A recent piece by our editor Zachary Shahan (which I completely agree with) got me to thinking. A dangerous pastime, I know. In his piece, he shows how the US addiction to oil led to many very poor decisions. When 9/11 happened, it wasn’t hatred of freedom that led to the attacks. Decades of piss-poor foreign policy made a whole global region fearful, which led to cycles of anger, hatred, and suffering.
Fear of high prices at the pump and crippling shortages like we saw in the 1970s oil shocks, and subsequent supply and demand problems, led to these awful foreign policy decisions that got the United States deeper and deeper into involvement in Southwest Asia, where the US found more and more ways to hurt the population, which got mad and bit back, which justified the next round of bad US foreign policy. Ron Paul calls this “blowback,” using the common intelligence term, but it’s an idea that is widely accepted on both the political left and the political right.
I want to talk more about the human costs of oil stability, and then discuss the very real danger of letting clean technology follow a similar path.
The Human Costs We Ignore
During a big crisis, like 9/11 for the United States or the current Afghanistan withdrawal, the human suffering is readily apparent. We worry now for people like the women who are sure to lose their rights under Taliban rule, and we can see gory scenes, like the people falling from the landing gear of military aircraft fleeing the country.
Less apparent is the often greater suffering that happens between big crises that take over the news cycle. The deaths of innocent civilians in drone strikes, the 500,000 children who starved during 1990s embargoes against Iraq, and many other deaths don’t make headlines because they don’t happen all at once. We don’t know of the atrocity until after the deaths occur and are counted, and worse, US officials like Madeleine Albright stir up controversy and terrorism against the US saying things like “…we think the price is worth it,” when asked about the dead.
Those paying at least some attention know that the US government turns a blind eye to terrible crimes against humanity when perpetrated by US allies in Southwest Asia. Things like the gruesome dismemberment and killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the beheading of gay people, war crimes, torture — and that’s all from just one US ally in the region.
What gets less press is the suffering that happens even in US-controlled territory in the name of oil supply stability and fighting terrorism. After bringing “freedom” to Afghanistan, the US allowed an Islamic Republic to develop, and then gave that government great resources to stay afloat in a land where it really wasn’t wanted or seen as legitimate. Even then, the government westerners think was legitimate was quite awful by western standards.
The LGBT community was basically outlawed by the “legitimate” Afghan government, which means somewhere around a million people were still not allowed to be themselves for fear of being put in a prison funded by the United States or being killed by officials whose paychecks come from the US taxpayer. Most Americans wouldn’t believe that this happens on their dime, but it was the law and we put up with it because we wanted to save a few cents at the pump.
This Could Happen To Clean Technologies If We Don’t Fight For Human Rights
In a previous piece, I raised an important question. Where do we draw the line on human rights in the EV industry?
Here’s the thing: simply switching away from oil doesn’t protect human rights. If we don’t take great care to make sure human rights are always an important consideration, we risk simply shuffling the human suffering around like cards in a deck. Sure, the order of things would be different and we might even be playing a different card game, but if the jokers are still in the deck, they’re still jokers just the same.
Letting human rights abusers who got rich on oil invest those profits in clean technologies to keep the gravy and blood flowing is one way to surely get this wrong. As clean technology advocates, we can’t let dirty money earned at great human cost blind us to the continued human rights abuses from entities like Saudi Arabia. If we don’t keep the dirty money out and demand real reforms, we’re only shifting from supporting them for oil stability to supporting them for clean technology firms’ stability.
When you look at China, it’s possible to get it wrong even worse than we did with oil. In my other piece, I discussed things like China’s techno-fascism, slavery in places the Chinese government has under occupation, and the complete loss of political freedom in Hong Kong. You don’t have to be on Falun Gong’s payroll to see all this, but US companies gleefully enter China because they can’t resist the profits and cheap cleantech goods that can be exported to the United States.
Sure, we’re cleaning up the planet, but at what cost? Do we really want to put up with all this human suffering and lost freedom just to save a few bucks on a solar installation or watch our Tesla stonks go up? (No, I don’t own any shares.)
The state media response to the Afghanistan crisis drives this point home, though:
#环球时报Editorial: From what happened in Afghanistan, those in Taiwan should perceive that once a war breaks out in the Straits, the island’s defense will collapse in hours and US military won’t come to help. As a result, the DPP will quickly surrender. https://t.co/ZUrZmcsSWf pic.twitter.com/wFG4vrHbTo
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) August 16, 2021
The CCP is poking the US in the chest and telling us they don’t think we (nor the rest of the free world) have the guts to stand in their way if they decide to make what they did to Hong Kong look like child’s play. They know that we have become so economically dependent on them and so interconnected to them that we probably wouldn’t want to risk it if they wanted to take fundamental rights and representative government away from 23 million people living on some island far from our shores.
Sure, this may sound like a bunch of hot air, but it jives with what many in US government believe. “Taiwan is like two feet from China,” Donald Trump reportedly told a US senator, “We are eight thousand miles away. If they invade, there isn’t a fucking thing we can do about it.”
We Have To Stand For Something
I can’t cover every beef-headed thing the cleantech industry is doing that costs people their humanity to make a few bucks. That would require a whole month’s worth of articles. I can say that I think I’ve shared enough to make my point.
It’s easy to dunk on Big Oil’s awful human rights record, but we can’t be hypocrites and turn a blind eye when an industry we support slowly creeps toward following in Big Oil’s and Big Auto’s footsteps. If we don’t stand for something, we risk falling for anything.
Featured image: screenshot from internet video showing the chaos in Afghanistan.
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