A Global Cooperative Mandate

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The world clearly is in dire need of approaches to social issues that are more democratic and more just. In this vein, the potential for cooperative enterprise is receiving greater attention, thanks in part to the 2012 International Year of Cooperatives. Remarkable meetings were held in Quebec City, Canada, and Manchester, England, that underscored cooperative achievements and explored cooperative futures. These gatherings also highlighted research on cooperative success, member motives, and limiting elements. 

Patricia Cumbie’s report provides links to presentations in Quebec and to some of the research. Here I’ll offer two quotes to indicate the serious tone and content of the sessions:

Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef and his message were the foundation for many of the concepts discussed at the Imagine conference. Max-Neef believes the current world economy is on a collision course that will converge into chaos or disaster in the coming decades. The dominant economic paradigm, with its exponential growth at any cost, has overreached resource capacity, causing a global economic crisis.

The potential of cooperatives and the need for cooperative values in action constitute the essential second part of facing this very threatening future:

Co-ops have a mandate to be part of changing the economy for the better. Cooperatives were touted by many speakers, many of them newly converted by research, as a powerful solution to the  world’s problems given their focus on solidarity, cooperation, and compassion. To sum it up: Cooperatives need to come out from the shadows of perceived economic and social marginality, and they need to grow for sake of the planet.

That charge seems to cover our overall cooperative challenges: sharpening and sharing our vision, maintaining and expanding our democratic ethos, and proving through results the practicality of our business methods. These urgent and deeply values-based messages can be articulated and debated at local co-ops as well. If cooperative leaders from around the globe can honestly and boldly confront the kind of future that is unfolding, then we can also  carry on these discussions at home.

Those essential pieces of the -cooperative movement—vision, democracy, practical improvement—can be found in the business particulars reported here and in many impressive food co-op impacts. The building blocks of success provide practical guides to sound operations and governance, reflecting much of what food co-ops have learned, as well as impressive examples of community responses to need, illustrating that there is still a deep reservoir of cooperative spirit to be tapped.

As the context for economic crisis, the climate future is in even greater need of public action. In late 2012, the annual report from an international climate science team (Global Carbon Project) confirmed that the world remains on a path of increasing carbon in the atmosphere and estimated that in the present century we will see average global temperatures increase by as much as 8˚F (using the local scale, in hopes that more Americans will comprehend this impact). That rise in temperatures and accompanying storms would mean the end of much that we are familiar with today. Isn’t any place where we still have democratic social space, such as a cooperative, a good forum for pressing ahead on this issue?

To address the climate chaos and overheating that have already begun, the international climate science team stated, we need a "radical plan," and for the world to avoid life-threatening temperature increases will require an "immediate, large, and sustained global mitigation effort." Tragically, that global effort is not happening, and many of the results are baked in. Profoundly, what we still can and must do is to take on this mitigation effort at all levels: our lives, our organizations, and our society. 

Cooperatives are a proven structure for sharing both constraints and improvements. In anticipating difficulties, the path of denial and procrastination is always there—but so are opportunities to change in ways that model a better approach. Cooperatives are continually demonstrating the relevance of their methods and also are challenged to do more. Thoreau said, "What’s the use of having a fine house if you don’t have a tolerable planet to put it on?" Every bit of cooperative social capital that we build today will be needed in the future. 

See other articles from this issue: #164 Jan-Feb 2013
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