After determining that China has been “dumping” its heavily subsidized solar panels on the U.S. market, the Commerce Department recently imposed duties of 31 percent on imported Chinese panels. This set off the predictable debate about free trade and protectionism, trade wars and global capitalism, the economics of alternative energy and Chinese currency manipulations.
It’s way too complicated for me, but a debate on NPR yesterday pitted US panel manufacturers against panel distributors and an environmentalist from the Rocky Mountain Institute. The manufacturers pushed for the tariff because of what they claim is China’s drive to create an international monopoly. By unfairly subsidizing its manufacturers, they argued, China has undermined the U.S. domestic industry – and ensured the transfer of thousands of jobs overseas.
The others raised concerns about the impact of substantially higher panel prices on the still-fledgling efforts to shift America from fossil fuels to alternative energy, and they forecast continue dependence on “foreign oil” and increased contributions to global warming.
Despite the variety of their views, they were united on the need to produce more of what all accepted as an unmitigated good: sustainable energy. In the last depression Americans were promised a chicken in every pot; in this one it is a solar panel on every roof.
But one reason we are in this mess is because of our insistence that more is better, that we can have our cake and eat it too. In a finite world, maybe we can’t – and maybe it’s time to talk, not just about alternative sources of energy, but about alternative ways to live.