The Cooperative Society Newsletter July 2020, Issue 23 by E.G. Nadeau
Why an article on the coronavirus in Africa? Two reasons: I have spent much of my 50-year co-op career living and working in about 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, so I have a personal interest. Secondly, there is not a lot written in the Western press about the impact of coronavirus on the continent, and much of that is ill-informed.
Slogging through the morass of data and conflicting projections of the impact of the coronavirus on deaths, poverty, and hunger in Africa is a daunting task. This is a brief report of some findings.
Here is what we know, or think we know, about the impact to-date of the virus on this continent of 54 countries and 1.3 billion inhabitants – a population that exceeds that of Europe and North America combined.
As of July 27, there were almost 850,000 cases of the virus and almost 18,000 deaths attributed to it in Africa.* (The State of New York alone has almost 33,000 coronavirus deaths – approaching twice the number for all of Africa.) The level of infection in Africa is far less than many international organizations projected back in April. For example, one UN report stated that there could be up to 3.3 million deaths within a year. * Note that some observers believe that Africa’s cases and deaths are being undercounted.
Those deaths still may happen, but it is highly unlikely given the current trend. Africa has the lowest rate of infection of any continent except Antarctica. About one in 1,500 Africanshave been infected so far, compared to almost one in 75 Americans – a rate about 20 times that of Africa.
Most African countries have done a good job since March of imposing travel restrictions, sheltering in place, and enforcing other measures to reduce the spread of the virus. In the two-week period from July 13 through July 26, 21 African countries and territories experienced an increase in the number of new coronavirus cases, 13 decreased the number, and 17 were stable or had no cases.In contrast, during the same time period, 32 U.S. states had increasing numbers of cases, 16 maintained approximately the same level, and two had decreases.
COVID-19 has not spread as widely in Africa as originally predicted, primarily as a result of the public health policies mentioned above, but also for a variety of other reasons, including limited travel into the continent by people from infected areas of the world, and the high percentage of rural residents in many African countries.
Despite the relatively gradual trajectory of the virus in most of Africa to date, it is nonetheless taking a big toll on the economy of the continent. For example, the International Monetary Fund projects that gross national product will drop by over 4% in 2020.
Food shortages are already an issue in some countries, for example in Zimbabwe. The United Nation’s World Food Program is stocking up on food supplies to meet what could be a food crisis in Africa.
There is plenty of uncertainty and disagreement about what is likely to happen in the next year. Some sources suggest that Africa is experiencing a lag in the spread of the pandemic, and that it is still going to face a large increase of cases and deaths in the months ahead, while others are more sanguine about the continent’s prospects for avoiding such a disastrous near-term future.
The availability of a vaccine within the next six months to a year may be the biggest factor in containing the pandemic and resuscitating the economy in Africa.
To conclude this brief review of the coronavirus in Africa, it’s good news that the continent has had as few cases and deaths as it has thus far. But, it is way too soon to predict that these low rates will continue during the next year.
If you want to keep an eye on what’s going on with the coronavirus in Africa, I recommend this BBC website.
Unfortunately, I don’t recommend the WHO website on Africa. For some reason that WHO doesn’t clearly explain, the site covers 47 African countries and not the entire continent, and thus its data are incomplete and misleading.
A heads-up on an upcoming book from The Cooperative Society Project
The working title of the book is Strengthening the International Cooperative Community. It is scheduled for publication late this fall. Many of the case studies and recommendations in the book are based on my 50 years of international cooperative research and development experience. The book will be available through The Cooperative Society website, Amazon, and local booksellers.
The Cooperative Society 2020 Report is available as a PDF on our website. We encourage you to read the report, share it with colleagues and friends, and send us a note about your own observations and interpretations as to how to make our world a better place.
We appreciate your interest in and support of The Cooperative Society Project. Thank you. —E.G. Nadeau and Luc Nadeau
The Cooperative Society Newsletter May 2020, Issue 22 by E.G. Nadeau
Will the coronavirus pandemic help us to solve the climate crisis?
One’s first tendency is probably to respond, “No way! The pandemic will set back our efforts to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.”
But there are several reasons to think that getting the virus under control during the next year or so may in fact set the stage for a more serious and effective long-term approach to addressing the problem of climate change. However, there are also several counter-tendencies that may offset this potential progress.
2020 is forecast to see the largest drop in energy usage since the end of World War II.
According to a report issued by the International Energy Agency in late April 2020, global carbon dioxide emissions are projected to decrease 8% in 2020, primarily as a result of the slowdown of the international economy – especially manufacturing and transportation – caused by the pandemic.
This 8% figure is important because it slightly exceeds the 7.6% carbon reduction goal set by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The caveat, however, is that the world needs to achieve this goal each year through 2030 in order to limit global warming to less than 1.5 °C above pre-industrial temperatures.
In the past, for example in the 2008-2010 recession, an initial drop in energy usage was followed by a big increase the following year. So, if the same thing happens in 2021 or 2022, the reduction in fossil fuel use during the pandemic will just be a blip, and not an indicator of a long-term decline in carbon emissions.
The economic competitiveness of fossil fuels with renewable energy is expected to continue to weaken in 2020 .
Onshore wind and large-scale solar projects continue to be far cheaper than coal and slightly cheaper than natural gas in most parts of the world. Renewable energy storage costs are declining rapidly, and will further tilt the field in favor of renewables. Many large banks and investment funds have announced that they will no longer make loans to large fossil-fuel projects, especially coal plants.
However, it would be premature to conclude that fossil fuels are facing long-term declines. In particular, China is focusing on coal as a major part of its post-Wuhan economic recovery strategy. Not only that, China is also a major developer and financer of new coal mining operations in other countries. India also appears to be committed to continued dependence on coal as a cornerstone of its economy. Australia, despite domestic opposition and some commitment to renewables, is also counting on coal and natural gas for its future prosperity. Russia’s dependence on oil and natural gas production and exporting shows no signs of easing.
Given the economic disadvantages that fossil-fuel energy has vis-à-vis renewable energy, combined with its exacerbation of the climate-change crisis, it’s hard to understand the continued fixation of these countries on coal, oil, and natural gas. As many projects around the world have already discovered, they are facing a strong potential for big losses in “stranded assets” because of their inability to be cost-competitive with renewables. For example, for the first time ever, coal provided less than 50% of the electrical energy in the United States in 2019. US coal plants continue to close or go into bankruptcy in 2020.
Some world leaders and economists are championing a “green stimulus” that would base the economic recovery from the pandemic on renewable energy and jobs.
The Guardian recently summarized the conclusion of an article from the Oxford Review of Economic Policy:
Projects which cut greenhouse gas emissions as well as stimulating economic growth deliver higher returns on government spending, in the short term and in the longer term, than conventional stimulus spending.
Governments should not use taxpayer cash to rescue fossil fuel companies and carbon-intensive industries, but should devote economic rescue packages for the coronavirus crisis to businesses that cut greenhouse-gas emissions and create green jobs.
A number of European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, reiterated recently their countries’ continued commitments to ambitious climate targets and their encouragement of other responsible governments to do the same.
As of mid-2020, the world is in a tug-of-war between the green stimulus proponents and the fossil fuel diehards.
It is not at all clear whether we will see a continued decrease in fossil fuel use in 2021. Given the huge volume of coal and other fossil fuels produced and consumed by China, India, Russia, and Australia, I’m afraid that the clean-energy advocates will suffer a setback next year.
But, here’s a strategy that may help to get climate change back on track in 2022 – border carbon taxes. Such taxes are already under discussion by various governments, especially European Union members. The basic idea is that products manufactured using energy sources that generate large amounts of carbon dioxide would be taxed before they could be exported to low-carbon countries. For example, a computer made in China that is produced with 70% coal and/or other fossil fuel energy would be taxed by France or another European Union country to which it is being exported.
Such a border tax would further strengthen the economic advantage of renewable energy development and increase the likelihood that the 2030 goals for reducing carbon emissions will be achieved.
One big unknown related to the enactment of such a tax will be the outcome of the November election in the United States. President Trump has been a staunch denier of climate change and an equally fervid supporter of fossil fuel companies. If he loses the November election, there is a strong likelihood that his successor, probably Joe Biden, will look far more favorably at reactivating the participation of the United States in the Paris Agreement, an international carbon border-tax program, and other actions to reduce carbon emissions.
Note You may recall that on March 24 of this year, we released The Cooperative Society 2020 Report. The purpose of the report is to update the information we presented in the 2016 and 2018 editions of our book The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History and to make revised recommendations on how to make our world a better place in which to live.
We continue to ask this question: Is the world on the verge of a new stage of human history, one characterized by cooperation and equitable access to resources rather than by conflict and extreme inequality?
Based on the results of our research, we assign some order to the seven measures of human and environmental well-being by which we attempt to evaluate human activity: Economic Power, Wealth, Conflict, Democracy, Population, Quality of Life, and Environment.
The Cooperative Society 2020 Report is available as a PDF on our website. We encourage you to read the report, share it with colleagues and friends, and send us a note about your own observations and interpretations as to how to make our world a better place. Thank you. -E.G. Nadeau and Luc Nadeau
The Cooperative Society Newsletter March 2020, Issue 21 by E.G. Nadeau and Luc Nadeau
The Cooperative Society 2020 Report was released on March 24. Download the full report here [ddownload id=”429″]
Following is the report’s executive summary:
Is the world on the verge of a new stage of human history, one characterized by cooperation and equitable access to resources rather than by conflict and extreme inequality?
We posed this question in the 2016 and 2018 editions of The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History. The purpose of this 2020 Report is to update the information presented in these two editions of the book, and to make revised recommendations on how to make our world a better place to live.
The Cooperative Society 2020 Report is organized around the same seven measures of human and environmental well-being as is the 2018 edition of The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History – Economic power, Wealth, Conflict, Democracy, Population, Quality of life, and Environment.
1. Economic power
Recent data indicate that the international pattern of economic concentration continues to be a major problem in the past few years. There is also inadequate evidence to indicate that more socially responsible business forms such as cooperatives and social enterprises are increasing or decreasing their role in the world economy.
The biggest factors that would alter this current stalemate are changes in the policies of international bodies such as the United Nations and the world’s most developed countries toward large, for-profit businesses. 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 the inordinate influence on the world economy by large companies.
Overall, the concentration of wealth in the world continues to decrease modestly. But inequality between the rich and the poor is still dramatically high.
Economic opportunities, international and domestic mechanisms to increase jobs and financial security, and progressive taxation policies are all means to move the world toward greater equality and financial security for the poor.
In recent decades, there has been a pattern of reduced violence in the world – both from armed conflicts and from homicides – but we have a long way to go before we can claim that we live on a peaceful planet.
Available resources show there was not a resurgence of increasingly democratic governments in 2019, but some data indicate that there is a strong popular will in a number of countries to move in such a direction. 2020 may prove to be the year in which that will is transformed into an upturn in world democracy.
The UN Population Report appears to overestimate the world’s population growth rate because it underestimates future use of birth control around the world.
The World Population International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (WP) estimates the potential impact of improvements in reproductive health as they relate to significantly reducing the rate of population growth.
The results of these different methodological assumptions are dramatic. The UN projects 11.1 billion people by 2100 and WP projects 8.9 billion. What a difference comprehensive, international reproductive health programs could make!
6. Quality of life
There has been a recent slowdown in accomplishing the quality-of-life measures targeted by the UN and The Cooperative Society Project. This appears to be the result of reduced commitment by UN members; an overly ambitious agenda by the UN; and the magnitude of the climate-change crisis overshadowing other quality-of-life issues.
The recent increase in severe weather-related events around the world (at least partly attributable to global warming), slow and uneven progress in reducing carbon emissions, and the continued weak commitments of many countries to strong carbon-reduction policies are all worrying events. However, there are also some signs of optimism, such as science-based projections that we can still achieve 2030 carbon-emission-reduction goals, and increased commitments from the private sector, some countries, and sub-national government entities that are accelerating their involvement.
We conclude The Cooperative Society 2020 Report with cautious optimism. The increased political participation in many countries, mentioned above, may be a precursor to increased democracy and positive movement toward other components of the cooperative society. However, there is no guarantee that the recent uptick in political participation will result in widespread political reform.
The Cooperative Society Newsletter January 2020, Issue 20 by E.G. Nadeau
In January 2017, Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States.
At the same time, with much less fanfare, The Cooperative Society Project launched its first bimonthly newsletter by making a set of predictions about the Trump presidency, entitled Trumpus Rex: A Damage Assessment.
Ordinarily, our newsletter addresses major international problems and trends, and doesn’t focus on individual political actors. But we made an exception in January 2017, because we feared that soon-to-be-President Trump would trample on many of the goals promoted in the second edition of our recently published book – The Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History.
Sure enough. He has. In many ways surpassing our most pessimistic predictions. Not only that, he has:
Achieved levels of jaw-dropping incompetence and perfidy that we had not even imagined. For example, making approximately 16,000 “false or misleading claims” while in office.
Become only the third president in the history of the United States to be impeached.
Ordered the assassination of a high-ranking Iranian general that has resulted in a major destabilization of the international political arena.
Here’s an excerpt from our January 2017 article:
For those of you who have not yet read The Cooperative Society, you should be aware that the book and our website are not intended as sources for short-term political predictions. Instead, they look at long-term trends – on a worldwide scale – toward or away from greater cooperation, concentrated economic power and wealth, conflict, democracy, quality of life, and a sustainable environment. In that context, we examine the potential impact of the Trump Administration on the seven variables analyzed in the book and how it may affect movement toward or away from a more cooperative society.
We concluded that five out of the seven trends reviewed in the article would be negatively impacted by the Trump presidency. They have been. In fact, all seven trends have suffered, although Trump did sign off on an increase in funding to a U.S. international co-op development program. Much of the damage has been on a world scale, not just in the United States. (If you’d like, please review the 2017 article to check out our predictions.)
Here’s a quick review of some of the most egregious “cooperative society” setbacks this administration has precipitated:
A cruel and bigoted migration “policy” especially targeting Muslims and Hispanics that has, among other things, separated children from their families, and subjected asylum seekers and other migrants to inhumane living conditions.
The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” Trump’s signature piece of legislation, that has primarily been a financial boon to large corporations and the wealthy. 
The withdrawal of the United States – the world’s largest per- capita carbon emitter – from the Paris Climate Agreement, thus greatly increasing the likelihood that the planet’s surface temperature will reach catastrophic levels in the next 30 years.
As the 2017 article perversely concluded:
The divisiveness engendered during the presidential campaign and personified by Trump may lead over the next few years to a revitalized spirit of cooperation among the majority of the U.S. electorate as Trump’s contradictory and overblown promises go unfulfilled.
The Cooperative Society Newsletter November 2019, Issue 19 by E.G. Nadeau
The short answer to this question is: There have been minor improvements in the last few years. Let’s review the numbers and a few examples.
To provide a longer answer, it is important to distinguish between
two kinds of violence: Deaths from armed conflicts, and homicides.
The planet has become a much more peaceful place since the end of World
War II. This is the case, despite the hundreds of regional wars, civil wars,
and other armed conflicts that have occurred over the past 75 years.
In the past decade or so there has been an uptick in the number of
deadly conflicts, but, counterintuitively, a reduction in the number of fatalities
resulting from these conflicts.
According to the Uppsala
Conflict Data Program (UCDP):
The number of fatalities in organized violence decreased
for the fourth consecutive year [in 2018], to reach the lowest level since
2012. In 2018, UCDP recorded almost 76,000 deaths – a decrease of 20% compared
to 2017, and 43% compared to the latest peak in 2014. . . .
The general decline in fatalities from organized violence
does not correspond with the trend in the number of active conflicts. In fact,
the world has seen a new peak in the number of conflicts after 2014, matched
only by the number of conflicts in the early 1990s.
The following figures illustrate this pattern of
decreasing fatalities despite the increasing number of conflicts:
Note, in particular, the steep rise in the number of
armed conflicts from 2014 to 2018, and the steep decline in the number of
fatalities during the same time period.
This pattern of reduced
conflict-related fatalities is also reflected in more recent data from the Armed
Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).
ACLED’s highly detailed dataset on “political violence and protest events”
shows a decline of fatalities between the first ten months of 2018 and the same
time period in 2019 from about 254,000 to 129,000. That’s a reduction of almost
It is too soon to tell if these data indicate a temporary
reduction in conflict-related fatalities, or if they signal a long-term trend
toward less lethal resolution of differences among conflicting parties.
It is surprising to many of us, but intentional homicides
are far more common than deaths from armed conflict – in recent years about
five times more common.
When viewed on a worldwide scale, intentional
homicides have shown a gradual downward trend between 1990 and 2017 (the most
recent year for which data are available). At the same time, however, there are
major differences among regions and countries in terms of the number and causes
and of homicides.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
published a report in July 2019 estimating that:
[A] total of
464,000 deaths were caused by intentional homicide worldwide in 2017. The
largest share (37 per cent) was registered in the Americas, closely followed by
Africa, which accounted for just over a third (35 per cent) of the total. Despite
its large population, Asia accounted for less than a quarter of the total (23
per cent), while Europe (4.7 per cent) and Oceania (0.2 per cent) accounted for
by far the smallest shares. . . .
At the global level, the homicide rate has been slowly
decreasing for over two decades, from a peak of 7.4 per 100,000 in 1993 to 6.1
per 100,000 in 2017, including a period of steady decrease from 1993 to 2007 and
a period of stability thereafter.
The following figure from the
2019 UNODC report illustrates both the gradual decline in worldwide homicides
and the different levels and historical patterns of regional homicides.
As a side note to these data, the homicide rate in the United
States increased by 14 percent between 2010–2017, following several decades of
The United States has one of the highest homicide rates of the 30 or so most
developed countries in the world.
What are the takeaways from these data on deaths from
armed conflict and intentional homicide?
A key finding related to armed conflict is that the
number of conflicts has been growing since the early 2000s, but the number of
deaths resulting from these conflicts has been decreasing since 2014. It is not
clear whether this pattern is temporary or marks a long-term approach to
conflict that is less lethal than in the past.
Intentional homicides at the global level have been
declining gradually, at least since the early 1990s. But regional and national
levels and patterns of homicide vary dramatically. Central and South America,
and parts of Africa, have maintained high homicide rates over the past 25 years,
while other regions have had low and declining rates.
There are different causes for these regional homicide
patterns. In Central and South America, many homicides are due to gang
violence, especially related to the drug trade. In Africa, much of the unorganized
violence stems from fighting among different ethnic groups. The discrepancy
noted above between homicides in the United States versus other developed
countries is often attributed to the much easier access to guns in the US than
in these other countries.
All in all, there is a pattern of reduced violence in
the world, but we have a long way to go before we can claim that we live on a
to the November Newsletter
This newsletter is a partial preview, focusing on worldwide
conflict, of the 2020 Cooperative Society
Report to be published in February 2020.
This report will provide recent data on conflict as well as on six
other measures of societal well-being: Economic power, wealth and income,
democracy, population trends, quality of life, and the environment. The report
addresses how well we are doing on these measures, and how we can do better.
The report will be summarized in the January newsletter, and the
full report will be available as a free download on The
Cooperative Society [insert proper link]
The second edition of The
Cooperative Society: The Next Stage of Human History will continue to be
available for purchase, and as a free download from this website.
We appreciate your interest in and support of The Cooperative
Society Project. Thank you.
 Pettersson, Therese
et al, “Organized violence, 1989–2018 and peace agreements,”
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’.” 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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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. 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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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, 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. 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.
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.
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.
The Cooperative Society Newsletter June 2019, Issue 16
by E.G. Nadeau
The United Nations “World Population Prospects 2019” is hot off the press. But it is lukewarm in terms of some key methodological and strategic issues – in particular, long-term trends of overestimating population growth and underestimating people’s willingness to change their reproductive health practices.
The report projects that the world’s population will rise from 7.7 billion in 2019 to 10.9 billion by 2100. It states that: “Global population trends are driven largely by trends in fertility – especially in the average number of live births per woman over a lifetime – which has fallen markedly.”
The UN issues periodic population reports. The last one was in 2017. As Rick Gladstone pointed out in The Globe Is Going Gray Fast, U.N. Says in New Forecast (NYT, June 17, 2019): The 2017 report projected a world population in 2100 of 11.2 billion. That’s 300 million more people than the 2019 report projects.
Why the difference? As the UN itself observed: Birth rates have “fallen markedly.”
Unfortunately, the UN’s population projections have a long history of being on the high side. For example, its 1958 projection for the world’s population in 2000 was overestimated by more than 200 million people.
A key reason for these population projection problems is a bias toward underestimating the decline in birth rates.
Which brings us to the second major problem with the UN report: Although it cites the relationship between population change and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, it downplays the critical roles that reproductive health education, access to birth control, and improved economic well-being play in long-term decreases in birth rates.
For example, in a 2018 report, The UN Population Fund estimated that there were more than 200 million women in developing countries who “want to prevent or delay pregnancy but do not have access to contraceptives.”
Thus, the UN population report is methodologically flawed in its projection of birthrates, and strategically flawed in its failure to take into account the ability of women, couples, communities, countries, and international bodies like the UN to “bend the population curve” downward.
The Cooperative Society Newsletter May 2019, Issue 15
by E.G. Nadeau
This paper provides a brief overview of recent and prospective changes in access to electricity in developing countries. These changes can contribute to the goal of worldwide electrification by 2030. One of these changes is the increasing development of community solar cooperatives that provide electricity through mini-grids, and installations on individual homes and other buildings. These co-ops are the primary focus of this paper.
There are almost a billion people who have no access to electricity, living primarily in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. That’s one-seventh of the world’s population. There are hundreds of millions more whose energy is unreliable, dirty, unhealthy, inadequate, unsustainable, and/or expensive – for example, kerosene, diesel, wood, and candles.
Almost every country in the world has made a commitment through the United Nations Paris Agreement to significantly cut back by 2030 on their use of energy sources that emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Note that the Trump administration is planning to withdraw the United States from the agreement in January 2020.)
These same countries have made commitments through the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals program to dramatically improve the quality of life around the world by 2030, in part by ensuring “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”
There are many ways in which universal access to electricity will improve the quality of people’s lives – for example, creating job opportunities, reducing the workload of women by saving, on average, an hour a day that is currently spent searching for firewood, and preventing almost 2 million premature deaths per year from household air pollution. There would also be a net reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions because of lower use of biomass fuel for cooking, and the virtual elimination of kerosene and other dirty fuels as sources of heat and light.
How can the ambitious goal of “electricity for all” be realized? The broad answer is to dramatically increase the use of decentralized, renewable energy to meet the world’s unmet and under-met needs for electricity. Since most people without electricity do not have access to transmission lines, the most feasible approach to providing them with electricity is through community solar mini-grids and single building installations, many of which could be organized as cooperatives.
Recent and projected progress in electrification According to the World Energy Outlook reports of 2017 and 2018, there has been a pattern since 2000 of accelerating access to electricity for unserved and underserved populations. As alluded to above, almost 1 billion people were still without electricity in 2017, but that’s a marked improvement over the 1.7 billion without access in 2000. Unfortunately, during this time period the “vast majority (97%) of new electricity connections” was through primarily fossil-fuel-based grid extensions. Less than 1% of new electricity access was provided via decentralized, renewable energy systems.
On the bright side, the 2017 report goes on to say that between 2018 and 2030, fossil fuels will largely be replaced by renewable energy – especially solar energy – as the primary source for electricity. “The rapidly declining costs of solar PV [photovoltaics], battery technologies, and energy-efficient appliances (especially light-emitting diode [LED] lighting) are making decentralized renewable energy systems more affordable. This is particularly the case for rural and dispersed communities not served by a main grid and where it may take years for one to arrive. Decentralized systems can also be attractive in areas with grid access but an unreliable power supply.”
Despite the dramatic progress during the first part of the 21st-century, future “trends on energy access . . . fall short of global goals. The New Policies Scenario sees some gains in terms of access, with India to the fore. However, more than 700 million people, predominantly in rural settlements in Sub-Saharan Africa, are projected to remain without electricity in 2040, and only slow progress is [being] made in reducing reliance on the traditional use of solid biomass as a cooking fuel.”
Growth of solar and other renewable sources of electrification Back on the bright side, there are a number of exciting renewable-energy options that are becoming increasingly available to rapidly expand the electrification of the world. For example, large solar arrays are being developed across northern Africa that could eventually replace much of the remaining fossil-fuel energy of Europe. One analyst estimates that putting solar panels on 2% of the Sahara Desert could meet all of the world’s electricity needs. Building underwater transmission cables from the Northern Africa to Europe is quite feasible. The same is not true for transmission to the Americas. There are other examples of desert-based, large-scale solar projects in Saudi Arabia, China, the Navajo reservation in the United States, and elsewhere. Together, these systems are likely to provide a huge addition to affordable, renewable energy by 2030.
Wind turbines are cheaper than solar panels in many situations and will continue to be a critical part of any future mix of renewable-energy sources.
Because of the intermittent generation of electricity by solar and wind installations, they must be supplemented by other sources of energy, energy storage, and/or long-distance transmission. Lithium-ion batteries and other means of storage are an important and increasingly cost-effective way to expand the use of renewable energy at every level, from individual buildings to large power plants.
Community solar energy Many of the close-to-a-billion people who don’t have access to electricity live in fairly remote areas that are not easily connected to major power grids. As a result, large-scale renewable options don’t apply to them and are not likely to in the near future because of the high cost of transmission lines.
In these off-the-grid locations, households and businesses, and clusters of electrical consumers at the village level, can be most economically and efficiently served by electricity generated locally.
In projecting future expansion of access to electricity, the 2017 World Energy Outlook report lays out an “energy-for-all” scenario that is based on the goal of universal electrification by 2030.
Figuring in population growth, this scenario would mean expanding electrical coverage to more than 1 billion additional people at an approximate cost of almost $800 billion. The report concludes that over 50% of this electricity would be powered by solar energy, and less than 25% by fossil fuels. Furthermore, more than 60% of new electrical energy would be generated by mini-grid and off-grid systems. (“Off-grid” systems are defined as powering individual homes and other buildings.)
Below are five examples that include community solar components, followed by a discussion of how community solar co-ops could be expanded and made more efficient so that hundreds of millions more people around the world could benefit from renewable, reliable, and locally-controlled electricity.
Liberia The recently formed Totota Co-op in rural Liberia began operating a solar mini-grid in 2018. Under a contract from the US Agency For International Development, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and Bandera Electric Co-op, one of NRECA’s member cooperatives, assisted the village to organize the co-op and install solar panels, a battery-storage unit, and other equipment. NRECA is also working with 12 Liberian coastal villages to expand the community solar model to them.
Rural India When Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India in 2014, 300 million households were without electricity. At the end of 2018, every village in India was reported to have electricity, but there were still 30 million households without it. President Modi promised to electrify all of these remaining households by April 2019 through a combination of hooking them up to the national grid and through mini-grid and off-grid installations. There are mixed reports on whether or not that goal has been attained. There are also concerns about the reliability of the national electricity grid, which has a tendency from time to time to leave subscribers in the dark.
Despite these reliability problems and differing assessments of how many households are now electrified, the almost-full electrification of India is a major accomplishment. It is also worth noting that many communities have formed Village Electric Committees to oversee the operation of their solar facilities. According to one observer, “most Indian solar microgrids are democratic, with power controlled by village committees.”
The Caribbean Twenty-seven island countries and other territories, along with private-sector partners formed the Caribbean Climate-Smart Accelerator in 2017 to create more self-sufficient and sustainable development, including an increased emphasis on renewable energy. “The central objective of the Accelerator is to help transform the region’s economy through fast-tracking sound public and private investment opportunities which support climate action and economic growth, through sustainable development.”
Islands, big and small, face special challenges in meeting their electrical service needs. Most don’t have local sources of energy, although some use wood, other kinds of biomass, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy. Importing fuel, such as diesel, is expensive and polluting. Many islands are also vulnerable to tropical storms and hurricanes which play havoc with transmission lines and other components of the electrical system. Consider the damage that Hurricane Maria caused in Puerto Rico in 2017, including the estimated loss of about 3,000 lives, and from which the island is still recovering.
Solar mini-grids and single-building solar installations, for example in hospitals, provide protection against catastrophic damage and loss of life in the event of national weather and other emergencies in island communities. Mini-grids can be designed as part of island-wide grid systems that can operate autonomously when the main grid goes down.
The Sahel Region of Africa Along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert is a huge savanna region called the Sahel. At over 1 million square miles, it is one-third the size of the Sahara. “The Desert to Power Program . . . seeks to make use of this massive swathe of territory to develop 10,000 megawatts (MW) worth of solar energy to provide electricity to 250 million people – including . . . 90 million people off-grid.”
Kenya Kenya has a much higher distribution of electricity than most Sub-Saharan African countries. Approximately 75% of Kenyans have access to electricity from grid and off-grid sources, according to the World Bank.  The Kenyan government wants to increase that to 100% by 2022. The Kenya National Electrification Strategy (KNES) references mini-grids, independent solar power plants, and off-grid technology as options to utilize. About 49 million people live in Kenya, and most of them are in rural areas. 
One of the options being pursued is a private sector partnership between Azuri, Unilever, and local community residents. In this program, households and businesses purchase solar kits via a rent-to-buy system. Purchasers make monthly payments for 18 months, and then they own the kits outright. The kits come in various sizes, from a single light set-up, to one that can power multiple lights and other appliances, including a television. Another feature of the distribution system is that local community residents are trained to sell, install, and maintain the kits. Thus, there is a direct, local employment impact, as well as the indirect economic, social, health, and educational benefits resulting from increased access to energy.
This Azuri/Unilever model has excellent potential to be adapted for the development of community solar projects in other developing countries.
An example of a solar home lighting system available in Kenya.
Advantages of, and challenges to, community solar co-ops Listed below are the advantages of, and challenges to, community solar co-ops as means to rapidly expand electrical services in developing countries.
They are relatively inexpensive to install and operate.
They can be rapidly ramped up
As mini-grids and clusters of single building installations, they can operate independent of large-scale transmission grids
Panels and other components are easy to transport, install, and maintain.
Consumer costs can be based on usage.
Decisions are made by locally elected boards.
They generate jobs and new business activity.
They improve the quality of everyday life and health.
There is a shortage of champions for solar community cooperatives in the international community.
Even though they can operate self-sufficiently once formed, there are difficulties in accessing start-up capital for them.
There is often a lack of local expertise for sourcing materials, setting up local systems, and providing ongoing monitoring and support services.
However, none of these challenges are insurmountable.
Despite the success of community solar co-ops in some developing countries, there is not nearly enough support for expanding this approach to help meet the goal of universal access to electricity by 2030. Three of the co-op entities in the best position to promote and assist community solar co-op projects are the International Co-operative Alliance, the US-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and the World Organization of Credit Unions (WOCCU). The former two organizations are clearly supportive of the approach, but neither appears to be taking a strong leadership role in promoting it. WOCCU could also be an important advocate for community solar co-ops by encouraging and assisting credit unions, savings and credit cooperative organizations, and other financial cooperatives around the world to provide financing for these co-ops.
Other potential champions and sources of financing include the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program, and various bilateral development programs such as the United States Agency for International Development, the Swedish International Development Agency, the UK’s Department for International Development, the Canadian International Development Program, and major foundations, and business partners. Despite the fact that many of these organizations are already providing assistance to electrification in developing countries, none are actively championing the expansion of the community co-op model.
As both India and Kenya are demonstrating, national initiatives to provide universal electrification within countries appear to be a very effective strategy for expanded coverage. This is clearly a way to mobilize action for universal electrification, including the development of community solar co-ops. And, yet, there are not enough of these national models. The proliferation of these models would benefit greatly from support by the international organizations mentioned above.
For a historical perspective, it is useful to look at the rural electric cooperative movement in the United States. In addition to the strong demand for electricity by rural residents, the second biggest factor setting the stage for the rapid growth of these co-ops in the 1930s and 1940s was the provision of low-interest loans by the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) established by the Roosevelt administration in the mid-1930s. Today, about 1,000 rural electric co-ops provide electricity to 40 million people in rural and suburban communities throughout the United States. Similar loan programs, both national and international, could be established during the next decade to accelerate electrification in developing countries.
Conclusions There are two key conclusions of this paper. Community solar cooperatives are already in place in some developing countries and could be expanded rapidly to provide electricity in many more. However, unless the expansion of these co-ops becomes a much higher priority of the international cooperative community and of international development organizations, the huge potential for these local, democratically run, renewable energy providers will not be realized.
These two sets of goals are world-changers! If they are successfully carried out, we are talking about a world without extreme poverty or hunger, universal access to decent healthcare, education and jobs for all 8 billion of us, solving the most critical problem of our age – the catastrophe of rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and achieving a number of other fundamental social, economic, and environmental goals.
As those of you who follow the activities of The Cooperative Society Project know, these goals are in close alignment to ours. So, let’s take a look at progress to date.
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) In 2000, when Kofi Annan was the Secretary-General, the UN’s 191 member countries voted unanimously to achieve 8 social, economic, and environmental goals over the next fifteen years to improve the quality of life around the world, using 1990 as the starting point for calculating improvements.
“Extreme poverty has declined significantly over the last two decades. In 1990, nearly half of the population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day. That proportion dropped to [projected] 14% in 2015.”
“The primary school net enrollment rate in the developing regions has reached 91% in 2015, up from 83% in 2000.”
“Despite population growth in the developing regions, the number of deaths of children under five has declined from 12.7 million in 1990 to almost 6 million in 2015 globally.”
“Since 1990, the maternal mortality ratio has declined by 45% worldwide.”
The report also provides information on environmental and economic change. Despite increased access to clean drinking water, improved sanitation, and other environmental improvements, the primary environmental issue – carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere – worsened substantially during this time. According to the report, there were a number of improvements in economic conditions in developing countries from 1990 to 2015, including increased development assistance, an increase in duty-free exports, reduced debt, and access to International telecommunications.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Based in significant part on the effectiveness of the MDG program, United Nations members, under Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s leadership, unanimously approved another 15-year initiative (2016-2030) to improve the quality of life around the world. This time, UN members voted to address 17 goals, a big increase over the 2000-2015 program.
The 2018 SDG Report provides information on trends related to the eight MDG goals, as well as data on the nine new SDG goals. Following are a few findings contained in the report.
Estimates of extreme poverty continued to decline. Revised data indicate that “11% of the world population, or 783 million people, lived below the extreme poverty threshold in 2013.”
On the negative side of the ledger, “The proportion of undernourished people worldwide increased from 10.6% in 2015 to 11.0% in 2016. This translates to 815 million people worldwide in 2016, up from 777 million in 2015.”
Market-distorting agricultural subsidies continued to decline.
Access to primary education increased. However, the report expressed concerns about inadequate teacher training and children’s lack of proficiency in reading and mathematics.
The report also observed that, “While some forms of discrimination against women and girls are diminishing, gender inequality continues to hold women back and deprives them of basic rights and opportunities.”
Access to clean drinking water and sanitation were both improving, but progress was below the rate required to meet the 2030 program goals.
On the energy front, “Those lacking access to electricity have fallen below 1 billion, a doubling in coverage between 2000 and 2016.” But the goal of “ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all” by 2030 will be very difficult to achieve.
As the report states, “The five-year average global temperature from 2013 to 2017 was . . . the highest on record. The world continues to experience rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions, and increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases.” Thus, the program’s and the Paris Agreement’s goals for drastically reducing carbon emissions by 2030 will take an unprecedented amount of cooperation among countries, communities, and corporations to achieve.
Earning inequalities were still pervasive: “Men earned 12.5% more than women in 40 out of 45 countries with data. Youth were three times more likely to be unemployed than adults in 2017.”
Since the SDG program did not go into effect until 2016, it is too early to do an evaluation of its effectiveness. But there are a number of early-stage comments that can be made about the program.
It is very ambitious There are more than twice as many SDG goals as MDG goals. There are pluses and minuses to this expansion. On the plus side, the impacts of the SDG program can be more far-reaching. On the problematic side, there is the danger of being less successful because of an attempt to over-reach — possibly accomplishing less by trying to do too much.
It provides continuity with the MDG program This is a plus, because longer-term trends can be tracked and addressed.
It incorporates the goals of the Paris Agreement and other environmental goals This interconnection is very important because “climate action,” “life below water,” and “life on land” are inextricably connected with the social and economic goals of the program.
It has a tendency to downplay some problems It appears to emphasize positive results and focus less on negative ones. The biggest example of this is related to climate change. Much research, including that done by the United Nations, stresses that we are in a crisis mode during the next decade or so. If our actions are not accelerated dramatically, we are highly likely to exceed a 2°C increase in the temperature of the earth’s surface relative to what it was at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Such an increase would lead to catastrophic weather changes and related disasters. However, the report does not present the warnings from this research. (In fairness to the UN, much of the research emphasizing the extreme urgency of the climate crisis was published after the 2018 report.)
Inadequate communication of the goals and accomplishments of the program This is the biggest criticism that we have after doing a review of the information that the United Nations provides about the SDG program on the Internet. Following are a few examples of SDG communication problems:
Right off the bat, when one looks up “SDGs,” using Google search, one encounters two separate United Nations websites presenting information on the program. These sites are run by different divisions of the UN: The Development Program and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Since theUN is coordinating a worldwide, cooperative initiative to achieve the SDG goals, it would make sense to have the UN’s internal divisions present a united front to the world in its presentation of the SDGs.
Neither of the homepages for these two websites provides a clear introduction to the SDG program, nor do any of the primary topics referenced at the top of the websites.
That is not to say that there isn’t plenty of useful information. Altogether, there are hundreds of sites that one can click to from the main websites, but without clear roadmaps, the reader doesn’t know how to make choices among this avalanche of information.
The SDG program has put out very informative annual reports in 2016, 2017, and 2018. But one wouldn’t know this by combing through all of the major topics on both of these websites. There is excellent information in these reports related to progress and lack of progress on the 17 goals. (See, for example, the section above summarizing some key findings from the 2018 report.) The trick is finding the reports.
Our major takeaway from this critique of information provided by the UN on the web is:
Communication and education related to the SDG program would benefit enormously by having an easily accessible webpage providing a level 101 “Introduction to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal Program.” This primer should be understandable by someone with a middle school education and should provide clear links to additional information that the reader may want to access in order to learn more about the program – in particular, more detailed information on its predecessor program, the MDG goals and the current 17 SDG goals, and links to the annual reports.
Despite these criticisms of the SDG program’s communications problems, we were pleased with the substantive progress that the program has made since its inception in January 2016. Read the reports, especially the one for 2018, and judge for yourself.