This article is the second part of a 4-part series about how clean technology can help defend democracy and human rights. You can find Part 1 here.
Clean Technologies Can Cut Authoritarian Regimes’ Funding
Another way clean technology can help in the fight for democracy is by denying authoritarians the funding they need to expand and grow.
As I’ve pointed out before (see Part 1), this isn’t guaranteed to happen. Saudi Arabia and the Chinese Communist Party are actively working to position themselves to gain from the transition to renewable energy. By funneling fossil fuel riches into clean technology investments and establishing dominance in rare earth mineral supply chains, authoritarian regimes are trying hard to keep taxing the world like they do today with money and investments in manufacturing, oil, and more. Domestic politicians in democratic countries who aren’t great on human rights and democracy get a lot of that fossil fuel money, too.
If we obtain renewable energy infrastructure from ethical sources and use that energy to power ethically-sourced electric vehicles, we cut all of those ne’er-do-wells off. Without the world’s money, they won’t be able to survive, let alone spread their slimy tentacles into other countries’ business.
Sorry, tankies. If Stalinists and Maoists can’t gas up the tanks, they’ll have to walk. The same goes for people on the far, far right with similar dreams. Keeping money out of the hands of people who despise human freedom is always the right move.
The Problem of Internet & Telecom Blackouts
Global communication changed the western world, and continues to. Freedom to share information and ideas is a cornerstone of liberalism (as in classical liberalism and the enlightenment, not today’s liberal vs conservative paradigm). Being able to share controversial ideas, criticize leaders, organize political parties, and even actively work to erode the power and influence of political leaders are all now seen as rights. For most of human history, it wasn’t like this, but printing presses, mass literacy, and then telecommunications destroyed the monopoly on information that feudalism and monarchy depended on.
In some parts of the world, this didn’t happen, and in others, it’s actively moving in the opposite direction. In some countries, information is still tightly controlled. Censored and filtered internet connections, banned books, state-run media, astroturfing, and “disappearing” people who say things a regime doesn’t like are all popular tools in the authoritarian toolbox. Few countries are completely innocent of using these tools of oppression, but free countries either don’t do this anymore or do it far, far less than authoritarian countries. More importantly, there are criminal consequences for officials caught doing such things in free countries.
But, even extensive use of these tools of oppression isn’t always enough to prop up the regime. When unrest and conflict get too hot for them to handle, it’s common for these regimes to pull the plug on telecommunications entirely. In addition to crippling resistance movements that rely on internet and cellular connectivity for communications and keeping foreign press in the dark, many other people who aren’t fighting the regime get caught in the crossfire. Refugees, healthcare providers, educational institutions, and businesses all take a hit from lost internet connectivity. Sometimes it costs innocent civilians their lives.
Even democratic countries struggle with this some, but such shutdowns are limited in scope and usually end up triggering federal investigations meant to put pressure on local governments to not do it. So, no, there’s no room for “whataboutism” from professional propagandists and 50 Cent Army types on this one. It’s not something that government officials just get away with in free countries.
This Problem Is Growing, & Threatens All Free Countries
It’s tempting to think that maybe such things aren’t our problem. If you live in a country with high relative freedom, you might think that it’s easier to ignore the bad things that are going on in the world because they’re depressing and there’s nothing you can do about it. Perhaps more importantly, people living in a relatively secure democratic country with robust human rights protections might feel like they’re safe from such things, so it doesn’t affect them personally.
Sadly, this just isn’t true.
Authoritarianism is on the rise globally. The Global War on Terror, like any other government “war” with a vaguely-defined enemy and objective (the War on Drugs is another great example), eroded freedom and made enemies. Financial downturns left a lot of people financially unstable or downright impoverished. Nationalism rose almost everywhere, and people clamored for strongmen like Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to help them fix everything. The erosion of democracy and human rights is something that has not only happened, but continues to happen globally.
Even countries that we already thought of as authoritarian managed to become more authoritarian and impose more and more on their citizens. Here’s a great example of how this went in China, from a man who really loved it and made great, positive content about it, but almost lost everything to an authoritarian crackdown.
Things only got worse for him, and he had to flee the country. He then had to go to great lengths to get his Chinese wife and their child out before they got banned from leaving.
While I personally don’t think the Capitol Riot of January 6th, 2021 was on the level of Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 attacks, they do show us that there are no shortage of people in the United States who would rather have a more authoritarian government. Attempts to disrupt the transfer of power failed, and the few people with alleged violent plans just weren’t able to get away with it. The real problem we face isn’t what happened that day, but what could happen next time when they are better organized and more prepared to get the strongman they clamor for.
Even in places where internal strife isn’t threatening to lead to totalitarianism, the threat of military action that degrades or ends freedom lingers. Russia is massing troops on the border with Ukraine, and has troops in Kazakhstan. China’s government constantly threatens and harasses Taiwan with military aircraft and other “grey zone” actions. Myanmar’s military took the country over again, and fights against rebels with extreme brutality in a conflict that threatens to spill over into other countries.
In many of these conflicts, internet freedom and the general freedom to use telecommunications technology is in danger. Should someone like Donald Trump get above the rule of law in the United States, we already know they’d readily use telecom shutoffs to gain the upper hand. It’s common for an invading military force to shut off the internet, as happened in Kazakhstan recently, and would very likely happen in Ukraine or Taiwan should they face a successful invasion.
Fortunately, clean technology can help us prepare for authoritarian regimes in the event they invade or take their own country over. A mix of old radio technology, newer computing technology, and renewable energy could take this tool out of the tyrant’s toolbox forever. Continue to Part 3 to learn more.
Featured Image: A screenshot from GasBuddy.com showing gas prices in Los Angeles, California. Clean technology can help defend democracy and human rights by starving authoritarian regimes of funding.
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