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.
www.iea.org/reports/global-methane-tracker-2022/overview

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.

Conclusion

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.

Democracy Is Making A Comeback!

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
March 2022, Issue 34
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

“The level of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen in 2021 is down to 1989 levels. The last 30 years of democratic advances are now eradicated. Dictatorships are on the rise and harbor 70% of the . . . world population . . . .”
Democracy Report 2022

Not exactly uplifting news for those of us who value “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Other recent analyses have drawn similar conclusions about the erosion of democracy over the last decade or more.

And then along came Putin the Terrible‘s[1] invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. In addition to the deaths, destruction, suffering, and dislocation inflicted on Ukrainians by Russia’s ”special military operation,” there have been three major consequences not intended by Putin: strong, effective resistance by the Ukrainian government and its people to the invasion; an outpouring of support for Ukraine by democratic countries around the world; and a level of political, economic, and military cooperation among them that has not been seen since the end of World War II.

Thus, despite the gradual decline in democratic institutions in recent decades and the continuing tragedy of the war in Ukraine, the tone of this newsletter is optimistic about the future of democracy in the world. I will start out by reviewing the recent, mostly negative, trends related to democracy, then analyze the early reactions of many democratic countries to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and conclude by projecting a renewal of democratic growth in the years ahead.

Changes in Democracy Since World War II

Each year the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and Freedom House and other organizations publish reports on the current state of democracy in the world. For the past 16 years the EIU’s Democracy Index has been on a downward trend. The Freedom House index has shown a similar negative pattern for 17 years. That is, the countries of the world have become less democratic and more authoritarian during most of the 21st century to date.

Freedom in the World. The note in the lower-left corner reads: Note: Countries whose scores were unchanged are not included in this comparison. Freedom in the World assesses 195 countries and 15 territories.

There was a very different pattern that began during World War II, according to the Center for Systemic Peace. The world experienced an unprecedented flowering of democracy that continued through the remainder of the 20th century. According to the Center, the approximate number of democratic countries increased from 10 during World War II in the early 1940s to 80 in 2000, and autocratic rule declined from a peak of about 90 countries in the late 1970s to 30 in 2000.

What accounts for the rapid rise, then gradual decline of democracy since World War II?
This is a complicated question. Following are some possible answers.

Much of the proliferation of new democracies after World War II resulted from the end of colonialism in Asia, Africa, and on islands in Oceania and the Caribbean from the late 1940s through the 1970s, and from the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia around 1990. As we have found out, however, one cannot just wave a magic wand and create a democracy.

In 1945, there were 74 sovereign states in the world. Today, there are 193 member states in the United Nations, representing almost every country in the world. That is approaching an almost three-fold increase in less than 80 years.

Many of the newly minted (or liberated) countries struggled to become democratically run – even if they were formed as nominal democracies. Major problems included:

  • The tendency of elected leaders to seek lifetime tenures rather than submit to periodic, fairly conducted elections
  • Traditional ethnic rivalries that degenerated into civil wars rather than developing into functioning democracies
  • The self-interested interference of former colonizers or other outsiders that undercut democracy
  • Military coups

There are a different, but overlapping, set of factors that have undercut long-established democracies in the early 21st century:

  • Self-serving politicians and political parties, often financed by wealthy individuals and corporations, that weakened the role of other parties in order to secure and maintain political control
  • Military coups
  • Inequality that undercuts balanced political participation
  • Political apathy
  • White supremacy

Taken together, these diverse factors have reduced the level of democracy around the world.

The reaction of democratic countries to Putin’s war
The United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, NATO, the United Nations, and other democratic countries and institutions have denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They also quickly supported a range of economic sanctions on Russia and the provision of arms and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, including support for refugees.

The current actions of democratic countries around the world echo their response to the German, Italian, and Japanese invasions of their neighbors in World War II. Democracy in the world was up against the wall in the early 1940s, but the allies prevailed in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

At the time, Russia was a key, but uneasy, part of this anti-fascist coalition. As was borne out in the following decades, Russia had a very different, long-term goal from its democratic allies – creation of an authoritarian Soviet empire rather than preservation and expansion of democracy.

Now, Russia is the autocratic aggressor against its democratic neighbor, Ukraine. And a world democratic alliance has rapidly formed to counter this aggression.

A resurgence of democracy, an unintended consequence of Putin’s war
As Jennifer Rubin put it in a recent Washington Post opinion piece: “A renaissance of bipartisan, pro-democracy sentiment may be one of the many startling consequences of Russia’s invasion.”

As this newsletter is distributed in late March 2022, there is no way of knowing yet what the short- or long-term effects of Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine will be. Nor is it clear whether or not the heightened level of cooperation among democratic countries of the world will continue after the war is over. Another uncertainty is whether the current democratic upsurge will translate into transitions within countries that make them more democratic.

For example, will the current bipartisan support of Ukraine in the United States create a broader conciliatory relationship between the two political parties? Will support of Ukraine reduce the proliferation of some of the crazy conspiracy theories about the outcome of the last presidential election and set the stage for free and fair elections in 2022 and 2024?

In Hungary, will support of Ukraine lead to the electoral defeat of Prime Minister Victor Orban, who has turned the country into an oppressive, “illiberal democracy” during the past decade? Will President Erdogan of Turkey or Prime Minister Modi of India curb their autocratic tendencies in the face of popular support for democratic reforms? What impact will support of Ukraine have, If any, on China’s international relationships?

In sum, will there be a carryover from the heroic actions of millions of Ukrainians, and the support for these actions by hundreds of millions of people around the world and by the countries in which they live?

We don’t know the answer to these questions yet. But I’m betting on future reports from the Economist Intelligence Unit, Freedom House, and other analysts, showing increases in democracy around the world rather than the gradual decreases we have seen in recent years.

_____________________________________________________

An edited version of this article first appeared in The Capital Times, a weekly newspaper published in Madison, Wisconsin, on Saturday, March 26, 2022.

[1] There are a number of parallels between Ivan the Terrible, the brutal tsar who ruled Russia in the mid-1500s, and Vladimir Putin. For example, “Ivan’s reign was characterised by Russia’s transformation from a medieval state to an empire … but at an immense cost to its people and its broader, long-term economy.”

Note:
The Cooperative Society Project has been following trends in democracy since we began in 2015. You can read more in the second edition of The Cooperative Society – and in several articles. All can be accessed at our website


 

Covid 2022: Five Lessons and Three Predictions

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
January 2022, Issue 33
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

I had planned to write about the resurrection of the Build Back Better legislation in the United States Congress, but as of this writing, it is stalled.

Instead, the big news I’d like to reflect on is what appears to be a plateauing of worldwide Covid cases, and significant declines in some countries. South Africa, where the Omicron variant originated, has one-sixth the number of cases that it had a month ago. The United Kingdom, the first European country hit hard by Omicron, has experienced an almost 50% decline in weekly cases since its peak level. The United States has begun a downward trend in just the past week.

New cases and deaths. Graphic from The New York Times.

Thus, it’s time to look back at the world’s almost two-year ordeal (so far) with the pandemic and to prepare for what comes next.

This is a fitting Cooperative Society topic because, if we’re going to shape a better world, we have to learn from the lessons of catastrophic events like the worldwide spread of the coronavirus and do a much better job when the next killer virus or other worldwide disaster comes along.

The five lessons and three predictions:

Lesson 1. Avoid complacency about potential future disasters

In many ways, international health organizations, governments, pharmaceutical companies, and the scientific community got caught with their pants down when Covid emerged in China in December 2019. There had been a lot of discussion in the early 2000s about creating a quick response system to address new viruses and other major international health threats. However, when Covid arrived, the world’s response capabilities were woefully inadequate and had to be cobbled together anew.

The lesson? After more than 5.5 million global Covid deaths and counting, let’s get serious this time. We need to create and maintain a worldwide readiness system.

Lesson 2. Act quickly and cooperatively when disaster strikes

This lesson builds directly on the previous one. It’s not enough to have a system in place to deal with potential worldwide health and other disasters. The system needs to be activated quickly, effectively, and universally. China dawdled, mostly in secrecy, when the country’s leaders became aware of the seriousness of a new virus that first emerged in Wuhan in mid-December 2019. China’s leaders were slow to warn the rest of the world about the potential threat of a pandemic. And when they did come clean, many of the world’s political leaders minimized the threat and/or were slow to act. For example, the infamous comment by then-President Trump on January 22, 2020: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.”

Lesson 3. Denial is the hobgoblin of little minds

Speaking of Trump, the United States, under his lack of leadership, became the world’s bastion of incompetence in limiting the spread of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in 2020. His denial mentality continued even after his presidency ended, carried on by other Republican leaders and followers. As a result, in January 2022, the U.S. still has the lowest vaccination rate among developed countries and the highest number of Covid deaths of all the countries in the world.

On the international stage, there were a number of other governmental leaders who exacerbated Covid deaths through their attempts to minimize the seriousness of the pandemic. For example: Modi in India, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Lukashenko in Belarus, and Lopez Obrador in Mexico.

The lesson? To avoid unnecessary suffering and death in pandemics and other health crises, governmental leaders should avoid political posturing and, instead, take actions based on science.



Lesson 4. We have the ability to solve complex problems

On the positive side of the Covid ledger, the world has an incredible ability to solve scientific and logistical problems. In the United States and in other countries, major funding was provided to pharmaceutical companies and scientific institutions to develop vaccines, tests, and other means to combat the pandemic. In an unprecedentedly short period of time, several effective vaccines were available for widespread use in some countries.

Lesson 5. The distribution of resources

We still need to learn how to distribute resources equitably when disaster strikes. Almost two years into the pandemic, only about 5% of people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated compared to an average of over 70% in high-income countries. And in some countries that have good access to the vaccines, there are groups of people – usually people of color, the poor, and those in rural communities – who were last in line to get vaccines and, in some cases, still haven’t received them.



Prediction 1. Covid and its variants will decline steeply soon

By early summer, people around the world will emerge from their Covid bunkers and become sociable again. Recent data suggest that the rapid International spike in Covid caused by the Omicron variant will soon be on a swift downturn. In addition, Pfizer announced in early January that it will be releasing a new vaccine beginning in March specifically targeted to protect against Omicron. What these events most probably mean is that life for many of us will almost return to normal by the end of June.

Prediction 2. Covid will become more effectively preventable and treatable by the fall

An extension of the previous prediction is that by the fall of 2022, Covid will cease to be a pandemic. Instead, it will be a nuisance virus like the flu, for which many of us will receive an annual, or possibly semi-annual, vaccination. Covid cases will still occur, and there may be incidents of troublesome mutations that cause temporary flareups and vaccine adjustments. But Covid will no longer be a major threat to world health.

Prediction 3. The lessons from Covid will provide a model for addressing future disasters

Our battle with Covid will make us better able to solve the climate change crisis and be better prepared for future worldwide disasters.

This is the iffiest of the three predictions. Will we really learn from all the suffering and death wrought by the coronavirus and our bumbling response to it? Or will we just saunter blithely along, forgetting about the international nightmare caused by the pandemic?

Despite our tendency as a species to ignore the lessons of the past, there is a real possibility that we will learn from the Covid pandemic, and apply that learning to other world disasters, such as global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels; the gross inequality of people around the world not having adequate access to food, healthcare, and other necessities of life; or another killer virus.

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Videos, books, and downloads 
• We invite you to view a brief, informative video on community solar co-ops. It’s a summary of E.G.’s December 2021 presentation at the World Cooperative Congress in Seoul, Korea. E.G. describes the ease, affordability, and benefits of establishing a solar co-op.
 
• Also newly released is a video during which E.G.’s son, Luc, interviews E.G. about his 2021 book Strengthening the Cooperative Community. Luc is co-founder – with E.G. – of The Cooperative Society Project. The book is based on E.G.’s 50 years of international cooperative research and development experience. Of special interest are the 16 recommendations E.G. provides for realizing future cooperative development opportunities.

Strengthening the Cooperative Community is available as a free PDF and as a print book through Amazon and local booksellers. Shown below are some comments E.G. received about the book:

“Anyone interested in concrete ideas for reducing inequality domestically or internationally should read this book,…”—Dave Grace, Managing Partner, Dave Grace and Associates

“Thank you for this lively, agile, and accessible introduction to the cooperative world…”—Gianluca Salvatori, CEO, Euricse

“E.G. has made a major contribution to the history and future impact of cooperative enterprise…I hope the 16 recommendations in this narrative will be given serious consideration by cooperative leadership at the global, regional, national and local levels across all sectors.”—Dr. Martin Lowery, Executive Vice President Emeritus, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, International Cooperative Alliance board member and Chair, ICA Cooperative Identity Committee

  • And we remind you that E.G’s book The Cooperative Solution is available on our website as a free download. Published in 2012, EG’s points about making both economic democracy and political democracy the foundations of American society continue to be very relevant today.  

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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.

Conclusion

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.

COVID-19’s effect on population trends and poverty   

COVID-19 is disrupting more than 70 years of population trends and setting back poverty alleviation by more than a decade.

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
September 2021, Issue 31
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

This is the third 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 November article will look at the effects of the pandemic on the climate crisis.

This issue analyzes the impact of COVID-19 on global population trends and the quality of life around the world during the past year and a half.

Population

COVID-19 is affecting the world’s population in several major ways. It is lowering the average lifespan, decreasing the birth rate, and slowing current and projected population growth.

Let’s take a look at each of these demographic changes.

Life expectancy

The number of deaths worldwide from COVID-19 is expected to exceed 5 million sometime in October. This is probably an undercount, because some countries are attributing coronavirus deaths to other causes.

In the United States, there were almost 350,000 COVID deaths in 2020, and another 350,000  by the end of September or early October 2021. Deaths from the coronavirus are estimated to have reduced the average life expectancy of Americans by one and a half years in 2020, the biggest single-year decline in life expectancy since World War II. This reduction in average life expectancy does not include the effects of the 2021 death toll. COVID deaths among Blacks and Hispanics are substantially higher than among Whites in the U.S.

Life expectancy in many other countries has not been as dramatically affected by the coronavirus as it has been in the United States. ”It is impossible to look at these findings and not see a reflection of the systemic racism in the U.S.,” Leslie Curtis, chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, told NPR. “The range of factors that play into this include income inequality, the social safety net, as well as racial inequality and access to health care,” Curtis said.

Birth rate

The global birth rate has been declining each year since 1964. It is projected to drop off somewhat more sharply in the United States in 2021, and to a lesser extent, in a number of other countries as a result of the pandemic. According to a recent article in New Security Beat, “The pandemic has caused many young people to delay major life events, such as marriage. This delay will likely manifest in lower birthrates in the years to come. Likewise, pandemic-related unemployment and financial insecurity, particularly among young people, women, and marginalized groups, may cause further decline.”

The impact of the pandemic on lowered birth rates may continue for several years as the world economy gradually gets back on track.

Long-term demographic trends

In the remainder of the 21st century, the effect of COVID-19 on population change is likely to be a minor, but painful, blip. Longevity very probably will continue to increase gradually after the brief, virus-related, downward spike. The lower birth rate, however, may have a longer lasting, if modest, impact.

Independent of COVID, however, a group of analysts, writing in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, recently projected a more rapid deceleration and then a downturn in world population growth in the remainder of this century:

Our findings suggest that continued trends in female educational attainment and access to contraception will hasten declines in fertility and slow population growth. A sustained TFR [total fertility rate] lower than the replacement level in many countries, including China and India, would have economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical consequences. Policy options to adapt to continued low fertility, while sustaining and enhancing female reproductive health, will be crucial in the years to come.

Primarily due to the effect of this projected lower birth rate, world population (now at 7.8 billion) is expected to peak at about 9.7 billion in 2064, and then decline to around 8.8 billion by 2100. This pattern of population growth and decline is likely to occur unevenly across the world, with some countries experiencing significant reductions in population, and others, especially many low-income countries, continuing to grow through most of the rest of the century. (The author will not go into an in-depth analysis or discuss the policy implications of these trends here, but will address them in future articles and the next edition of The Cooperative Society.)

Quality of life

There has been a recent slowdown in accom­plishing the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including those directly related to the quality of life of poor people around the world, that began before the coronavirus. The slowdown appears to be the result of reduced commitment by some UN members, an overly ambitious agenda by the UN, and the magnitude of the climate-change crisis overshadowing other SDGs.

The first two sustainable development goals are, “End poverty in all its forms everywhere” and “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.” This section of the newsletter focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on these two goals of ending poverty and hunger by 2030.

Poverty

Extreme poverty, defined as, “Living below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day,” rose for the first time in over 20 years in 2020 as approximately 100 million people were pushed back into extreme poverty, bringing the total number of the world’s population in this category to about 730 million. Even though the World Bank recently projected that there will be a decrease of about 20 million people in extreme poverty in 2021, it will take several years to get poverty reduction back on its pre-COVID track. Despite the overall upward trend in 2021, many low-income countries in Africa will continue to experience an increase in extreme poverty this year, and thus suffer through a longer time period before they return to pre-COVID trends of extreme-poverty reduction.

Despite these grim data on COVID-related poverty around the world, there was actually a decrease in poverty in the United States in 2020. A headline in The New York Times recently reported that, “Poverty in U.S. declined last year as government aid made up for lost jobs.” The percentage of people living below the poverty line dropped from 11.8% in 2019 to 9.1% in 2020. This decline in poverty may not continue in the coming years if Congress doesn’t pass several anti-poverty measures this fall.

Hunger

The COVID-related story for world hunger is much the same as that for poverty. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations:

The number of people in the world affected by hunger continued to increase in 2020 under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. After remaining virtually unchanged from 2014 to 2019, the PoU [prevalence of under nourishment*] increased from 8.4 percent to around 9.9 percent between 2019 and 2020, heightening the challenge of achieving the Zero Hunger target in 2030.

The above percentages mean that about 120 million more people were undernourished in 2020 than in 2019, bringing the world total to about 768 million. More than 80% of undernourished people live in Asia and Africa.

The conclusion that the FAO draws related to world hunger applies equally well to extreme poverty:

With less than a decade to 2030, the world is not on track to ending world hunger and malnutrition; and in the case of world hunger, we are moving in the wrong direction. This report has shown that economic downturns as a consequence of COVID-19 containment measures all over the world have contributed to one of the largest increases in world hunger in decades, which has affected almost all low- and middle-income countries, and can reverse gains made in nutrition. The COVID-19 pandemic is just the tip of the iceberg, more alarmingly, the pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities forming in our food systems over recent years as a result of major drivers such as conflict, climate variability and extremes, and economic slowdowns and downturns. These major drivers are increasingly occurring simultaneously in countries, with interactions that seriously undermine food security and nutrition.

The United Nations recently held a world summit on food systems, in which, “. . . more than 150 countries made commitments to transform their food systems, while championing greater participation and equity, especially amongst farmers, women, youth and indigenous groups.”

But the summit was not without controversy. For example, in an article entitled, “The UN summit on food systems took two years to plan. It’s offered nothing to help feed families,” Michael Fakhri, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, made the following comment:

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted what we have known for decades – hunger, malnutrition and famine are not caused by inadequate amounts of food. They are caused by the political failures that restrict people’s access to adequate food.

Conclusion

COVID-19 has significantly contributed to a global reduction in longevity and the birth rate. It has also increased poverty and hunger around the world. The effects of these negative impacts are projected to last for a number of years. In particular, poor people, especially in Africa and Asia, will continue to experience economic hardship and undernourishment well beyond 2021. The optimistic UN goals of ”No poverty” and “Zero hunger” by 2030 will almost certainly not be realized.

It would be a mistake, however, to throw up our hands in despair at these recent setbacks. Since the UN Millennium Development Goals , the predecessors to the sustainable development goals, were first established in 2000, there have been dramatic improvements in the social, health-related, economic, and environmental well-being of hundreds of millions of people around the world.

The recent setbacks related to COVID-19 and other factors mentioned above can be overcome, especially through universal access to coronavirus vaccines, and a recommitment to the 17 sustainable development goals by the international community.

__________

* Prevalence of undernourishment is “an estimate of the proportion of the population whose habitual food consumption is insufficient to provide the dietary energy levels that are required to maintain a normal active and healthy life.”

The impact of Covid-19: The pandemic’s effects on progress toward a more cooperative world society in 2020 and 2021

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
May 2021, Issue 28
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

We have been writing about whether or not humans have been moving toward or away from a more cooperative society since 2016. The pandemic, which began in December 2019, has had a profound effect not only on our health and mortality, but on the world’s economy, political landscape, social well-being, and the environment. That impact is continuing in 2021, and very probably will have significant consequences in subsequent years.

We will talk about the effects of Covid-19 on our lives in three installments of The Cooperative Society Newsletter, beginning with this May issue and continuing in July and September.

First, a little background on The Cooperative Society Project.

There are three core premises to the Project:

  • We have reached a point in human history at which there are adequate resources for all human beings to experience a decent quality of life. Similarly, humans are now able to establish and maintain a sustainable relationship with nature. The problem is: We are not yet achieving these goals.
  • It is important to measure the extent to which we humans are moving toward a sustainable quality of life for all and a sustainable environment, and, when we are falling short, to take corrective action.
  • Achieving these goals does not depend on forces outside of our control. We have the power to shape the conditions of our lives and those of future generations. We are the agents of history, not its powerless subjects.

The 2018 edition of The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History and “The Cooperative Society 2020 Report” both review progress (or the lack of it) related to seven measures: economic power, the distribution of wealth, conflict, democracy, population, quality of life, and the environment.

Following is an update on the first two of these variables – economic power and wealth distribution. The other five measures will be addressed in the next two newsletters.

Economic Power

Key questions
To what extent has the pandemic affected the concentration of corporate and country-related domination of the world’s economy in 2020 and so far in 2021? Are checks and balances, along with alternative forms of business, being applied and planned to reduce the nega­tive consequences of this concentration?

Importance of this measure
As long as economic decision-making is dominated by the few, the rest of us are dependent on the choices that they make. This concentrated economic power is the primary cause of periodic, large-scale disruptions to the economy (for example the Great Recession of 2008-2010). It also has a significant impact on how we deal with crises such as those precipitated by the pandemic and global warming.

Major trends in economic concentration in 2020 and 2021:

  • The largest, publicly traded corporations in the world increased their combined market value by 47% between mid-April 2000 and mid-April 2021 – from $54 trillion to $80 trillion.
  • The United States and China are headquarters for the world’s corporations with the largest combined market values. As of April 2021, the U.S. accounted for 35% and China 7% of the market value of the top 100 corporations in the world.
  • Due to the pandemic, the world gross product (WGP) – the combined value of the goods and services produced by all countries – declined by a little over 4% in 2020. The only other time in the last 50 years there has been a decline in WGP was in 2009 during the Great Recession, and the drop that year was only .1%.
123RF.com: Fabian Plock

Analysis

These data indicate that the world’s most powerful corporations and the countries in which they are located became even more powerful during the pandemic. This was at a time when the rest of the world economy made a significant downturn.

Corrective action

The biggest factors that would reduce the power of these corporations are changes in the policies of International bodies such as the United Nations and the world’s most developed countries toward them. Tighter international anti-trust policies and enforcement of these policies, concerted efforts to thwart tax evasion by large companies, and progressive corporate taxa­tion systems could reduce their inordinate influence on the world economy. Taking actions to strengthen small- and medium-size businesses, and including cooperatives and social enterprises, would also make a huge difference. These approaches to creating a fairer world economy in the post-pandemic era are increasingly being discussed by world leaders, including President Biden, but so far, there has been little action.

Wealth distribution

Key question
Is the distribution of wealth becoming more or less unequal around the globe?

Importance of this measure
The concentra­tion of wealth has consequences for everyone’s economic and social well-being. Large differ­ences in wealth and income mean that many of us earn less, receive fewer social benefits, and have less influence over the political decision-making that affects our day-to-day lives than we would have in a more equi­table society. Inequality also leads to social unrest and conflict.

Major trends in wealth inequality during the pandemic:

  • According to Oxfam:
    • We could face the greatest rise in inequality since records began, with the pandemic increasing economic inequality in almost every country at once. 

    • It could take more than a decade for billions of the world’s poorest people to recover from the economic hit of the pandemic while the 1,000 richest people recouped their COVID-19 losses within just nine months.

    • Just 10 people – the world’s richest billionaires, all men – have seen their combined wealth skyrocket by half a trillion dollars since the pandemic began. That’s more than enough to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine for everyone and to prevent the pandemic from pushing anyone into poverty.
  • The World Bank estimates that the number of people living in extreme poverty – defined as $1.90 per day or less – increased by between $119 and $124 million in 2020 because of the pandemic. This is the first increase in extreme poverty in 20 years.

  • The World Food Programme estimates that the total number of acutely food-insecure people increased to 272 million in 2020, compared to 149 million people in 2019.

  • According to the United Nations, the pandemic could force almost a billion people into destitution by 2030 “unless nations introduce energy, food and climate reforms.”
123RF.com: takkuu

Analysis

The above data clearly indicate that the pandemic has “made the rich richer and the poor poorer.” Although there has been a long-term pattern of increasing concentration of wealth around the world, the level of extreme poverty had been dropping dramatically during the two decades prior to 2020. But the pandemic reversed the long-term trend in the decrease of extreme poverty.

Corrective action

This projection of widening inequality in the decade ahead is not a foregone conclusion. It can be addressed in two primary ways: by increasing taxes on the wealthy, and by implementing reforms to drive down the poverty rate.

Along with an increase in corporate taxes, President Biden is proposing more progressive taxes on individuals and families that would particularly focus on the very wealthy. Other developed countries have instituted such tax reforms, or are considering doing so.

International economic reforms could get the world back on track in reducing extreme poverty between now and 2030. According to the United Nations Development Programme,

“These measures include investments aimed at changing patterns of food, energy, and water consumption and increasing internet access as well as supporting low-carbon economies.    

Rich nations also face calls to look beyond their own economic woes and support developing countries by increasing foreign aid, cancelling debt, and financing affordable vaccines.”

123RF.com: Herman Lumanog 

Conclusion

Both the trends of increasing economic power of large corporations and increasing inequality between the wealthy and the rest of us accelerated as a result of the pandemic in 2020 and the first half of 2021. In addition, the progress that had been made in reducing extreme poverty during the past 20 years suffered a significant reversal.

But, progressive policies during the next decade can reduce the power of large corporations and decrease the wealth gap between the rich and the poor.

Beware of “isms”

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
September 2019, Issue 18
by E.G. Nadeau

Far too often, people use the same words, but mean very different things. This can be confusing, even dangerous, especially in the world of politics. With the lead-up to the 2020 presidential and congressional elections in the United States, it is particularly timely to take a close look at some of the major “isms” being bandied about by politicians, journalists, and pundits.

What does “populism” mean?
The word can apply to “a range of political stances that emphasize the idea of ‘the people’ and often juxtapose this group against ‘the elite’.”[1] But, right off the bat, use of the P-word runs into big trouble. You can have right-wing populists, left-wing populists, and demagogues like Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela who claim to be populist, but have questionable popular support.

populism

So, ultimately, the word populism has become meaningless. To use it spreads confusion and disinformation rather than political understanding.

How about “socialism”?
Socialism is another word that has become a lightning rod for mystification as we approach the 2020 elections. Although running as a Democrat for president, Bernie Sanders refers to himself as a socialist. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, both members of Democratic Socialists of America, were elected as Democrats to the House of Representatives in 2018.

So, what is socialism? The classic definition with origins dating back to Karl Marx and others in the mid-1800s is, “Economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.”[2]

But, these three self-proclaimed “socialists” sound much more like Northern European-style social democrats, who favor mixed economies that combine elements of both regulated private enterprise and a public sector that limits economic inequality and attempts to provide a minimal quality of life for all citizens.

To further complicate the meaning of socialism, President Trump and other Republicans accuse progressive Democrats of being out to destroy the US economy by nationalizing corporations and turning the US into an economic backwater like Cuba or Venezuela.

We would all be better served by dropping the word “socialism” from the rhetoric of the 2020 campaigns and focusing on the specific positions that candidates take related to healthcare, climate change, gun control, and other issues.

capitalism or socialism

What does “capitalism” mean?
A typical dictionary definition of capitalism is: “An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”[3]

The problem with a definition like this is that it doesn’t reflect the reality of the contemporary world economy, in which government regulation, taxation and incentives, and international trade agreements (and trade wars) play major roles in shaping the market in which corporations operate.

Virtually every country in the world – including such outliers as North Korea and Cuba – has a mixed economy, which combines private enterprise and public involvement in the market.

For example, Forbes’ Global 2000, the world’s largest publicly traded corporations, includes the four largest Chinese banks in its Top Ten list. These banks are predominantly government-owned, but also have limited investor-ownership.[4] The phrase “state capitalism” is often used to characterize the Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese, and other national economies in which the government has a major, direct involvement in the market.

The purpose of corporations is also being redefined by some of the largest publicly traded companies in the world. CNBC recently reported that the Business Roundtable, comprised of almost 200 CEOs of major U.S. corporations, stated that the foremost function of their companies should not be to “serve their shareholders and maximize profits.” Instead it should be “investing in employees, delivering value to customers, dealing ethically with suppliers, and supporting outside communities.”[5]

Conclusion
Thus, as with populism and socialism, capitalism is not a useful term to describe a national economy, or a political ideology. The reality is that in different countries and in the international arena, there is a wide range of ways in which private enterprises, public enterprise, mixed enterprises, and various forms of public intervention interact to shape economic activity. The word “capitalism” is useless in capturing this diversity.

Thus, as we consider candidates for public office and the track records of those who already are in office, it’s not the “isms” we should be looking at, but the specific actions they have taken or propose to take to improve our social, economic, political, and environmental well-being. For more on what The Cooperative Society Project perceives as major components of a better society, please click www.thecooperativesociety.org

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populism

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/socialism

[3] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/capitalism

[4] https://www.forbes.com/global2000/#68933a01335d

[5] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/19/the-ceos-of-nearly-two-hundred-companies-say-shareholder-value-is-no-longer-their-main-objective.html

Is Repression an Inevitable Part of China’s Domestic Rule? Not Necessarily.

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
July 2019, Issue 17
by E.G. Nadeau

A friend and I visited China as tourists in April of this year. Our itinerary included the south-central part of the country, Hong Kong, Tibet, Beijing, and a hike on the Great Wall.

China is impressively modern in many ways – shiny new airports, attractive hotels and restaurants, a well-constructed road system, electric mopeds that have mostly replaced bikes in larger cities, and, at least in tourist sectors, well-kept-up streets, buildings, parks, and gardens.

china cooperative society
The Chinese flag flies everywhere in Lhasa, Tibet, a constant reminder of who’s in charge.

A darker side of China
But in Lhasa, the administrative capital of “the Autonomous Region of Tibet,” we saw another, darker side of the Celestial Empire that was the opposite of autonomous – a strong police and military presence, including occasional snipers positioned on rooftops; and many Han Chinese, the dominant ethnic group in the country, imported to dilute the percentage of Tibetans in their own region.

There continues to be controversy over the historical relationship between China and Tibet, the number of Tibetans who have died in the aftermath of China’s invasion of Tibet in 1950 (500,000 seems to be about right), the number of Han Chinese living in Tibet, the extent to which Tibetan Buddhists are allowed to practice their religion, and many other issues.[1]

tibet cooperative society
The Potala Palace, shown above, located in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China, was the residence of the Dalai Lama. The palace became a museum and World Heritage Site after the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India during the 1959 Chinese invasion.

Although the large majority of Buddhist monasteries was destroyed in the 1950s and 1960s, those that we visited in Lhasa were beautiful and well-maintained. Buddhists appeared to be able to practice their religion freely. At the same time, however, we had the sense that the traditional culture of Tibet was gradually, but inexorably, being subsumed into a monolithic Chinese society.

cooperative society tibetan buddhists
Tibetan Buddhists at prayer.

Tibet is just one example of the Chinese government’s drive to homogenize the diverse cultures and beliefs of its citizens, crush dissent, and snuff out expressions of democratic values. The brutal crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, the current suppression of the religious and cultural identity of 11 million Muslim Uighurs in northwestern China, the ongoing attempts to restrict civil rights in Hong Kong, and the ever-present threat to the autonomy of Taiwan are all manifestations of authoritarian rule by China’s political leaders.[2]

In many ways, Tiananmen Square marked a decisive turning point in recent Chinese history. As one author commented: “When China’s moment of reckoning came, Communist Party leaders chose bullets, not ballots. And they made a long-shot, long-term Faustian deal to guarantee economic development in exchange for continued party control that has lasted ever since.”[3]

Another example of oppression
The current plight of the Uighurs represents a doubling down on the repressive side of this “Faustian deal.” There are up to two million Uighur adults in detention centers. Many of their kids are required to attend state-run schools intended to mold them into compliant Chinese citizens while stripping away their religious beliefs, language, and culture. On top of this indoctrination, the Uighur homeland, the Xinjiang Autonomous Region (note again the irony of this province’s name), may be the most concentrated police state in the world, with sophisticated electronic surveillance, facial recognition profiling, apps inserted into phones to track potential dissidents, and, believe it or not, the required boarding of Han Chinese in many Uighur households.[4]

But there is nothing immutable about the current paranoia of China’s leadership toward diversity and dissent.

There have been major shifts in China’s politics and economics since the beginning of Communist rule in 1949 – some disastrous, such as the Great Leap Forward in which an estimated 45 million people died (mostly of starvation) between 1959 and 1962,[5] and the Cultural Revolution in which up to 2 million more people died between 1966 and 1976 – mostly as a result of violence by the Red Guard.[6] On the positive side, Deng Xiaoping, Mao Zedong’s immediate successor as Chairman of the Communist Party, shifted away from a tightly controlled, state-run economy to a mix of state and private enterprises, beginning in 1976. This change brought rapid economic growth, which has mostly continued to the present day.[7]

A democratic foothold
Most people are unaware that there is a democratic side to Communist China. In 1987, the national government instituted a reform in which village leaders were to be elected by residents and others affiliated with each village. With a few interruptions along the way, this local-level democracy is still in effect. Thus, electoral democracy already has a foothold in almost all of China’s 900,000+ villages.[8]

Just as there have been major changes in China over the past 70 years, it would be imprudent to dismiss the potential for future significant reforms, including ones toward less repression and greater democracy, in the next couple of decades.

[1] History of Tibet (1950-present), last edited on July 9, 2019, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Tibet_(1950–present)

[2] Miscellaneous sources.

[3] Zegart, Amy, June 8, 2019, “Decades of Being Wrong About China Should Teach Us Something,” The Atlantic.
https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/06/30-years-after-tiananmen-us-doesnt-get-china/591310/

[4] See for example:
Gershman, Carl, July 4, 2019, “The world knows about Uighurs. There should be a rallying cry to save them.” Washington Post,
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/chinas-repression-of-the-uighurs-began-10-years-ago-now-their-survival-is-at-stake/2019/07/04/3b568470-9daa-11e9-85d6-5211733f92c7_story.html?utm_term=.3172f04b850a;
Sudworth, John, July 4, 2019, “China Muslims: Xinjiang schools used to separate children from families,” BBC News, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-48825090;
Buckley,  Chris and Paul Mozur, May 22, 2019,How China Uses High-Tech Surveillance to Subdue Minorities,”
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/22/world/asia/china-surveillance-xinjiang.html;
Withnall, Adam, November 30, 2018, “China sends state spies to live in Uighur Muslim homes and attend private family weddings and funerals,”
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/china-uighurs-muslim-xinjiang-weddings-minority-communist-party-a8661006.html;
Zhong, Raymond, July 2, 2019, “China Snares Tourists’ Phones in Surveillance Dragnet by Adding Secret App,”
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/02/technology/china-xinjiang-app.html.

[5] O’Neill, Mark, September 5, 2010, “45 million died in Mao’s Great Leap Forward, Hong Kong historian says in new book,”
https://www.scmp.com/article/723956/revisiting-calamitous-time

[6] “Cultural Revolution,” Wikipedia, last edited on July 5, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Revolution

[7] “Deng Xiaoping,” last edited June 28, 2019, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deng_Xiaoping

[8] See for example:
Babones, Salvatore, October 14, 2015, “Country Lessons: A Rural Incubator for China’s Political Reform?” Foreign Affairs,
https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2015-10-14/country-lessons;
He, Baogang, 2007, Rural Democracy in China: The Role of Village Elections, Palgrave McMillan US, https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9780230600164;
Gannett Jr., Robert T., April 2009, “Village-by-Village Democracy in China,” American Enterprise Institute.
http://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Village%20By%20Village%20Democracy%20in%20Chine.pdf