Over the last several weeks I have been writing about the morally urgent issue of halting the importation of solar panels made under forced labor conditions in China, where the U.S. State Department says genocide is underway. Yesterday, the Biden Administration finally addressed the issue in a congressional hearing.
“How can you assure us,” asked Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) of President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, “that solar panels made from slave labor coming out of China, where genocide is taking place as we speak, are never a part of the climate solution in the United States?”
The Associated Press said that Kerry “sought to defuse one of the main arguments that congressional Republicans have cited.” That may be what he sought to do, but in reality he infused it with greater urgency.
“It is a problem,” Kerry acknowledged, adding that McCaul was “absolutely correct” to raise the issue. Kerry said the White House was considering sanctions against “solar panels that we believe in some cases are being produced by forced labor.”
There are today still some progressive Democrats, like the economist Jeffrey Sachs, who deny that a genoicide is occuring.
We should always be extremely cautious before using powerful words like “slavery” and “genocide.” It would be irresponsible to use such words to describe things that are not, in fact, either slavery or genocide, as some have done in the past. Bernie Sanders, for example, once compared the mostly-white workers of his home state of Vermont to enslaved African Americans. His remarks were insensitive and inaccurate.
But is not insensitive to use the words slavery and genocide in cases of actual slavery and genocide, and in the case of Xinjiang province in China, the State Department under both Biden and Trump administrations labeled the government’s practices there “genocide.”
Now Kerry has done the right thing and labeled the Chinese government’s practices a form of slavery, even if he couldn’t bring himself to use the word.
But slavery is what it is. The Chinese government is forcing the Uyghur Muslim minority into concentration camps, and then given the “choice” to not live in them by working at solar panel factories. That’s forced labor, and the kind of enslavement that has been used in past genocides.
Kerry suggests “sanctions” but all imports of solar panels from China must be halted until they can be certified as made under genocide- and slavery-free conditions.
The U.S. solar industry has suggested that it will be able to easily move factories out of Xinjiang, but the four largest solar panel makers, JinkoSolar, JASolar, TrinaSolar, and LONGi all source polysilicon from the Muslim region.
“All four of the Uyghur Region’s polysilicon manufacturers are implicated in Uyghur forced labour either through direct participation in forced labour schemes, and/or through their raw material sourcing,” said researchers from Sheffield Hallam University in Britain in a new major report.
They found 90 Chinese and multinational companies implicated in forced labor practices. The researchers say they investigated the entire global solar supply “from quartz to panels.”
“At this point the public is well aware of the atrocities happening to the Uyghur people, and there is no way for these companies to do accurate due diligence in the Uyghur Region,” said a representative from the Uyghur Human Rights Project, “so we must assume that all materials coming out of the region are tainted with forced labour.”
And if the solar industry relocated out of Xinjiang, would the concentration camps and forced labor be relocated, too?
Meanwhile, America’s leading environmental groups, the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, are actively lobbying for the greater use of solar panels and have yet to denounce what is happening in Xinjiang, China.
NRDC is directly invested in solar panel and natural gas companies and is actively lobbying in Washington, D.C., Illinois, and California to shut down American nuclear plants and replace them with natural gas and solar panels, just as it did with New York’s Indian Point, which shut down last month.
By contrast, the journalists and researchers who have been to, and researched extensively the situation in Xinjiang, write with passion and strong words. The Sheffield University researchers called their findings the “sinister truth about the solar industry.”
I have extensively documented how renewables everywhere make electricity more expensive. Supposedly cheap solar panels increased the price of electricity in California seven times more than prices increased in the rest of the U.S. over the last decade. But the Xinjiang episode further exposes as fraudulent the claims that solar panels are cheap electricity.
The need to use the cheapest possible labor, enslaved, and the cheapest energy, coal, underscored the underlying physical problem with solar and all renewables, which is their very low “power densities.” Power density is simply the amount of electricity produced per unit of land, labor, or capital.
Nuclear is the highest power density energy which allows for the wages of U.S. nuclear power plant employees to be so high despite the low cost of delivered electricity to consumers. France shows that a nuclear-majority system delivers electricity at nearly half the cost of a renewables-heavy system like Germany’s. Almost all the cost of nuclear electricity goes to labor, with a very small amount going to buy a bit of uranium for each batch of fuel every 1.5 years.
National, regional, and local governments may continue to subsidize or mandate industrial wind energy and solar panel farms for years to come. Congress has renewed the mandate for corn ethanol, which is in terms of both pollution and land use worse than petroleum, since 1978.
But everybody today outside of the corn lobby knows that the ethanol subsidy is pure pork spending, and environmentally degrading. In fact, it was the World Resources Institute, a progressive environmentalist think tank, which both debunked the myth that ethanol was better for the environment.
As such, ethanol is no longer viewed as good for the environment, and has little chance of scaling up. Its production and use have been flat for the last decade, and there are few prospects for it to increase.
It is inevitable that the same will occur with solar panels and industrial wind turbines, it’s now just a matter of time. The problems facing ethanol, solar, wind and other renewables all stem from the same problem with all renewables, which is that they are low power-density and thus inefficient.
Solar and wind add the additional disadvantage of being even more weather-dependent than ethanol from crops, which makes them worse than worthless during extreme weather events, since they divert money from power sources that can work during heat waves and cold snaps.
In his remarks, Kerry tried to put a positive spin on the situation. “The best thing we could do is be more competitive” when it comes to making solar panels. But if the U.S. tried to make solar panels domestically, solar would have a sudden jump upwards in cost to go along with our labor and environmental standards.
The lesson from past genocides is that we must humanize the people who are being wiped out, but Islam is an unpopular religion today and the spelling and pronunciation of Uyghur is difficult. As such, the genocide against them isn’t getting anywhere near the attention that Hollywood, the celebrity actor class, and rock stars have in the past rained on other genocides, from Darfur to Tibet.
Which is all the more reason we must speak up for the Uyghur.