This article is part two of a 4-part series on how clean technology can help defend democracy and human rights. You can find part 1 here.
Clean technologies can reduce the funding of authoritarian regimes
Another way clean tech can help in the fight for democracy is by starving authoritarians of the funding they need to grow and grow.
As I have already pointed out (see part 1), this is not guaranteed. Saudi Arabia and the Communist Party of China are actively working to position themselves to benefit from the transition to renewable energy. By channeling fossil fuel wealth into clean tech investments and establishing dominance in rare earth mineral supply chains, authoritarian regimes strive to continue taxing the world as they do today. today with money and investments in manufacturing, oil, etc. National politicians in democratic countries who are not good at human rights and democracy also get a lot of this money from fossil fuels.
If we get renewable energy infrastructure from ethical sources and use that energy to power ethically sourced electric vehicles, we’ll cut off all those scoundrels. Without the money of the world, they will not be able to survive, much less extend their slimy tentacles into the affairs of other countries.
Sorry, tankers. If the Stalinists and Maoists cannot fill the reservoirs, they will have to march. The same goes for people on the far right with similar dreams. Keeping money out of the hands of people who despise human freedom is always the right decision.
The problem of Internet and telecommunications shutdowns
Global communication has changed the western world and continues to do so. The freedom to share information and ideas is the cornerstone of liberalism (as in classical liberalism and the Enlightenment, not the liberal vs. conservative paradigm of today). 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 now seen as rights. For most of human history this was not so, but printing presses, mass literacy, and then telecommunications destroyed the information monopoly on which feudalism and monarchy depended.
In some parts of the world this has not happened, and in others it is actively moving in the opposite direction. In some countries, information is still tightly controlled. Censored and filtered internet connections, banned books, state-run media, astroturf and “disappeared” people saying things a regime doesn’t like are all popular tools in the toolbox authoritarian. Few countries are completely innocent of using these tools of oppression, but free countries no longer do so, or do so much, much 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 is not always enough to sustain the regime. When unrest and conflict get too hot for them, it is common for these regimes to completely disconnect telecommunications. In addition to the crippling resistance movements that rely on the internet and cellular connectivity for communications and keep the foreign press in the dark, many other people who are not fighting the regime are caught in the crossfire. Refugees, healthcare providers, educational institutions and businesses are all impacted by the loss of internet connectivity. Sometimes it costs the lives of innocent civilians.
Even democratic countries struggle with this, but these shutdowns are limited in scope and usually end up triggering federal investigations meant to pressure local governments not to do so. So, no, there’s no room for the “whataboutism” of professional propagandists and 50 Cent army types on this one. This is not something government officials get away with in free countries.
This problem grows and threatens all free countries
It’s tempting to think that such things might not be our problem. If you live in a country where relative freedom is high, you might think it’s easier to ignore the bad things happening in the world because they’re depressing and there’s nothing you can do about it. Perhaps more importantly, people living in a relatively safe democratic country with strong human rights protections may feel safe from such things, so it doesn’t affect them personally.
Unfortunately, that is simply not true.
Authoritarianism is on the rise around the world. The Global War on Terror, like any other governmental “war” with a vaguely defined enemy and goal (the War on Drugs is another prime example), has eroded freedom and made enemies. Financial downturns have left many people financially unstable or downright impoverished. Nationalism rose almost everywhere and people were crying out for strong men like Donald Trump, Xi Jinping and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to help them fix everything. The erosion of democracy and human rights is something that not only has happened, but continues to happen globally.
Even countries that were already considered authoritarian have managed to become more authoritarian and impose more and more on their citizens. Here’s a great example of how it happened in China, of a man who really loved it and made great positive content out of it, but lost almost everything to authoritarian repression.
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 child out before they were banned from leaving.
While I personally don’t think the Capitol Riot of January 6, 2021 was on the level of Pearl Harbor or the September 11 attacks, they show us that there is 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 simply couldn’t get away with it. The real issue we face is not what happened that day, but what might happen next time when they are better organized and better prepared to get the strongman they want.
Even in places where internal conflict does not threaten to lead to totalitarianism, the threat of military action that degrades or ends freedom persists. Russia is massing troops on the border with Ukraine and has troops in Kazakhstan. The Chinese government is constantly threatening and harassing Taiwan with military aircraft and other “grey area” actions. Myanmar’s army has taken over the country and is fighting the 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 technologies are at risk. If someone like Donald Trump put himself above the rule of law in the United States, we already know he would easily use telecom blackouts to gain the upper hand. It is common for an invading military force to shut down the internet, as happened recently in Kazakhstan, and it would most likely happen in Ukraine or Taiwan if faced with a successful invasion.
Fortunately, clean technologies can help prepare us for authoritarian regimes should they invade or take over their own country. A mix of old radio technology, newer computer technology, and renewable energy could remove this tool from the tyrant’s toolbox forever. Proceed to Part 3 to learn more.
Featured Image: A screenshot from GasBuddy.com showing gas prices in Los Angeles, California. Clean technologies can help defend democracy and human rights by defunding authoritarian regimes.
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