducing this kind of wasteful production and replacing it with more sustainable agricultural uses.  

Let’s dig a little deeper into the list of ”wins” cited above

Solar panels produce clean energy.
No need to make a case for this. It’s not a subject of much debate.

They reduce the cost of electrical energy.
The cost of solar electricity has dropped dramatically during the past decade or so, and is on track to keep dropping. Solar is the least expensive of all sources of electricity.  

They reduce global warming.
Because solar panels do not emit carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases, they meet our electricity needs without raising the world’s temperature.  

They provide lease income to farmers.
“Farming the sun” can be a lucrative source of income for many small- and medium-size farms, sometimes making the difference between staying on the land or selling out. Those farmers, in turn, spend some of this money in their local communities.    

They generate jobs.
There are over a quarter-of-a-million solar jobs in the United States. Constructing solar arrays requires a significant amount of labor. Even though the labor for each array is not huge, the anticipated growth of these arrays over the next several decades will keep hundreds of thousands of people employed in the United States alone.  

They provide shade that benefits crops and livestock.
Sheep, goats, cattle, and other livestock can benefit from the cooling effects of taking a break under a solar panel. In the case of cattle, the poles supporting the panels must be built strongly, because cows enjoy rubbing up against them. Many crops benefit from the shade provided by solar panels, especially on farms located in hot, dry areas.  

Solar panels are more efficient when they don’t get too hot.
Crops can help to cool them by generating water evaporation, reducing heat reflection, and letting more air pass under the panels (because they are mounted higher on cropland than on non-crop surfaces).  

Some crops sequester carbon.
Some crops, especially perennial grasses, are excellent at sequestering carbon both above and below ground. Grasses grow very well under solar panels. A recent article by All Native Seed, LLC, put it this way: “While trees have long been used for carbon sequestration, native grasses . . .  are increasing in popularity for this purpose along with other benefits. Grasses like switchgrass and Miscanthus have deep, complex root systems that are ideal for storing carbon in the soil. Their root structures also help stabilize the soil, increase moisture levels, and retain nutrients. . . . Finally, grasses . . . establish in 1-3 years so maximum carbon sequestration is realized much sooner than with trees.”  

Custom-designed solar panels.
Solar panels can be custom-designed to address different kinds of agriculture. Solar panels can be installed at different heights and in different configurations so that livestock and agricultural equipment can pass underneath them, and crops can be planted and harvested efficiently.  

As the use of solar panels on agricultural land increases in the future, the two forms of gathering energy from the sun will become more and more mutually beneficial. We are in the very early stages of figuring out the best ways to make this happen.            

The world as we know it is about to disappear

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
May 2023, Issue 41
By E. G. Nadeau

We are beginning to experience four convergent crises: a high level of xenophobia, divergent population trends, a rising world temperature, and massive waves of migration.

How can we avoid a catastrophic collision of these crises?

First, let’s review the convergence of these problems.

Xenophobia – fear of strangers – has been around from the beginning of our species about 300,000 years ago. There were only a small number of dispersed groups of us back then, so occasional clashes among these groups weren’t a big deal. Now the world population is approximately 8 billion and still growing. One prominent source projects a peak of almost 10 billion in 2064, declining to a little fewer than 9 billion by 2100.

These projections are actually good news. For the first time, since the early years of our species, our numbers will begin to decrease in this century, thus putting less pressure on our planet’s resources and our competition for survival.

There is, however, a disturbing side to the population story. Wealthier parts of the world are projected to grow and decline at different rates from poorer regions. For example, Nigeria is expected to increase from about 215 million people to about 790 million by 2100 and become the third-largest country in the world. On the other end of the spectrum, Japan’s population is projected to decrease by 50%, from about 126 million to a little under 60 million by 2100.

The poorest countries in Africa, Asia, and Oceania will grow much faster than more developed countries in the next several decades.

As the world temperature continues to increase, so will extreme weather-related events: droughts, floods, heat waves, wildfires, rising ocean levels, and many others. Similar to population change, the severity of these events will vary widely in different parts of the world.

Tropical and subtropical areas will be the worst hit, resulting in an estimated 1.2 billion people seeking more habitable environments by 2050.

Thus, those who live in poor countries in the tropics and subtropics will experience the double whammy of rapidly increasing populations and rapidly decreasing livability in the next several decades. Where will they want to migrate? To wealthier countries in temperate climates, especially North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and less climate-stressed parts of Asia.

What will people face when they attempt to reach these destinations? In the early 2020s they face multiple barriers, many fueled by xenophobia, others by bureaucratic red tape, and yet others by a Babel of inconsistent migration policies from country to country.

Overcoming barriers to migration
Xenophobia is probably the most difficult to overcome. But it is not insurmountable.

Individual phobias, such as fear of spiders and fear of flying, are treatable – psychological conditions that can be significantly lessened through gradual exposure to the feared object or activity.

A similar approach can be used to treat xenophobia (and other group-level fears and hatreds, such as homophobia, misogyny, and an array of “isms,” including racism, antisemitism, and ethnocentrism).

For example, after the war in Vietnam, the United States resettled more than 1.1 million Southeast Asians, the largest single group of immigrants in American history. An important key to this mostly successful resettlement was the fact that these immigrants were dispersed across the country. Because communities received relatively small numbers of immigrants, this is an example of applying “exposure treatment” to a potentially xenophobic pushback. This approach was not without its adjustment problems, but the second and third generations from this group have, for the most part, been well-accepted by other Americans.

A little over 1 million immigrants is peanuts compared to the projected influx of over 1 billion people to temperate countries in the coming decades. But the example still provides some valuable lessons.

Addressing bureaucratic barriers and lack of coordination among countries would require a political will to establish a systematic approach to immigration within and among developed countries.

Over 8 million refugees, fleeing from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have been – at least temporarily – absorbed into other European countries during the past year or so. This tremendous accomplishment shows that bureaucratic and xenophobic barriers to immigration can be overcome in a geopolitical crisis. The question remains: Can this kind of cooperation on migration policy be established proactively to address the upcoming waves of mass migration from poor, climate-battered countries?

The other side of the migration question is: What can countries in tropical and subtropical areas, and international bodies, do to reduce the number of climate and population emigrants? Several things:

  • Improve reproductive education and access to contraceptives
  • Develop means to counter climate-induced causes of emigration, such as drought-resistant crops and farming techniques, afforestation and reforestation, community solar arrays that, among other things, provide air-conditioning to reduce the deadly impact of excessive heat, flood barriers, and depopulation of flood-prone areas
  • Relocate people to more habitable areas within tropical and subtropical zones
  • Desalinate and purify water resources
  • Establish educational programs that fit future employment needs at home as well as in countries that are potential destinations for immigration

An important point to remember is that many developed countries are facing, and will continue to face, declines in their working-age populations. This workforce depletion will vary from country to country and will involve both low- and high-skill job opportunities for immigrants. The level of xenophobia also varies from country to country. But in the face of deteriorating domestic economies resulting from a shortage of workers, some of the more racist countries in the world may become more amenable to increasing the number of immigrant workers.

In summary, multiple world crises are unfolding, but none are insurmountable. We’ve done a poor job in addressing the problems of climate change so far. Here’s hoping that world leaders and everyday people can get their act together soon to avert a catastrophic convergence of xenophobia, population problems, an overheated planet, and massive migration in the coming decades.

We’re about to lose the war on global warming. What do we do next?

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
March 2023, Issue 40
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D., and Luc Nadeau, M.S.

What’s the war referred to in the title of this article?

Winning the war on global warming would require achieving the major goals adopted by 196 countries and regional entities in the Paris Agreement of 2015:

. . . to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels…. To limit global warming to 1.5°C, greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest and decline 43% by 2030.

The current status of this “war”

On our present course, we are set to blow by the 1.5°C goal sometime in the early to mid-2030s. As António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, said to a group of world leaders in September 2022, the 1.5ºC goal is “on life support.” The problem is getting worse, not better. Mr. Guterres told the leaders that although emissions must be cut almost in half before 2030 to achieve Paris Agreement goals, they are on track to rise by 14 percent. He added that: “We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe.”

A working group comprising dozens of authors from around the world presented an initial report to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2021. The group projected several scenarios for global temperature in 2081–2100. “Compared to 1850–1900, global surface temperature averaged over 2081–2100 [in] the intermediate GHG emissions scenario . . . by 3.3°C [5.9°F] to 5.7°C [10.3°F]. “The last time global surface temperature was sustained at or above 2.5°C higher than 1850–1900 was over 3 million years ago.”

Synthesis Report, summarizing the results of three working groups during the past several years, was published by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on March 20, 2023. 

Hoesung Lee, the Chair of IPCC, made the following comment on the report: “[It] underscores the urgency of taking more ambitious action and shows that, if we act now, we can still secure a livable sustainable future for all.” 

Unfortunately, aside from exhortation and a listing of things we should do to combat climate change, the report provides little guidance on how to increase the compliance of countries and companies in reducing GHG emissions.

So, yes. We are losing the climate change war.

A world in denial

As the above information indicates, even with drastic improvements in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we are very likely to exceed the 1.5°C goal set in the Paris Agreement in the next few years, and to be well above the 2°C goal by 2050.

And yet, the UN is still exhorting countries and companies to make radical changes in their fossil fuel use by 2030 in order to avoid what is virtually impossible to avoid. Denialism can be defined as: “an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of a historical experience or event when [people or organizations refuse] to accept an empirically verifiable reality.”

In this case, the biggest danger with denialism is that it deters us from taking realistic actions to address the problems of climate change.

Toward a realistic climate change strategy

  1. For starters, we need to recalibrate our goals based on both climate science, and on the behavior of countries, companies, and individuals in the war on global warming to date.
  2. Then we need to revise the world’s incentives and sanctions related to greenhouse gas emissions.

a. We have learned that “nationally determined contributions—NDCs,” employed as the primary means to reduce a country’s emissions under the Paris Agreement don’t work. While some countries have set ambitious climate change goals and realistic strategies for achieving them, the large majority have not.

Because countries develop their own NDCs, and there is no accountability backing them up, they are an ineffective means to reduce global warming. To be effective, there needs to be careful accounting and meaningful accountability. (More on this below.)

b. Similar problems are true for corporations. Although some countries and regions apply taxes on carbon emissions, or have developed carbon trading schemes to limit emissions, these constraints on corporate behavior have not proved to be enough, especially for fossil fuel producers, distributors, and users, to stem the increase in corporate emissions. (More on this below.)

There is an accountability problem for corporations as well. They are not held to a consistent set of criteria for determining how well they are meeting climate change goals. Many companies in the fossil fuel sector (as well as some countries) have become masters at “greenwashing” (pretending to be environmentally sustainable in the ways they present themselves to the public, but in fact, doing much more climate harm than good).

There are thousands of national and corporate examples of greenwashing. Following are two of them.

    • Norway has the highest percentage of electric vehicles of any country on the planet, but it is also the producer of  a vast amount of oil – the 13th largest in the world – most of which is exported to other countries. So, Norwegian citizens pride themselves on their environmental responsibility, while, at the same time, significantly adding to the world’s carbon emissions.

    • One would think from BP‘s advertising that the company is a champion of clean energy. Recently, despite windfall profits, BP has backed off on activities related to environmental sustainability. Other major oil companies play similar deceptive games, touting their production of high-methane-producing natural” gas, or their development of “carbon capture” techniques dinner either pie-in-the-sky conceptions, prohibitively expensive, or many years down the road.

3. As suggested in the first part of this newsletter, many, and probably most countries and corporations, will not achieve their emission reduction goals for 2030, 2040, or 2050. Under the current voluntary NDC program and the lack of accountability for corporations, there will be minimal consequences for countries and corporations that fall short of their goals. It doesn’t have to be that way. Listed below are several recommendations for revising sanctions and incentives – perhaps beginning in 2030 (or even earlier).

a. An international coalition of countries that are on track to meet the Paris Agreement goals – European Union members and a scattering of other countries around the world – could develop a set of tariffs and import taxes based on the carbon emissions of the countries and corporations with which they trade. Like a value-added tax, these sanctions could be adjusted to different levels of emissions by country, corporation, and product. The financial penalty could also be ratcheted up over time for countries and corporations that persist in emitting high levels of greenhouse gases.

b. For many developing countries, the major problem is lack of money to change their energy economies. In these cases, major increases in financial incentives for emission-reducing activities are required – (e.g., solar and wind installations, increased energy efficiency in transport and buildings, and for mitigation of events caused by global warming such as droughts, floods, and other natural disasters). There are already several multi-governmental and private non-profit, climate-related assistance programs, but they are grossly under-funded. The New York Times editorial board recently urged the World Bank to increase its climate-related investments in developing countries.

4. To be successful, all of the above activities need to have clear, measurable objectives and corrective actions based on evaluations of the research results.


It’s way past time to get serious about a concerted effort to make progress on reducing global warming, but it’s not too late. A key recent finding is that if we do exceed the Paris Agreement’s 2°C goal, the earth can still recover. However, the more we exceed that goal, the more damage we will do to the environment and ourselves before there will be a reduction in the earth’s temperature.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently published an article about slowing and reversing global warming.

If all human emissions of heat-trapping gases were to stop today, Earth’s temperature would continue to rise for a few decades as ocean currents bring excess heat stored in the deep ocean back to the surface. Once this excess heat radiated out to space, Earth’s temperature would stabilize. Experts think the additional warming from this “hidden” heat is unlikely to exceed 0.9° Fahrenheit (0.5°Celsius). With no further human influence, natural processes would begin to slowly remove the excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and global temperatures would gradually begin to decline.

However, “human emissions of heat-trapping gases” are not going to stop anytime soon. As this article indicates, they are likely to continue to increase during most of the 21st century and cause increasing catastrophic incidents along the way.

So, the time to stop the denialism and greenwashing – and begin generous climate aid and rigorous sanctions – is now.

Algeria gets an F for its climate actions. Tunisia gets a B. Why are these ratings important for the rest of the world?

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
January 2023, Issue 39
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

I recently took a two-week trip to Tunisia and Algeria. Here are my observations on the climate situations in the two countries, which are neighbors in North Africa along the Mediterranean Sea.

Despite its fall back into authoritarianism, Tunisia appears to be making a genuine effort to reduce its carbon emissions. There are solar panels spread throughout the country. The government is planning an additional 1.7 GW of solar construction projects in the next three years.

Tunisia is famous for its olive trees and date palms that are ubiquitous in the northeast and northern regions of the country. These plantations are not only important to the country’s economy but also to its sequestration of carbon.

In October 2021, the country increased its target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 41% by 2030 compared with 2010.

Date palms in Tunisia

A contrast in Algeria

Algeria, on the other hand, is on track to have a worse carbon emission record in 2030 than it did in 2015. Its 2015 climate plan sets a low goal of 27% of electricity generated from renewable sources by 2030, but its climate actions indicate that its performance will be far worse than that.

Algeria increased its oil and gas production during the Russian war on Ukraine in 2022, and accelerated its exploration for domestic gas and oil. In other words, Algeria is going backward rather than forward in its reduction of climate emissions.

These two countries account for a very small part of the world’s carbon emissions. But small percentages add up, especially in countries such as Algeria that are flaunting their disregard for the world’s clean energy initiatives.

A questionable sharing of energy

Algeria is far from alone in this category. Take Morocco, it’s neighbor to the west as another example. Much is being made of an agreement between Morocco and the United Kingdom in which electricity from solar and wind sources – enough to meet 8% of the UK’s electricity needs – is planned to be sent by undersea cable to the UK.

However, one doesn’t hear much about the Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline project in which Morocco is planning to participate with Nigeria and a number of other West African countries to pipe large quantities of natural gas within the region. If my calculations are correct (and they may not be), the gas project would transport about twelve times as much energy per year as the electricity project. So much for transitioning to clean energy.

Dozens of countries aren’t taking the reduction of carbon emissions seriously, or worse, like Algeria, are actually undercutting the world’s carbon emission goals.

In the 2015 Paris Agreement, the UN helped countries negotiate a procedure to create “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) in which each country would develop its own climate goals and modify them over the years. The big problem with this approach is that there are no required targets for country-level goals, and some are abusing the process by setting weak goals or by not making an effort to carry out their goals.

A Berber cave house in Tunisia, probably a few hundred years old. The Berbers used the insulation of the caves to stay warm in winter and cool in the summer.

Dealing with scofflaws

There are three ways the world community can deal with these scofflaws: apply economic sanctions, provide incentives, or both.

For example, the G20 countries are imposing a $60 per barrel limit on the price of Russian oil in the international market. The goal is to limit Russia’s revenue from oil sales.

Similar international sanctions could be put on countries, like Algeria, whose energy policies and actions are increasing climate change problems rather than reducing them.

Incentives can also be a powerful means for improving energy performance. There is currently a project in South Africa intended to wean the country off coal and carry out a major shift to renewable energy. The United States and European countries are helping to finance this project.

Whether by economic sanctions, incentives, or both, the NDCs need to be backed up by enforcement and/or economic and technical assistance.

What could happen if we let the current pattern of hollow promises or outright disregard of needed climate actions continue? We won’t meet our goal – agreed to through the United Nations – of keeping the world’s temperature below 1.5°C compared to preindustrial levels, and we will reap the consequences in terms of human-made environmental catastrophe.

Photos by E.G. Nadeau

We are losing the war against global warming. Can we get back on the offensive?

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
May 2022, Issue 35
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

Putin’s war on Ukraine and the fight against global warming

Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is very different from the war on global warming. In fact, Russia’s ”special military operation” in Ukraine has resulted in an increase in worldwide carbon dioxide emissions that may last for years.

But there are lessons from the war in Ukraine that can be applied to the fight against global warming. Putin grossly miscalculated several critical factors when he attempted to wrest control over his neighbor to the west. He overestimated the power of his own military. He underestimated the resolve of the Ukrainian people to defend their country, and the extent to which Ukraine’s democratic allies would support it with arms, humanitarian aid, and severe economic sanctions against Russia.

As of this writing, the eventual outcome of the brutally and ineptly fought invasion remains unclear, but it appears that the main loser will be Russia’s economic, political, and military well-being at home and its prestige around the world.

The primary takeaways as they relate to climate change? Don’t give up against what many regard as insurmountable odds. And, don’t underestimate the ability of like-minded countries to act quickly and decisively in the face of a shared threat.

How can we develop a winning climate change strategy for the future?

Given the world’s poor track record on climate change to date, how can we develop a winning strategy for the future? If we define success in the fight against global warming as keeping the increase in the global temperature below 1.5°C above preindustrial levels (a goal set in the 2015 Paris Agreement), we are likely to lose that battle in the next decade. But that means we need to revise our goals, not bemoan our near-term failure.

Most countries and corporations in the world are not taking the climate crisis seriously enough. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has further taken our eyes off the prize – in Western Europe because of the restrictions on Russian gas, oil, and coal, and in other parts of the world as countries scramble to ramp up fossil fuel production and sourcing to compensate for the sanctions against Russia.

Although a number of European Union countries are attempting to increase their development of renewable energy resources, especially to replace dependence on Russian natural gas, these efforts will take years. In the meantime, fossil fuel prices and new domestic and international investments in natural gas and other fossil fuels are going up steeply.

The United States is a world leader in this effort to shore up fossil fuel access as part of the enforcement of the sanctions. This role, however, is setting back efforts to reduce carbon emissions. But these efforts were already in trouble before Putin’s misguided war.

In addition to Trump’s climate change denialism and the woeful record of his administration in addressing problems of global warming, the U.S. is failing in several ways to move forward on its climate goals. The Build Back Better initiative, which contained a number of clean energy components, still hasn’t seen the light of day largely due to the opposition of Senator-cum-coal-baron Joe Manchin. Despite its absurdity, the U.S. and other countries are still subsidizing fossil fuel companies. To top things off, the U.S. Commerce Department has reduced new solar installations in the country in 2022 because of bumbling bureaucratic efforts to prevent solar panel dumping by China and other Asian countries.

In the meantime, China, India, and other coal producing countries continue to ramp up new, and expand existing, coal mines, despite the long-term carbon emissions that will result.

If this list isn’t bad enough, recent scientific analyses of satellite images indicate that the world is emitting far more of the potent greenhouse gas, methane, than previously thought. These emissions are another major example setting back the world’s faltering attempt to curtail global warming.

In sum, not only are we likely to fall short of the 1.5ºC goal for limiting CO2 emissions, we’re actually making that goal less attainable through our lackluster efforts to-date.

Toward a revised climate change strategy

We need both to reconfigure our goals to make them attainable and also to figure out a revised strategy for success. That strategy needs to fend off the self-destructive actions that many of our political and corporate leaders are taking that are likely to lead to failure.

So let’s reassess where the world is now on reducing global warming.

  1. In terms of technology and cost-effectiveness, we are doing very well. Solar, wind, energy storage, electrified transportation, and energy-efficiency improvements have all become cost competitive with, or less expensive than, fossil fuels in the past decade. Hydrogen-based energy sources – important keys to long-distance land, water, and air-based travel and shipping – are on track to be cost competitive soon.
  2. The big bottlenecks that remain are inertia, perceived threats to corporate profitability, and governments that are unwilling, unable, or too corrupt to take the climate crisis seriously.
  3. Because of a variety of domestic political factors in the United States, the European Union is likely to be the world leader in the fight against global warming in this decade.
  4. We need to recognize that the voluntary “nationally determined contributions (NDCs)” – the cornerstones of the Paris Agreement – are failing to reduce global warming quickly enough to avoid climate catastrophe. The reason for this lies in the word “voluntary.” Countries are not being held accountable in the formulation or implementation of their NDCs. Thus, many of them have very weak strategies and goals for reducing carbon emissions and, in any case, there are no consequences for failure to achieve their goals.

The major conclusion to be drawn from these above four points is: that the NDCs need to be backed up by both sanctions to major polluters and by more generous incentives to developing countries if we are to avoid climate catastrophe.

Satellite-detected methane leaks from human activities, 2021.

The European Union is leading the way on climate change

The European Parliament is in the process of strengthening its environmental commitments to include measurable and enforceable carbon reductions related to road transport and buildings. In conjunction with these actions, it is also establishing a Social Climate Fund, the purpose of which is to alleviate the burden of high energy costs on low-income households and within lower income member states. By the end of June, there is an excellent chance that these historic changes will be incorporated into the EU’s climate policy. This “Fit for 55” policy, intended to “reduce carbon emissions by 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels,” has the potential to become an international model for improving climate change performance and income-based fairness.

Accountability and incentives

As mentioned above regarding the NDCs, there are virtually no consequences for countries’ failures to meet their goals, and very limited incentives to assist poorer countries to achieve theirs.

As the EU initiative mentioned above indicates, much can be done both to strengthen sanctions and to increase incentives. For example:

The Paris Agreement already contains a Green Climate Fund to help developing countries carry out programs to reduce carbon emissions. The main problem is that the program is grossly underfunded.

In terms of sanctions, there are a number of ways to hold corporations and countries accountable for their carbon emissions. Within countries and blocs of countries, there are carbon taxes and/or “cap-and-trade” programs that limit emissions and charge scofflaws for exceeding their limits.

Among a number of countries, border-adjustment taxes are being developed (again, with the EU leading the way). These taxes charge tariffs to countries that use “dirty energy” to produce export products. The tariffs can be used to assist “clean” domestic companies or for other clean energy-related purposes.

Bringing us back to Putin’s war, economic sanctions can be used against countries that are major carbon polluters. Some of the sanctions against Russia are being used in this way. European Union members, the U.S., and several other countries are implementing bans on all fossil fuels from Russia and accelerating the development of clean-energy alternatives. In many cases, the implementation of these sanctions will take several years to put fully into place, but the eventual economic and environmental impacts will be profound.

There are other major climate-polluting countries – China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan and others – for which carbon-pollution sanctions should be considered. Imposing such sanctions may not be easy, but when the environmental health of the planet is at stake, they should definitely be put on the table for consideration.


It’s not acceptable to be on the sidelines or to be carrying out activities that increase global warming. In one way or another, we all need to pay for getting climate change under control. Developing countries should receive incentives and be rewarded for taking active steps to reduce global warming. Highly polluting countries should be financially sanctioned for their carbon emissions. Funds collected from such sanctioning should be used to pay for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.

From “Blah, Blah, Blah” to Urgent Climate Action

The nations of the world tried to kick the climate change ball down the road.

Let’s not let that happen.

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
November 2021, Issue 32
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

This is the last in a four-part series of newsletter articles on the impact of the pandemic on major issues affecting progress toward a more cooperative society. The May article focused on economic concentration and wealth inequality. The July article was about conflict and democracy. The September article analyzed the impact of COVID-19 on global population trends and the quality of life around the world.

This article looks at where we are in addressing the planet’s climate crisis.

What about climate change in the future?

Are we on the verge of dooming ourselves and our planet to an overheated, catastrophe-laden climate in the second half of the 21st century and beyond?

This article first addresses the impacts of COVID-19 on climate change. It then reviews the trajectory, and the major consequences, of the world’s projected temperature increase through the end of the 21st century. The conclusion presents several actions that can be taken to avoid the extreme negative consequences likely to occur as anticipated by current projections.

Minor impact of COVID-19

Unlike the six other issues reviewed in this series of newsletters, COVID-19 has had a relatively minor impact on climate change. There was a short-term reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in 2020. However, “Despite a world economy that slowed significantly because of COVID-19, the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record.” In addition, “Global CO2 emissions rebound[ed] by nearly 5% in 2021, approaching the 2018-2019 peak.”

The bad news

The 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, held in the first half of November 2021, was intended to forge agreements by the UN’s 198 members to prevent this calamity. It failed to do so.

As summarized by Climate Analytics, “To achieve the Paris Agreement Temperature Goal [1.5°C above preindustrial levels], net zero CO2 emissions need to be achieved globally around mid-century and net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases shortly thereafter. In the near term, global greenhouse gas emissions need to be halved by 2030.”

Climate Action Tracker (2021). The CAT Thermometer. November 2021. Available at: https://climateactiontracker.org/global/cat-thermometer/ Copyright © 2021 by Climate Analytics and NewClimate Institute. All rights reserved.

The Climate Action Tracker provides a detailed analysis of the “lip service” on climate action emerging from the Glasgow conference:

  • “With all target pledges, including those made in Glasgow, global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 will still be around twice as high as necessary for the 1.5°C limit.
  • “Stalled momentum from leaders and governments on their short-term targets has narrowed the 2030 emissions gap by only 15-17% over the last year.
  • “With 2030 pledges alone – without longer-term targets – global temperature increase will be at 2.4°C in 2100.
  • “The projected warming from current policies (not proposals) – what countries are actually doing – is even higher, at 2.7°C with only a 0.2°C improvement over the last year and nearly one degree above the net-zero announcements governments have made.
  • “Since the April 2021 Biden Leaders’ Summit, the CAT’s standard “pledges and targets” scenario temperature estimate of all NDCs and binding long-term targets has dropped by 0.3°C to 2.1°C, primarily down to the inclusion of the U.S. and China’s net zero targets, now formalised in their long-term strategies submitted to the UNFCCC.
  • “While the projected warming from all net zero announcements, if fully implemented – the CAT’s ‘optimistic scenario’ – is down to 1.8°C by 2100, this estimate is far from positive news, given the quality of the net zero goals and the massive ambition and action gap in 2030.
  • “This ‘optimistic’ pathway is a long way from the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit, with peak 21st century warming of 1.9°C and about a 16% chance of exceeding a warming of 2.4°C.”

We are already experiencing an increase in extreme weather events due to rising temperatures, even though the average world temperature in 2020 was “only” 1.1°C above preindustrial levels. So, in reality, rising temperatures – primarily caused by humans burning fossil fuels –  result in a continuum of increasing disasters, which have already begun.

The major culprits

According to a recent New York Times article, “The world’s four biggest emitters – China, the United States, the European Union and India – are responsible for just over half of global greenhouse gas output . . . . “

But these data don’t tell the whole story. For example, Australia, followed closely by Indonesia, are the world’s largest coal exporters; Saudi Arabia leads the world in crude oil exports; Russia is, by far, the world’s largest natural gas exporter. To curb future greenhouse gas emissions, it is important to look at both the sources of fossil fuel production as well as where it is consumed.

Some positive opportunities

The current, anemic greenhouse gas emission goals set by most countries don’t yet mean we’re doomed to exceed the 1.5°C target. There is still time to strengthen the world’s commitment to drastic reductions in emissions by 2030, and to net zero emissions by 2050, that would keep the 1.5°C target in reach at the end of the 21st century.

Following are five major ways in which the world could get on track during the remainder of this decade to save itself from catastrophe. Some of these positive approaches are already underway and should be ramped up in 2022 and beyond. The others should begin in 2022 and expand in future years.

1. Strengthening country-level greenhouse gas emissions goals

Despite the inadequate goals set by many countries at the Glasgow conference, the meeting concluded by strongly encouraging countries with weak goals to strengthen them by November 2022, when the next climate change conference is scheduled. There are a number of factors, discussed below, that should influence these countries to get more serious about their commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Thus far, many developed countries have pledged funds to assist developing countries to reduce carbon emissions and to protect themselves from the ravages of climate change (for example, the effects of rising sea levels on island nations). At Glasgow, there was a renewed commitment by many developed countries to make good on these pledges.

One important example of a new agreement reached at the conference is an $8.5 billion pledge by the European Union, the UK, and the U.S. to help South Africa transition away from coal to renewable energy.

2. Improved measurement, enforcement, and incentive mechanisms

One of the shortcomings of the current International climate change measurement system is that countries are essentially monitoring and policing their own performance. This has created an overestimation of carbon dioxide reductions in some countries. For example, Malaysia claims to be sequestering a huge amount of carbon in forests, but there is no scientific support for this assertion.

Satellite technology related to climate change has improved dramatically in the past few years and is now able to detect carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gas emissions emanating from specific countries. This technology and other measurement approaches can be used in the future to create a “third-party” verification of whether or not specific countries are achieving or misrepresenting their climate change impacts.

3. Carbon border taxes

Carbon border adjustment taxes are being proposed by the European Union and under discussion in the United States. These taxes would be based on calculations of carbon dioxide emitted by imported fossil fuels and the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the production of proposed import goods. For example, potential coal imports from Australia or steel imports from China would be subject to carbon taxes based on their climate change impacts. This would have two main effects: creating incentives for exporting countries to reduce the carbon impact of exported products, and protecting the producers of low-carbon products in importing countries.

4. Increased private sector leadership on achieving carbon reduction goals

There are a number of large corporations that are taking actions to reduce their carbon footprints and produce green energy products. For example, Fortescue, a large Australian company, has ambitious plans to develop and export green hydrogen (produced by renewable energy). There are also a consortia of corporations that are making net zero carbon commitments and focusing their investments on clean energy companies.

Cooperative businesses are particularly well suited to several types of economic activity that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, community solar cooperatives can address the electricity and clean cooking needs of tens of millions of people in developing countries. Sustainable forestry and agricultural cooperatives can increase the amount of carbon sequestered in the forests and land of their members in both developed and developing countries.

5. Grassroots action around the world supporting climate goals and protesting against climate laggards

There were thousands of people who participated in marches in Glasgow and around the world to protest the weak outcomes of the recent climate change conference. Popular pressure can continue to have an impact on moving countries and corporations toward more serious commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the likelihood of keeping the earth’s temperature at or below 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.


So, are we heading to more “blah, blah, blah” for the remainder of the decade, or was Glasgow the beginning of a serious and urgent series of actions that will put the world on course for a livable climate at the end of the century? The jury is still out. But we are all on that jury. The way we conduct our own lives, influence the behavior of those around us, and vote can help bend the curve toward lower carbon emissions and a more habitable planet.

Liberty Mutual, get your head out of the tar sands!

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
November 2020, Issue 25
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

Those of you who live in the U.S. are probably familiar with a series of inane TV ads featuring an emu and his intellectually challenged human partner. The ads are for Liberty Mutual, a Boston-based insurance company that is one of the largest in the world.

It turns out that the company not only insures coal, tar sands, and other fossil fuel projects. It also owns at least one coal company in Australia. Among environmentalists, Liberty Mutual is considered both a bad actor and a sleazy one. Bad because for years it has contributed to worldwide carbon emissions, and sleazy because it pretends to be “sustainable” while continuing major involvement in fossil fuel projects.

As many of you know, I am a big proponent of cooperatives. Mutual insurance companies are close cousins of co-ops because they are (in theory) democratically controlled by their policyholders, very much like the one-member, one-vote control that cooperators have over their cooperatives. Thus, I am reluctant to badmouth members of the co-op family.

But, Liberty Mutual is no longer a mutual, and hasn’t been since 2001. At that time it changed its corporate status to a mutual insurance holding company. Without going into the down-and-dirty details, the company is no longer controlled by its policyholders but rather, primarily, by corporate executives and stockholders.

Mutual insurance companies can’t own non-insurance businesses, but mutual insurance holding companies can. Thus Liberty’s ownership of the Mount Ramsay Coal Company in Australia, which is drawing major criticism from local community residents for its environmental irresponsibility.

Closer to home, Liberty is also under fire for insuring Keystone XL, Trans Mountain, and other tar sands pipelines. In both the Australian and the North American projects, Liberty is not only a climate change villain, it is also harming indigenous people through its fossil fuel projects.

While a number of other major financial institutions and insurance companies have made commitments to cease their support for fossil fuel projects, Liberty continues to engage in greenwashing rather than meaningful action.

So, until Liberty’s egregious behavior ceases, I recommend that we all ignore the entreaties of the emu and his partner and buy our auto, home, and other insurance products elsewhere.

Community Solar Cooperatives in Developing Countries

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
May 2019, Issue 15
by E.G. Nadeau 

This paper provides a brief overview of recent and prospective changes in access to electricity in developing countries. These changes can contribute to the goal of worldwide electrification by 2030. One of these changes is the increasing development of community solar cooperatives that provide electricity through mini-grids, and installations on individual homes and other buildings. These co-ops are the primary focus of this paper.

There are almost a billion people who have no access to electricity, living primarily in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. That’s one-seventh of the world’s population. There are hundreds of millions more whose energy is unreliable, dirty, unhealthy, inadequate, unsustainable, and/or expensive – for example, kerosene, diesel, wood, and candles.[1]

Almost every country in the world has made a commitment through the United Nations Paris Agreement to significantly cut back by 2030 on their use of energy sources that emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.[2] (Note that the Trump administration is planning to withdraw the United States from the agreement in January 2020.[3])

community solar

These same countries have made commitments through the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals program to dramatically improve the quality of life around the world by 2030, in part by ensuring “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”[4]

There are many ways in which universal access to electricity will improve the quality of people’s lives – for example, creating job opportunities, reducing the workload of women by saving, on average, an hour a day that is currently spent searching for firewood, and preventing almost 2 million premature deaths per year from household air pollution. There would also be a net reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions because of lower use of biomass fuel for cooking, and the virtual elimination of kerosene and other dirty fuels as sources of heat and light.[5] 

How can the ambitious goal of “electricity for all” be realized?
The broad answer is to dramatically increase the use of decentralized, renewable energy to meet the world’s unmet and under-met needs for electricity. Since most people without electricity do not have access to transmission lines, the most feasible approach to providing them with electricity is through community solar mini-grids and single building installations, many of which could be organized as cooperatives.

Recent and projected progress in electrification
According to the World Energy Outlook reports of 2017 and 2018, there has been a pattern since 2000 of accelerating access to electricity for unserved and underserved populations. As alluded to above, almost 1 billion people were still without electricity in 2017, but that’s a marked improvement over the 1.7 billion without access in 2000.[6] [7]  Unfortunately, during this time period the “vast majority (97%) of new electricity connections” was through primarily fossil-fuel-based grid extensions. Less than 1% of new electricity access was provided via decentralized, renewable energy systems.[8]

On the bright side, the 2017 report goes on to say that between 2018 and 2030, fossil fuels will largely be replaced by renewable energy – especially solar energy – as the primary source for electricity. “The rapidly declining costs of solar PV [photovoltaics], battery technologies, and energy-efficient appliances (especially light-emitting diode [LED] lighting) are making decentralized renewable energy systems more affordable. This is particularly the case for rural and dispersed communities not served by a main grid and where it may take years for one to arrive. Decentralized systems can also be attractive in areas with grid access but an unreliable power supply.”[9]

Despite the dramatic progress during the first part of the 21st-century, future “trends on energy access . . . fall short of global goals. The New Policies Scenario sees some gains in terms of access, with India to the fore. However, more than 700 million people, predominantly in rural settlements in Sub-Saharan Africa, are projected to remain without electricity in 2040, and only slow progress is [being] made in reducing reliance on the traditional use of solid biomass as a cooking fuel.”[10] 

Growth of solar and other renewable sources of electrification
Back on the bright side, there are a number of exciting renewable-energy options that are becoming increasingly available to rapidly expand the electrification of the world. For example, large solar arrays are being developed across northern Africa that could eventually replace much of the remaining fossil-fuel energy of Europe. One analyst estimates that putting solar panels on 2% of the Sahara Desert could meet all of the world’s electricity needs.[11] Building underwater transmission cables from the Northern Africa to Europe is quite feasible. The same is not true for transmission to the Americas. There are other examples of desert-based, large-scale solar projects in Saudi Arabia, China, the Navajo reservation in the United States, and elsewhere. Together, these systems are likely to provide a huge addition to affordable, renewable energy by 2030.[12]

Wind turbines are cheaper than solar panels in many situations and will continue to be a critical part of any future mix of renewable-energy sources.[13] 

Because of the intermittent generation of electricity by solar and wind installations, they must be supplemented by other sources of energy, energy storage, and/or long-distance transmission. Lithium-ion batteries and other means of storage are an important and increasingly cost-effective way to expand the use of renewable energy at every level, from individual buildings to large power plants.[14]

Community solar energy
Many of the close-to-a-billion people who don’t have access to electricity live in fairly remote areas that are not easily connected to major power grids. As a result, large-scale renewable options don’t apply to them and are not likely to in the near future because of the high cost of transmission lines.

In these off-the-grid locations, households and businesses, and clusters of electrical consumers at the village level, can be most economically and efficiently served by electricity generated locally.

community solar

In projecting future expansion of access to electricity, the 2017 World Energy Outlook report lays out an “energy-for-all” scenario that is based on the goal of universal electrification by 2030.[15]

Figuring in population growth, this scenario would mean expanding electrical coverage to more than 1 billion additional people at an approximate cost of almost $800 billion. The report concludes that over 50% of this electricity would be powered by solar energy, and less than 25% by fossil fuels. Furthermore, more than 60% of new electrical energy would be generated by mini-grid and off-grid systems. (“Off-grid” systems are defined as powering individual homes and other buildings.)[16]

Below are five examples that include community solar components, followed by a discussion of how community solar co-ops could be expanded and made more efficient so that hundreds of millions more people around the world could benefit from renewable, reliable, and locally-controlled electricity.

  1. Liberia
    The recently formed Totota Co-op in rural Liberia began operating a solar mini-grid in 2018. Under a contract from the US Agency For International Development, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and Bandera Electric Co-op, one of NRECA’s member cooperatives, assisted the village to organize the co-op and install solar panels, a battery-storage unit, and other equipment.[17] NRECA is also working with 12 Liberian coastal villages to expand the community solar model to them.
  1. Rural India
    When Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India in 2014, 300 million households were without electricity. At the end of 2018, every village in India was reported to have electricity, but there were still 30 million households without it. President Modi promised to electrify all of these remaining households by April 2019 through a combination of hooking them up to the national grid and through mini-grid and off-grid installations. There are mixed reports on whether or not that goal has been attained. There are also concerns about the reliability of the national electricity grid, which has a tendency from time to time to leave subscribers in the dark.[18]

Despite these reliability problems and differing assessments of how many households are now electrified, the almost-full electrification of India is a major accomplishment. It is also worth noting that many communities have formed Village Electric Committees to oversee the operation of their solar facilities. According to one observer, “most Indian solar microgrids are democratic, with power controlled by village committees.”[19]

  1. The Caribbean
    Twenty-seven island countries and other territories, along with private-sector partners formed the Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator in 2017 to create more self-sufficient and sustainable development, including an increased emphasis on renewable energy.[20]  “The central objective of the Accelerator is to help transform the region’s economy through fast-tracking sound public and private investment opportunities which support climate action and economic growth, through sustainable development.”[21]

Islands, big and small, face special challenges in meeting their electrical service needs. Most don’t have local sources of energy, although some use wood, other kinds of biomass, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy. Importing fuel, such as diesel, is expensive and polluting. Many islands are also vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes which play havoc with transmission lines and other components of the electrical system. Consider the damage that Hurricane Maria caused in Puerto Rico in 2017, including the estimated loss of about 3,000 lives, and from which the island is still recovering.[22]

Solar mini-grids and single-building solar installations, for example in hospitals, provide protection against catastrophic damage and loss of life in the event of national weather and other emergencies in island communities. Mini-grids can be designed as part of island-wide grid systems that can operate autonomously when the main grid goes down.

  1. The Sahel Region of Africa
    Along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert is a huge savanna region called the Sahel. At over 1 million square miles, it is one-third the size of the Sahara. “The Desert to Power Program . . . seeks to make use of this massive swathe of territory to develop 10,000 megawatts (MW) worth of solar energy to provide electricity to 250 million people – including . . . 90 million people off-grid.”[23]
  1. Kenya
    Kenya has a much higher distribution of electricity than most Sub-Saharan African countries. Approximately 75% of Kenyans have access to electricity from grid and off-grid sources, according to the World Bank. [24] The Kenyan government wants to increase that to 100% by 2022.[25] The Kenya National Electrification Strategy (KNES) references mini-grids, independent solar power plants, and off-grid technology as options to utilize. About 49 million people live in Kenya, and most of them are in rural areas. [26]

One of the options being pursued is a private sector partnership between Azuri, Unilever, and local community residents. In this program, households and businesses purchase solar kits via a rent-to-buy system. Purchasers make monthly payments for 18 months, and then they own the kits outright. The kits come in various sizes, from a single light set-up, to one that can power multiple lights and other appliances, including a television. Another feature of the distribution system is that local community residents are trained to sell, install, and maintain the kits. Thus, there is a direct, local employment impact, as well as the indirect economic, social, health, and educational benefits resulting from increased access to energy.[27]

This Azuri/Unilever model has excellent potential to be adapted for the development of community solar projects in other developing countries.

community solar

An example of a solar home lighting system available in Kenya.[28] 

Advantages of, and challenges to, community solar co-ops
Listed below are the advantages of, and challenges to, community solar co-ops as means to rapidly expand electrical services in developing countries.


  • They are relatively inexpensive to install and operate.
  • They can be rapidly ramped up
  • As mini-grids and clusters of single building installations, they can operate independent of large-scale transmission grids
  • Panels and other components are easy to transport, install, and maintain.
  • Consumer costs can be based on usage.
  • Decisions are made by locally elected boards.
  • They generate jobs and new business activity.
  • They improve the quality of everyday life and health.


  • There is a shortage of champions for solar community cooperatives in the international community.
  • Even though they can operate self-sufficiently once formed, there are difficulties in accessing start-up capital for them.
  • There is often a lack of local expertise for sourcing materials, setting up local systems, and providing ongoing monitoring and support services. 

However, none of these challenges are insurmountable.

Despite the success of community solar co-ops in some developing countries, there is not nearly enough support for expanding this approach to help meet the goal of universal access to electricity by 2030. Three of the co-op entities in the best position to promote and assist community solar co-op projects are the International Co-operative Alliance, the US-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and the World Organization of Credit Unions (WOCCU). The former two organizations are clearly supportive of the approach, but neither appears to be taking a strong leadership role in promoting it. WOCCU could also be an important advocate for community solar co-ops by encouraging and assisting credit unions, savings and credit cooperative organizations, and other financial cooperatives around the world to provide financing for these co-ops. 

Other potential champions and sources of financing include the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program, and various bilateral development programs such as the United States Agency for International Development, the Swedish International Development Agency, the UK’s Department for International Development, the Canadian International Development Program, and major foundations, and business partners. Despite the fact that many of these organizations are already providing assistance to electrification in developing countries, none are actively championing the expansion of the community co-op model.

As both India and Kenya are demonstrating, national initiatives to provide universal electrification within countries appear to be a very effective strategy for expanded coverage. This is clearly a way to mobilize action for universal electrification, including the development of community solar co-ops. And, yet, there are not enough of these national models. The proliferation of these models would benefit greatly from support by the international organizations mentioned above.

community solar

For a historical perspective, it is useful to look at the rural electric cooperative movement in the United States. In addition to the strong demand for electricity by rural residents, the second biggest factor setting the stage for the rapid growth of these co-ops in the 1930s and 1940s was the provision of low-interest loans by the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) established by the Roosevelt administration in the mid-1930s. Today, about 1,000 rural electric co-ops provide electricity to 40 million people in rural and suburban communities throughout the United States. Similar loan programs, both national and international, could be established during the next decade to accelerate electrification in developing countries.

There are two key conclusions of this paper. Community solar cooperatives are already in place in some developing countries and could be expanded rapidly to provide electricity in many more. However, unless the expansion of these co-ops becomes a much higher priority of the international cooperative community and of international development organizations, the huge potential for these local, democratically run, renewable energy providers will not be realized.


[1]     “World Energy Outlook 2017: From Poverty to Prosperity,” International Energy Agency. https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/WEO2017SpecialReport_EnergyAccessOutlook.pdf

[2]     The Paris Agreement, United Nations Climate Change, 2018.

[3]     Plumer, Brad, “Trump Will Withdraw U.S. From Paris Climate Agreement,” New York Times, June 1, 2017.

[4]     “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy,”

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, 2015.


[5]     “Universal energy access by 2030 is now within reach thanks to growing political will and falling costs,” International Energy Agency, October 2017.
https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2017/october/universal-energy-access-by-2030-is now-within-reach-thanks-to-growing-political-w.html

[6]     World Energy Outlook 2017, op. cit., p. 11.

[7]     World Energy Outlook 2018 Summary, International Energy Administration.

[8]     World Energy Outlook 2017, op. cit., p. 44.

[9]     Ibid., p. 44-45.

[10]     World Energy Outlook 2018 Summary, op. cit., p. 7.

[11]   Michelsen, Charis, Solar Energy from the Sahara Desert Could Power the World – But Will It? December 14th, 2011.
https://cleantechnica.com/2011/12/14/solar-energy-from-the-sahara-desert-could-power the-world-but-will-it/

[12]   Levitan, David, “Is Anything Stopping a Truly Massive Build-Out of Desert Solar Power?” Scientific American, July 1, 2013.

[13]   “Wind vs. solar: A head-to-head comparison.” Arcadia Power, 2019.

[14]    Hackbarth, Joern, “Will Storage Transform the Future of Low-Carbon Energy Generation?” Forbes, November 20, 2018.

[15]   World Energy Outlook 2017, op. cit., pp. 53-55.

[16]   Ibid.

[17]   Chapa, Sergio, “Solar microgrid designed in Texas Hill Country deployed in West Africa,” San Antonio Business Journal, June 27, 2018.

[18]    Doshi, Vidhi, “Every village in India now has electricity. But millions still live in darkness,” Washington Post, April 30, 2018.

[19]   Pearce, Fred, “In Rural India, Solar-Powered Microgrids Show Mixed Success,” Yale Environment 360, January 14, 2016. https://e360.yale.edu/features/in_rural_india_solar-powered_microgrids_show_mixed_success

[20]   Hill, Joshua S., “Caribbean Nations Partner with Global Superstars & Corporate Giants For $1 Billion Climate Accelerator,” Clean Technica, August 14th, 2018.

[21]     “Aims and Objectives,” The Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator, undated.

[22]     Ortiz, Luis Valentin, “A year after deadly Maria,Puerto Rico still struggles with aftermath,” Reuters, September 20, 2018.
https://www.reuters.com/article/storm-maria-puerto-rico/a-year-after-deadly-maria-   puerto-rico-still-struggles-with-aftermath-idUSL2N1W60SR

[23]   Hutchins Mark, African development bank launches ‘Desert to Power’ program, targeting 10 GW of solar, PV Magazine, May 30, 2018.

[24]   Richardson, Jake, “Kenyan Electrification Plan Could Achieve Universal Access By 2022,” Clean Technica, January 15, 2019.

[25]   “Kenya Launches Ambitious Plan to Provide Electricity to All Citizens by 2022, World Bank, December 6, 2018.

[26]   “Boosting Access to Electricity in Africa through Innovation, Better Regulation,” World Bank,

[27]   Richardson, Jake, “Home Solar Lighting Systems Come to Kenya From Azuri & Unilever,” Clean Technica, December 19, 2018.

[28]   https://szpowersolution.en.made-in-china.com/product/lvtJHPxwnNhO/China-Solar-Home-Lighting-System-with-Three-Bright-LED-Bulbs-for-Kenya-Project.html


Developing Strategies for U.S. and Global Green New Deals

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
January 2019, Issue 13
by E.G. Nadeau, Ph.D.

We’ve written two books about the societal transformation that we believe is taking place. Our hypotheses are based on our research of seven broad sets of variables such as economic power, the environment, quality of life, and more. If this is of interest to you – and it quite possibly is because you’re here at our website – we invite you to download a free PDF of our book, The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History, Second Edition, or find information on buying the book here. Thank you.

What is a Green New Deal?
There has been a lot of buzz recently about launching a Green New Deal in the United States, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (often referred to as AOC), the new congresswoman from New York, playing a lead role in championing this initiative.[1]

However, questions abound. What is a Green New Deal? Can this catchy title be turned into a pragmatic set of new policies? Can there be a global counterpart to this progressive American idea?

What a Green New Deal is depends on whom you ask. In a comprehensive article that appeared in early January in Vox magazine, David Roberts defined it this way:

“It refers, in the loosest sense, to a massive program of investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure, meant to transform not just the energy sector, but the entire economy. It is meant both to decarbonize the economy and to make it fairer and more just.”[2]

green new deal

To elaborate, Roberts’ definition would combine a variety of initiatives to reduce global warming, decrease poverty, create jobs, and effectively implement a green paradigm for the American economy. This new economic model would prioritize human and environmental needs, reduce the economic influence of large corporations, and reduce economic inequality.

Some question the overarching and complicated nature of such a transformation in American energy and economic policy. Some see it as a threat to fossil-fuel-based corporations, and to an entire society that has been dependent on fossil fuels almost since capitalism began. Others worry about the difficulty of implementing such a wide array of changes at the same time. By taking on too much at once, they fear that we may end up with nothing or very little. Effective climate action could get lost in the shuffle.[3]

green new deal

The same kinds of comments can be made about an international version of a Green New Deal. Some observers laud such a possibility, while others worry about losing a worldwide consensus (we’ve already lost the Trump administration) on the urgent need for climate reform by the addition of too much additional baggage. 

When was it first proposed?
The “New Deal” part of the phrase originated with the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, whose administration used this catchphrase to encompass an array of programs intended to pull the United States out of the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was not one massive reform, but a series of separate programs and regulations that together constituted major changes in the federal government’s role in creating jobs and increasing economic and social security.[4]

The New York Times columnist and author, Thomas Friedman, is credited with first using the phrase “Green New Deal” in 2007. In early January 2019, Friedman wrote another op-ed, “The Green New Deal Rises Again,” in which he expressed support for the renewed sense of urgency in addressing climate-change problems.[5]

Presidential candidate Barack Obama included the phrase Green New Deal in his platform in 2008. [6] And in 2009, the United Nations produced a report entitled “Global Green New Deal.”[7] But then, domestic and international concerns shifted to addressing problems created by the Great Recession, and the momentum for a comprehensive approach to climate change temporarily hit the skids.[8]

cooperative green society

The phrase Green New Deal reemerged during the 2018 midterm election campaigns of several progressive, Democratic candidates for Congress. This time around, the concept has received a lot of attention – both positive and negative – in the press and among politicians and environmental and social activists. It is too soon to tell whether or not the momentum toward implementing some version of a Green New Deal – at the national and international levels – will stick this time or fade into the background again.

A survey conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication in mid-December shows “overwhelming support for the Green New Deal, with 81% of registered voters saying they either ‘strongly support’ (40%) or ‘somewhat support’ (41%) this plan.”[9] 

What might a pragmatic version of this idea look like in the United States?
The young progressives in Congress who are championing a Green New Deal for the United States (and for the world) are already being “put in their place” by their congressional elders. For example, AOC and her fellow insurgent colleagues have already lost the fight to have a special committee established to focus on preparing the way for the implementation of Green New Deal legislation.[10]

But that doesn’t mean they have lost the war. They and other advocates are already gearing up for the 2020 presidential and congressional elections. They plan to keep pushing their message for the urgent need to link climate change and positive economic change in order to simultaneously reduce the risk of catastrophic global warming and create an economy that provides well-paying jobs and economic security.[11]

I have one piece of advice for these Green New Deal advocates: Just as the Roosevelt administration did so successfully with the New Deal, think in terms of a set of reforms rather than one massive program. These reforms could include increased federal and state incentives for conversion to solar, wind, and other renewable sources of energy, for electric vehicles, and for energy-efficient buildings. They also could include job training and job creation for a green economy; increased taxes on the wealthy and/or taxes on carbon-dioxide emissions; and economic benefits for the poor tied to climate change, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.

electric vehicles

As a global initiative?
The reemergent Global Green New Deal has not yet been articulated in any detail, although it is considered by proponents to be an extension of the reform program being articulated for the United States.

What would the global version entail? The United Nations has already established a Green Climate Fund, the primary purpose of which is to assist poorer countries to implement carbon-reducing initiatives, and to adapt to the problems created by global warming – for example, protection against rising sea levels and agricultural practices that are more resilient to droughts and floods.[12]

bio farming

A key problem is, however, that there is not nearly enough money in this Fund to address the magnitude of the problems. It is not clear at this time how the size of the Fund could be rapidly and massively expanded.

There are also other bilateral, multilateral, and private-sector aid and economic assistance programs to accelerate climate reforms in developing countries. But, again, they do not match the urgency of the problem.

From my own research and my review of the literature, I am aware of a number of initiatives that could provide tens of millions of jobs in developing countries in the fight against global warming. They include forest-based carbon sequestration;[13] installation of solar-panel microgrids;[14] the rapid deployment of low-cost, electric vehicles; accelerated increases in the energy efficiency of buildings; and financial assistance in weaning countries off of dependency on fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy.[15]

The most recent studies are projecting that we have a little over 10 years to radically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions before the world will be subjected to major increases in climate-related disasters.[16] The proponents of domestic and international Green New Deals recognize the sense of urgency with which we need to mobilize our resources to counter this worldwide threat.

My primary caution is to follow the same type of multi-pronged strategy of the original “New Deal.” Let’s not try to do everything at once in one massive package. We can simultaneously benefit the planet and the economic circumstances of the people who inhabit it by introducing a broad set of reforms that vary by community and by country, rather than by striving for a holy grail, mega-reform that is likely to get snarled in its own complexity.

[1] Hand, Mark, December 4, 2018, “Ocasio-Cortez wants to unite generations of climate action efforts under the Green New Deal,” ThinkProgress.

[2] Roberts, David, January 7, 2019, “The Green New Deal, explained,” Vox Magazine.

[3] Gulker, Max, December 4, 2018, “The Inconvenient Truth About the Green New Deal,” American Institute for Economic Research.

[4] Wikipedia, January 8, 2019, “New Deal.”

[5] Friedman, Thomas, January 8, 2019, “The Green New Deal Rises Again,” New York Times.

[6] Kaufman, Alexander C., June 27, 2018, “The Surprising Origins of What Could Be The ‘Medicare For All’ Of Climate Change,” Huffington Post.

[7] Barbier, Edward, 2009, “A Global Green New Deal,” Report prepared for the Green Economy Initiative of UNEP.

[8] Ibid., Roberts.

[9] Gustafson, Abel et al, December 14, 2018, “The Green New Deal has Strong Bipartisan Support,” Yale Project on Climate Communication.

[10] Cama, Timothy, January 2, 2019, “House Dems formalize climate committee plans without Green New Deal language,” The Hill.

[11] Krieg, Gregory, January 8, 2019, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, activist groups map out next steps in Green New Deal fight,” CNN.

[12] Green Climate Fund, accessed January 9, 2019. https://www.greenclimate.fund/home

[13] Forestry paper.

[14] Nadeau, E.G., September 2018, “Can we Electrify the World by 2030?” The Cooperative Society Newsletter.

[15] Cimons, Marlene, December 29, 2018, “24 Million Jobs Could Be Created from Meeting Paris Climate Agreement Targets,” Clean Technica, originally published by Nexus Media.

[16] World Energy Outlook 2018, International Energy Agency, November 2018. https://www.iea.org/weo2018/

small-scale solar energy