Population Change and The Cooperative Society


The Cooperative Society Newsletter
May 2017, Issue 3
by E.G. Nadeau

The Capital Times (or Cap Times), a Madison, Wis.-based newspaper, published my op-ed, “A sustainable planet needs a sustainable population,” on Earth Day, April 22. You can read it in the sidebar at right. I’m following up on that article with a more detailed analysis of what we should and should not be doing to curb population growth in the remainder of the 21st century. 

Access to birth control
A few years ago, I participated in several women’s group meetings in rural Kenya. The primary topics of discussion were reproductive health and HIV/AIDS. The women in these groups were knowledgeable about different kinds of birth control and shared concerns about the risks of getting infected by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Many of the women were worried about lack of access to birth control, including female condoms, which can prevent HIV transmission; birth control injections, which can prevent conception for months or even years; and morning-after pills, also known as emergency contraception.

One of their big complaints was that rural pharmacies didn’t consistently keep these birth-control resources in stock. We discussed the possibility of villagers forming their own cooperative pharmacies to ensure a more consistent and lower-cost supply of birth control, as well as other health-related items. At the time, the Kenyan government did not allow for this kind of pharmacy staffed by community health workers.

Education and reproductive health
Altogether, I visited about 20 Kenyan villages in 2008 and 2009, to review a community health program led by NCBA CLUSA, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. I came away extremely impressed by these village health sites. The program involved more than 2,000 villages – with over 2 million inhabitants – and operated in Kenya for more than a decade in the early 2000s. Reproductive health and HIV/AIDS education were only part of the broad health mission of the program.

The point of the story is that poor female villagers with little formal education, in remote areas of Kenya, were knowledgeable about reproductive health and made use of a variety of birth-control methods and HIV-prevention resources, when given the opportunity. The emphasis in that sentence is “when given the opportunity.”

This interest in birth control is echoed throughout the least-developed countries of the world. This quote from the 2015 UN World Population Prospects report underscores my personal observations:

To realize [a] substantial reduction in fertility . . . it is essential to invest in reproductive health and family planning, particularly in the least-developed countries, so that women and couples can achieve their desired family size. In 2015, the use of modern contraceptive methods in the least-developed countries was estimated at around 34% among women of reproductive age who were married or in a union. A further 22% of such women had an unmet need for family planning, meaning that they were not using any method of contraception, despite a stated desire or intention to avoid or delay childbearing.

Access to family planning for that 22% would mean an annual reduction of tens of millions of unwanted births per year, adding up to a significant reduction in world population growth.

Sadly, the Trump Administration is going backwards when it comes to population policy and reproductive health.

Setbacks in US legislation and funding
In the first 100 days of his presidency, Trump signed two executive orders and a piece of legislation undermining the goal of slowing the rate of population growth:

  • In late January, he prohibited U.S. funding to any reproductive health organization that provides abortions or abortion counseling, including organizations that do not use U.S. governmental funds for these purposes. That comes to about $600 million of defunding during Trump’s first term.
  • In the first week of April, Trump rescinded U.S. funding to the United Nations Population Fund, accusing it of supporting “coercive abortions” in China, despite strong denials by the UN. That comes to another nearly $130 million over the next four years taken away from reproductive health services.
  • In the second week of April, the president signed legislation enabling states to defund Planned Parenthood programs of all kinds, even though Planned Parenthood uses no public funding for abortion-related activities. It is not clear what the dollar implications of this new law will be.

Implications for worldwide family planning
Health research organizations are gathering data that can be used to measure the impact of these policy shifts. For example, the Guttmacher Institute, a leading research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights in the U.S., conducts collaborative research with organizations such as the World Health Organization, Columbia University and the United Nations Population Fund. Based on the institute’s data projections for the health consequences to women and children resulting from a reduction in reproductive health services, we estimate that about 100,000 children’s deaths and approximately 10,000 maternal deaths will result from the Trump Administration’s cuts to reproductive health programs during the next four years.

Numerous studies, including articles appearing in the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, indicate that family-planning services significantly reduce the number of abortions in developing countries. The main reason for this is obvious. The more knowledgeable women are about contraception and the better their access to birth-control options, the less likely they are to have unwanted pregnancies and to terminate those pregnancies through abortion. Ultimately, reducing funds to reproductive health organizations increases the number of abortions.

Forecast for the future
On the positive side of the ledger, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of neo-natal deaths during the past couple of decades because of greater access by women in developing countries to reproductive health services. Women are much more likely than ever before to see a health professional during pregnancy, to deliver their babies with the assistance of a skilled birth attendant, to receive training in infant care, and to have access to support services when their children are young.

With the decrease in the funding of reproductive health services precipitated by the Trump Administration, we expect infant and maternal deaths (and abortions) to spike.

This reduced access to reproductive health services means a slightly faster world population growth rate, an increase in world poverty, more energy consumption, the likelihood of increased political instability, and more migration from poor countries to rich ones.

Faster population growth is not just a problem of poor countries; it’s a world problem. The current world population is about 7.5 billion people. The graph below shows a range of projections for population growth during the 21st century.

Population of the world: estimates, 1950-2015, medium-variant projection and 80 and 95% confidence intervals, 2015-2100.

population estimates
Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision. New York: United Nations.

The main factors responsible for continued high birth rates in developing countries include:

  • High levels of poverty.
  • Lack of access to birth control education and resources.
  • Cultural beliefs that inhibit use of birth control. For example, Catholic and Muslim teachings against birth control; the belief by some ethnic groups in the value of large families; and the belief in some cultures that large families reflect the “manliness” of the husband.

As I discussed in “A sustainable planet needs a sustainable population,” reducing poverty, increasing knowledge about reproductive health, and increasing access to birth control resources are keys to reducing population growth.

This information shows that we, as a world society, have the ability to dramatically reduce population growth in the 21st century — not by coercive measures, but by improving economic conditions of the poor and by meeting the educational and resource needs of women and men who want to limit their family size. Slowing population growth will play an important role in creating a more sustainable and cooperative planet.





An Overview of the Cooperative Society Project

the cooperative societyThe Cooperative Society Newsletter
March 2017, Issue 2
by E.G. and Luc Nadeau

What started out in the fall of 2015 as an idea for a single brief book has expanded into a planned 14-year project – with the possibility of continuing after that.

As many of you know, the premise of the book, The Cooperative Society: the next stage of human history is that “humans may be on the threshold of a new historical stage, one characterized by cooperation, democracy, the equitable distribution of resources and a sustainable relationship with nature.”

The book uses seven broad measures to “test” whether in fact we are moving toward a more cooperative society. The results are mixed. In some ways we are becoming more cooperative; and in other ways we are not.

You may download a PDF copy of the book here.

We decided that a one-time snapshot of where we are headed as humans was not enough. As a result, we are planning a second edition of the book in the fall of 2018 that updates the 2016 analysis, and provides additional evidence on the direction in which our species is evolving.

In addition, we are planning to prepare a co-op society video in 2018, the details of which are not yet developed. The newsletters will also continue, sometimes featuring in-depth analyses of issues related to the cooperative transition. For example, an analysis of the effects of population change on future human society is planned for May 2017.

If enough people are interested, we may also form a not-for-profit, membership organization to promote the goals of the Cooperative Society Project.

All in all, our intention is to publish revised editions of the book every two years between 2018 and 2030, and to continue to provide other written and visual materials along the way.

2030 is a key year because both the current rounds of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Climate Change Goals are scheduled for review and revision that year.

We would love to get your feedback on these initial plans for a long-term Cooperative Society Project.

Trumpus Rex: A Damage Assessment

trumpus rex
© 2017 Luc Nadeau

The Cooperative Society Newsletter     January 2017, Issue 1
by E.G. and Luc Nadeau

The lead-up to Donald Trump’s presidency has more the feel of a coronation than an inauguration. But like the emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s fable, there are many of us who question how well-clothed Trump is for the job. The purpose of this article is to lay bare (so to speak) the implications for his presidency on our social, economic, and environmental future.

It’s too early to determine the amount and kinds of havoc a Trump presidency will wreak in the coming years. But here are some predictions based on his pronouncements and actions during the past year.

For those of you who have not yet read The Cooperative Society, you should be aware that the book is not intended as a source for short-term political predictions. Instead, it looks 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 effect movement toward or away from a more cooperative society. 

  1. Growth of cooperatives. Neutral

Co-ops and mutuals enjoy support on both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress. This is likely to continue.

Domestically, one area of caution is the long-term antipathy of the American Bankers Association toward credit unions, and its repeated efforts to remove the tax-exempt status from these member-owned financial institutions. It’s possible the Trump Administration will be more receptive to the banks on this issue than previous presidents.

 Internationally, Trump has threatened to cut back on foreign assistance, such as that provided through USAID. If his Administration follows through on this threat, it could have implications for the role the federal government and the cooperative community play in assisting co-op development in other countries. 

  1. Economic power of large corporations. Negative

Trump has consistently railed against “overregulation” and the high level of U.S. corporate taxes. To the extent that his Administration follows through on his campaign rhetoric, we’re likely to see an increase in the power of large, U.S.-based corporations in shaping our economic, political and environmental policies over the next few years.

 On a world scale, it’s not clear what effect the Trump Administration will have on foreign corporations and the economic policies of other countries. However, another consistent theme of his campaign has been an animosity toward trade agreements, which he perceives as detrimental to the economic interests of the United States — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), for example. There is an “isolationist” component to some of his pronouncements regarding international trade, especially related to China. So it remains unclear at this time how his campaign rhetoric will translate into trade policy and the interests of foreign corporations.

  1. Concentration of wealth and income. Negative

Trump has said that he wants to lower taxes on the wealthy. If his Administration does this, it will mean a significant increase in an already extremely skewed distribution of wealth and income in the United States. 

  1. Conflict. A crapshoot

Trump has said that he would like to reduce the role of the United States as the world’s policeman, although he also has said he would like to “bomb the shit out of ISIS.” In addition, Trump has gone out of his way to pick fights with China, such as his recent statements about recognizing Taiwan and revisiting the idea of a two-China policy. It’s too early to tell what impact his Administration will have on increasing or decreasing world conflict.

 Within the U.S, it’s also difficult to tell how Trump’s anti-immigrant — especially anti-Muslim and anti-Hispanic — rhetoric will translate into policy. If the U.S. were to expel 2 to 3 million illegal immigrants or crack down on the domestic Muslim population, these actions may precipitate increased domestic unrest.

Based on the overall gist of his comments, it appears that Trump will focus more on international economic issues than on military ones. The important caveat here, however, is that during the campaign, the president-elect has shown himself to be a loose cannon on many world issues, including war. 

  1. Increasing democracy. Negative

Trump hasn’t said anything directly to indicate a desire to weaken democracy at home or abroad.

At home, however, a draconian policy against illegal immigrants could undercut basic democratic rights. His comments about the rigged voting system in the United States bring the legitimacy of our election process into question. His frequent diatribes against reporters and the media as “disgusting,” “scum” and other pejorative terms may evolve into policies that limit the rights of a free press.

Internationally, Trump has shown a penchant for praising dictators. He has said that he admires Vladimir Putin, who “is doing a great job.” He has made similar comments praising other dictatorial leaders, including Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Benito Mussolini. These sentiments may translate into actions in support of repressive governments. Or, they may lead to U.S. inaction in the face of foreign aggression, such as Russia threatening the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

  1. Improving the quality of life. Negative

Domestically, the big quality-of-life issue featured in the Trump campaign was repealing Obamacare. Now that he is president-elect, the reality has set in that just repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would have immediate, dire consequences for the 20-30 million people who would be left without health insurance.

Now the primary discussion has shifted to a longer-term strategy for terminating parts of the ACA and gradually phasing in a replacement national health insurance system. The result is likely to be less comprehensive than the ACA, but not as onerous as some of us have feared. And, as described earlier, the Trump Administration’s policy toward Muslims and Hispanics could have serious implications for their quality of life.

On a world scale, the negative impacts of the Trump Administration on people’s lives may be far worse than at home. The U.S. is a signatory to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an ambitious set of 17 goals to improve the quality of life around the world. If the Administration pulls back from the U.S. commitment to this agreement or significantly reduces financial support for it, hundreds of millions of people around the world will suffer the consequences.

  1. Creating a more sustainable environment. Negative

Trump’s pronouncements during his campaign have indicated that he does not believe in human-created climate change. Since being elected, his selection of nominees for key positions in his government underlines the seriousness of this threat. He has chosen Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, an avowed climate change skeptic and staunch supporter of oil and gas drilling in the U.S., as his nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Trump has nominated Rick Perry, former Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate, to head the Department of Energy — an agency which in the past, Perry said he wanted to abolish.

The Administration-in-waiting also distributed a survey to the Energy Department, asking about the past involvement of its employees in climate change-related issues. The survey is reminiscent of a McCarthy era attack — “Are you now or have you ever been a believer in climate change?”

Internationally, the negative signals are equally strong. Trump’s nominee to head the State Department is Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, the largest oil and gas company in the world. Trump also has threatened to repudiate the Paris Accord on Climate Change. With the United States as the world’s second-largest generator of greenhouse gases after China, noncompliance by the U.S. would greatly weaken the impact of this accord reached by more than 150 countries in 2016. Interestingly, other signatories to the agreement are threatening to put tariffs on U.S. exports proportional to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during their manufacture. Such an action would put the Trump Administration in a difficult spot — on the one hand disavowing climate change, and on the other, being the subject of an international economic sanction. 

Our take 

With a combined score of five “negatives” and two “not sures,” the Trump Administration’s impact on the transition toward a more cooperative society over the next few years looks dismal.

That said, although some of the negative impacts of Trump’s reign could have long-term implications, the transition to a cooperative society occurs on a grander, more long-term scale.

As we say in The Cooperative Society, “We as a species are not destined to destroy ourselves and our planet.” Achieving a cooperative society requires vigilance and perseverance against the forces that promote division and conflict.

Ironically, 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.

Unless Trump, the bloviarch, triggers a nuclear cataclysm, a devastating international trade war resulting in a global depression, or an irreparable acceleration in global warming, we will be set back only a few years by his administration.

In the meantime, let’s do what we can — individually and collectively — to limit the damage to democracy, world peace, economic fairness, quality of life, and the environment during the next four years.