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

Year-end greeting 2022

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
December 2022, Issue 38
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

Because E.G. is recovering from knee-replacement surgery, he’s not writing a newsletter this month. Instead, we invite you to scroll through the Newsletter Archive to the right, starting in January 2017. We thought you may be interested to see what we’ve been researching and writing about for the past six years.

The emperor’s new clothes (best clothes ever) – an image from our very first post in 2017. Hopefully we will not be seeing much of this figure in 2023 and beyond.

We also invite you to access the free PDF of EG’s most-recent book Strengthening the Cooperative Community on our website or as a print book through Amazon and local booksellers.

Here’s to a more cooperative 2023!
From The Cooperative Society Project team—
E.G., Luc, Jill, and Sue

Divergent population projections portend very different futures for our planet

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
September 2022, Issue 37
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

Congratulations (or commiserations), fellow earthlings! The world’s population is about to hit 8 billion.

There were approximately 1 billion of us in 1800. But don’t be too alarmed by the eightfold increase since then. The growth rate has declined dramatically in recent decades and is expected to continue to slow – and possibly begin to decline – during the 21st century.

The United Nations Population Division recently estimated that the number of humans in the world will increase to about 10.4 billion in 2100, level off, and then start to decrease gradually around that time. In contrast, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projects a very different population trend for the remainder of the century, with the number of people peaking at about 9.7 billion in 2064 and then shrinking to 8.8 billion by the end of the century. IHME even has a lower growth scenario that projects a decline to 6.3 billion by 2100.

So, why the divergent projections? Different assumptions – primarily related to fertility rates.[1] To oversimplify a bit, the UN analysts tend to look at past and current data on fertility rates to project future trends. In contrast, the IHME report states: “Our findings suggest that continued trends in female educational attainment and access to contraception will hasten declines in fertility and slow population growth.”

National and regional differences in population trends

As one would expect, the UN and IHME data sets also diverge in their population projections for the number of people within specific countries and regions, sometimes in dramatic and surprising ways. Following are a few examples of these differences that have potentially enormous long-term social, economic, political, and environmental implications.

1. India and China
India will probably surpass China as the world’s most populous country in the next couple of years. The difference in population size between these two countries is expected to increase significantly by the end of the century. The UN estimates that India will have about 1.5 billion inhabitants by 2100, and China, fewer than 1.1 billion. The IHME projections are for 1.1 billion Indians and a little more than .7 billion Chinese by that year. This shift in population dominance between the world’s two largest countries will have an as-yet-unknown impact on the world polity and economy.

2. Sub-Saharan Africa
By 2100, the UN projects that the number of inhabitants of Sub-Saharan Africa will reach 3.8 billion, while IHME projects 3.1 billion. With a current count of about 1 billion, these two sources are predicting in the range of a tripling or quadrupling of the region’s population. However, in IHME’s model assuming accelerated women’s education and increased access to contraceptives, the projected 2100 population drops to about 1.6 billion.

3. South Korea, Japan, and other shrinking countries
On the other end of the scale, South Korea, Japan, and dozens of other countries are experiencing significant decreases in their fertility rates, and some are already experiencing steep declines in their populace or are about to do so. South Korea, in particular, has a very low fertility rate of .8. This is well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children for women of childbearing age. Without a major increase in immigration, South Korea will face a rapid decline in, and aging of, its society in the coming decades.

4. The United States and Western Europe
The IHME data project that the countries of Western Europe will decline from about 430 million to 374 million inhabitants in 2100. In the scenario with the accelerated expansion of women’s education and contraception, the estimated population in 2100 will drop to 330 million.

The same data sets indicate that the United States will grow from about 325 million in 2020 to about 336 million in 2100. The accelerated assumptions about women’s education and contraception would reduce the 2100 population in the United States to about 286 million.

The importance of accurate data and assumptions

There is a saying among statisticians: “Garbage in, garbage out” which essentially means, if your input data and assumptions are flawed, your results will be, too. The issue is even more problematic in projecting future change, such as population trends.

There are two major problems in predicting such change. The divergence of projections becomes more dramatic the further out in time one is projecting. Secondly, humans change their behavior over time and thus affect actual trends. In the case of population projections, fertility rates, the major predictor of the number of people on the planet, may be sharply affected by increases in women’s education and the use of contraceptives. The IHME projections are based on much more “activist” assumptions than the UN projections related to these two variables, and thus project slower population growth and earlier peaks in regional and world population. One could also argue that there is an element of “self-fulfilling prophecy” in projecting future population change. Predicting lower population growth can actually help bring about this lower growth.

The importance of taking action

Whether we are looking at changes in China and India, growth in sub-Saharan Africa, or the shrinking populations of South Korea and other countries, the sooner we know what is likely to happen, the sooner we can take actions to reduce international conflict, maintain and improve the quality of life, and safeguard the environment.

For example, migration is one issue that will affect all of the world’s countries and regions in the remainder of the century. All of the projection data indicate a severely imbalanced world in terms of where people will be born, where the best opportunities for improving their quality of life are likely to be, and where the greatest climate change threats and opportunities will occur. If our information on population trends is fairly accurate, we can take actions to improve this balance in large part through far more enlightened migration policies than we currently have.


As I have reported previously, the UN Population Division’s projections appear to be methodologically flawed because it estimates too-rapid a pace of growth in the remainder of the 21st-century. (A previous example of this pattern is that the UN currently anticipates 10.4 billion people by 2100 whereas in 2019 it projected a much higher level of 10.9 billion.) The Population Division is also strategically flawed because it fails to take into account the ability of women, couples, communities, countries, and international bodies like the UN to “bend the population curve” downward in the coming decades.

In contrast, the IHME demographers provide an approach to population projection that factors in the potential impact of improvements in women’s education and reproductive health that significantly reduce the rate of population growth. Their data give us a better opportunity to prepare for the upcoming changes in population trends and the impacts the large differences these trends would have in different countries and regions of the world.

[1] “The total fertility rate in a specific year is defined as the total number of children that would be born to each woman if she were to live to the end of her child-bearing years and give birth to children in alignment with the prevailing age-specific fertility rates.” A total fertility rate of 2.1 is considered to be the replacement rate. That is, the population is expected to stay at the same level in a country or other region when the fertility rate is at this level.

The January 6 Committee and the Future of American Democracy

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
July 2022, Issue 36
by E.G. Nadeau
, Ph.D.

Let’s start with a subtle series of quotes from William Barr referenced in a recent New Yorker article:

Bill Barr did not think much of Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election. According to his videotaped testimony before the House select committee investigating how those lies resulted in the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, Trump’s former Attorney General told Trump this to his face. Among his choice words about various claims by the Trump legal team: “bullshit,” “completely bullshit,” “absolute rubbish,” “idiotic,” “bogus,” “stupid,” “crazy,” “crazy stuff,” “complete nonsense,” and “a great, great disservice to the country.” What’s more, Barr added, if Trump actually believed the garbage he was spewing about the election, then he had become dangerously “detached from reality.”

The hearings currently being conducted by the “Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol” may rival, or even exceed, the impact on the future of American democracy of the 1973 Senate Watergate Hearings. While the 1973 hearings played a pivotal role in bringing about President Nixon’s resignation by exposing his involvement in the Watergate break-in, the current hearings may reduce the likelihood of future coups and preserve democratic electoral processes in the United States for decades to come.

Some have questioned the political balance on the committee between Democrats and Republicans (seven of the former and two of the latter). However, the facts that the committee co-chair is Liz Cheney, a conservative Republican congresswoman from Wyoming, and that in the seven committee hearings held to-date, the majority of the testimony has been by Republicans with close links to the Trump administration, has dispelled some observers’ concerns about committee bias.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, (D-Miss.), gives opening remarks as Rep. Liz Cheney, (R-Wyo.), looks on, at the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack public hearing on June 9. 
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

It’s too early to tell what impact these hearings will have on the perception of Trump’s involvement in the January 6 insurrection, or of his continuing “Stop the Steal” campaign of election lies. But, since the hearings began, a recent poll has shown a weakening in support for Trump as a 2024 presidential candidate.

So, kudos to the bipartisan January 6 committee! Congratulations have to be qualified, however, because we have yet to see the conclusions and recommendations of the committee’s final report, scheduled to be completed before the November midterm elections. Also, if the Democrats lose control of the House, the new Republican majority is likely to immediately terminate the committee and reject its recommendations. Similarly, if the Republicans win control of the Senate, any bills resulting from the committee’s work would hit a dead end there.

Despite these negative scenarios, the committee’s courageous work on behalf of American democracy will never be forgotten.

But, uh-oh, the threat to our democracy is not over yet

Not by a long shot.

Regardless of the persuasive evidence that the committee amasses and reports regarding the activities surrounding the January 6 coup attempt, that does that not mean that it will preclude future such attempts to steal elections in the United States. The unprecedented attempt to undermine the 2020 presidential election has unfortunately set the stage for more of the same in future elections.

A number of efforts are underway by Trump-assisted and inspired national, state, and local Republican officials and candidates and by the current conservative Supreme Court to disenfranchise voters in future elections. Four main strategies are being pursued:

  1. Gerrymandering is ameans to change the boundaries of voting districts to unfairly benefit one party over the other. In recent years this sleazy technique has been used far more by Republicans than by Democrats. And, unfortunately, the Supreme Court has effectively sanctioned this practice, even in a case that was clearly racially motivated
  2. Voter suppression is an umbrella term covering dozens of electoral rules that make it more difficult for some groups of citizens to vote than others. A number of Republican-controlled state legislatures have enacted such rules in recent months. For example, requiring photo IDs tends to discourage voting by the elderly end the poor, who are less likely to have a drivers’ license than the rest of the adult population. Another example is reducing the number of polling places, which makes it more difficult for people without their own transportation to get to the polls. And on and on.
  3. Legitimating the “independent state legislature” doctrine is an even more extreme tactic for disenfranchising voters. It involves a sketchy interpretation of the Constitution that argues that state legislatures should have the final say in approving or disapproving a set of electoral results. With the support of this doctrine by an extreme Supreme Court, a state legislature could arbitrarily decide that a set of election results were invalid, and substitute its own “victorious” candidate or slate of candidates, ignoring the will of the voters. A recent article in The Economist makes the case that the adoption of this anti-democratic doctrine is not so far-fetched given the current political orientation of some Republican-dominated state legislatures and the wacko majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.
  4. Electing governors and secretaries of state who agree to reject “unfavorable” election results is an equally insidious means to steal elections. Trump and his loyalists attempted this type of approach in the 2020 presidential election, but were thwarted by ethical Republican officials at the state level. However, there is a concerted effort underway to elect secretaries of state and governors in 2022 who would be willing to overturn the results of free and fair elections by refusing to ratify them, and substituting slates of “fake” electors.

The need for future federal legislation that would preclude stealing presidential and other elections

Such legislation may be hard to come by in the near future, due to opposition by many currently serving Republican members of Congress.

How do we address this democracy-threatening problem?

  1. A key first step would be a national mobilization of voters to preserve American democracy by electing officials at all levels who oppose the types of shenanigans outlined above.
  2. After voting the rascals out and their ethical replacements of both parties in, pass federal legislation that guarantees voter rights and cannot be interpreted to allow for manipulation of vote counts at the local, state, or federal levels. Note that there is a bipartisan committee in the Senate that is planning to introduce legislation to preclude the kind of electoral shenanigans attempted by Trump and his loyalists in the 2020 presidential election and being planned for 2024. 
  3. As extreme rightwing members of the current Supreme Court retire, select future members who clearly and explicitly oppose the independent state-legislature doctrine and other ideologically based positions that would undercut free and fair elections in the United States. Part of this transition could be based on the passage of federal legislation that limits the tenure of Supreme Court justices to fixed terms, for example 10 years.


In its public hearings, the January 6 Committee is doing an excellent job of exposing in gripping detail the big lies pushed by Trump and his loyalists about a stolen presidential election and the many illegal actions that they and others have taken to launch a coup to install him as an illegitimate president.

However, the committee’s job, and indeed the job of the American people, of shoring up our democracy and ensuring that we will be safe from future such insurrection attempts is still in its early stages.

This article has outlined some of the threats to American democracy that are still very much unresolved. It has also presented key steps that we can take to counter these threats.

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.

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.”

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