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  • Joe Collins

The Uyghurs, Human Rights, and Solar Energy


Global warming is not good and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources like solar will help slow down climate change.


Yeah, yeah, yeah….We’ve heard all this before.


It’s not much of a story.


But it just got a little more interesting.


The Biden administration, which is committed to growing the U.S. solar sector, and reducing carbon emissions, is in a bit of a quandary.


Why?


Well because of the Uyghurs and the role that China plays in the world’s solar supply chain.


But first, here’s the back story....




Many claim that the Uyghurs, a small Muslim ethnic group of roughly 15 - 20 million people living in Xinjiang Province, are being persecuted by the Chinese government for their cultural and religious views, which do not conform to the majority Han Chinese political and cultural ideologies.


Hmmm...Is Chinese repression something new?


No, China has been condemned for subjugating different ethnic and religious groups for many years.


Of course the Chinese government denies any sort of repression against the Uyghurs and defends it’s Uyghur policy, which also includes surveillance, checkpoints and detention centers.


Beijing insists they are routing out anti-Chinese terrorists focused on creating an independent Uyghur state who are a threat to peace in the region.


Uyghur independence groups, on the other hand, insist that the Chinese government is persecuting a minority that wants to practice its own culture, speak its own language, and maintain a certain amount of autonomy.


A new twist...




The Uyghurs work in mining and manufacturing, including the mining of silicon, and the manufacturing of polysilicon, which produces solar cells for solar panels.

In fact, half the world's polysilicon comes from Xinjiang Province where, according to human rights groups, Uyghurs are forced to labor.


In a world where countries are trying to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy to combat climate change, cheap solar panels are essential to the transition.


The question for the Biden administration is, what steps should be taken to protect the Uyghurs while continuing to support the production of solar panels?



Tough question with no easy answer.


Although some folks have already taken sides.


There is proposed legislation in the U.S. Senate that would cut off trade to and from China.


The president of the AFL-CIO is urging the Biden administration to block imports of solar products from Xinjiang.


And other constituencies are pressuring Biden to take action against China for human rights abuses.


Unfortunately, as a country that imports most of its manufactured goods from other countries, especially China, the U.S. has very little say in how products are produced or who is providing the labor.


Moreover, in the case of solar, restricting solar products from Xinjiang is not necessarily going to improve the plight of the Uyghurs.


And, no other entity is prepared to step in and replace the solar supply chain that the Chinese dominate.


Since so much solar is produced in this area, stopping the flow of solar panel production would slow down the progress being made on climate change and might do more harm than good.


As with most things in life. “There are no easy solutions. Just trade offs.”


Joe Collins is the owner of CIE Solar Energy, LLC.


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