We Need To Keep Cleantech Companies From Being Used Against Democracy

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In this short series of articles, I’d like to explore the ways that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) extends its reach globally to control us, why its tactics work, and (most importantly to readers here) how it is working toward using the cleantech industry against us. Then, I’m going to propose some ideas to counter this.

Before I get into this topic, I want to be clear that I don’t mean to villainize anyone who doesn’t deserve it. The Chinese people don’t have any choice or even a voice on what their government does, and they’re generally good people just trying to get by like the rest of us. They’re definitely not to blame. Companies like Tesla that do business in China also have little choice, as the economics have largely forced them to grow into China or get killed by competitors who do it. Plus, the aim is to cut global emissions, and a lot of the globe’s emissions are in China. The only villain in this story is the Chinese Communist Party, China’s unelected single-party government.

My goal with this series is to show people what the problem is and help spur further discussion on how to appropriately deal with it. Democracy and freedom, as well as the environment, are at stake, so it’s a subject we can’t ignore any longer if we value these things.

Before I can get to the meat of how this directly affects the cleantech industry, I need to give readers a big-picture view of the problem, so we can better understand how clean technologies can be used against us.

Otherwise Smart People Get Caught In Investment Traps

There’s an old saying: “Money is the root of all evil.” I don’t completely agree with that, as many of the evils in the world aren’t about money. But, it’s true in that money, especially when it’s flowing in great quantities, can bend morality in awful ways and does produce a lot of evil. Principled, good people can even fall for these siren songs when their finances depend on abandoning those principles. Or, as Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Here’s a great example of this that can help us understand the conundrum cleantech companies face:

For readers unfamiliar with the situation, Dalio was asked about doing business with a country where people disappear after making allegations against government officials or saying things online that officials don’t like. Instead of condemning this kind of governance, he instead tried to pass this kind of authoritarianism off as a normal part of Chinese culture (specifically, Confucianism). Not only is this obviously false (nobody disappears like this in Taiwan, for example), but it’s a lower-key form of racism to smear a whole culture for the actions of their unelected government.

The lazy way to approach this statement would be to call Ray Dalio an idiot, but this is also obviously false. He’s the second wealthiest hedge fund manager, and among the top 100 wealthiest people on the planet. You don’t climb from losing everything in the ’80s to that level of success by being an idiot or being lucky. He’s proven over and over to be very good at seeing things other people don’t see, and has even written a book and produced very good videos about how he does this. Here’s one where he sums up his book Principles:

This is good stuff. An idiot doesn’t share ideas like this, let alone come up with them. So, why would Dalio be so wrong on authoritarian government?

Why This Happens (It’s Not An Accident)

If you had 30 minutes to spare and actually watched the video, you’d know that Dalio is big on “hyper-realism.” He says that we have to look at the world as it is, and face reality on things rather than look at things as we wish they were or as we would like to believe they are.

His response to criticism of his statement is very much based on realism. In it, he said, “we have responsibilities to different constituencies that we have to balance, creating complex nuances for a broad number of stakeholders. In Bridgewater’s case, we invest in about 40 countries, and our clients rely on us to invest in the best possible ways in all the countries that make sense from an investment standpoint.” He goes on to basically say that he thinks that the only way a company like his to get this right is to follow the guidance of regulators for the limits on what they should be doing in China, because doing anything else (like pulling out of China over human rights issues) wouldn’t be in the best interest of his clients.

As a realist, he understands that there’s a lot of money to be made, and that he really can’t change China’s government if only he and his company pulled out of the country. Other hedge funds would quickly fill the vacuum and make the money while his clients get less return on their investments. So, it’s easier to make excuses for the government there and keep making money, or push moral responsibility on governments for letting investors keep sending their money to enrich authoritarian regimes.

Sadly, the hedge fund industry is far from the only industry that’s pushed to accept authoritarianism to keep making money.

The movie industry is another great example, and again it comes down to investment. It takes tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to make a movie, and investors want to minimize their risks. If the movie is successful, the investors stand to make money hand over fist. If it’s a box office flop, they could lose tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. One great way to minimize risks is to make sure the movie can be shown internationally, and China has the largest population in the world, but the Chinese government won’t allow any movie to show in China if the government doesn’t approve of it. So, Chinese censorship not only affects China, but also affects what American, European, and every other global audience gets to see.

It doesn’t stop there, though. As a PEN report explains, even if a movie studio skips the Chinese market with movies Beijing doesn’t like, they’ll find ways to punish studios. Restrictions on filming in China, restrictions on the studios other approved films, and even sanctions against individual actors participating in productions with content the CCP doesn’t like are all ways that active censorship has led to self-censorship in Hollywood.

They dare not draw the ire of the Chinese Communist Party, so they go out of their way to avoid offending them, even if racism is required to placate the CCP. Here’s a great video with a number of examples of this:

In Part 2, I’m going to explore the ways that other industries are affected by China’s strategy to control people overseas, including the automotive and cleantech industries, and then explore ways to fight back.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1983 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba