Human rights can’t be a sacrificial lamb for climate action

In a recent tweet, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asserted that the United States cannot rely on China and clean energy technology built by slave labor commissioned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). While Cruz and I may not see eye-to-eye on a climate agenda, we do agree that we cannot sacrifice human rights for climate change.

Leading progressives have decried the confrontational approach President Biden’s administration has taken to relations with China, while many on the other side of the aisle believe he has not gone far enough. Regardless of where one may fall on the political spectrum, there is one thing we should be able to agree on: the Biden administration must continue to hold the CCP responsible for both their environmental recklessness and human rights violations. The demands of progressive organizations seem to position these considerations against one another but promoting climate action and human prosperity must go hand-in-hand. 

It should not be considered unreasonable to expect an uncompromising approach to an oppressive regime that holds its own citizens in concentration camps and publicly champions clean energy while financing coal plants around the world. While President Xi Jinping declared that China will achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, his government is currently on a coal binge, further exhibiting the CCP’s insincerity on environmental matters. This rhetorical push shows little regard for actual action and is driven by the CCP’s economic agenda, not by a concern for the environment and the long-term implications of rising emissions.

A country that cannot or is unwilling to balance its economic priorities with the health of our environment is not one that progressives — or anyone — should be so eager to appease. The CCP continues to promise to meet climate goals, and as a result of our good-faith or willful ignorance, the Chinese government has paid no price for failing to meet those goals. It is time to put our foot down and lead the way on climate action, not make weak compromises. Rather than kowtowing to the manipulative Chinese government, we must focus our efforts at home while continuing to apply pressure through competition. 

It is curious that progressive organizations call for cooperation over competition abroad, yet reject collaboration on bipartisan solutions here at home. The recent dismissal of the Growing Climate Solutions Act by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), some of the Senate’s most progressive members, is a telling example of this hypocrisy. Other clean energy solutions such as small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) or carbon capture technology are equally shunned by progressives who demand an economic transformation or nothing.

Even as infrastructure talks continue, Democrats and progressives are insistent that climate must be a key consideration in the legislation that ultimately lands on the president’s desk. Progressive groups have purported the falsehood that the current bipartisan plan includes zero climate provisions when in fact there is significant funding for climate resiliency, electric vehicles and capping abandoned mines. Unwavering and uncompromising with their countrymen, the same cohort is willing to join forces with one of the world’s most malevolent actors on an issue as important as climate change.

While progressives continue to dig in their heels regarding domestic policy compromises, they are all too eager to trade human rights for the empty promises of emissions reductions from the CCP. This from the ideology said to champion the interests of the people, to strive for security, and, importantly, to fight for justice. The notion that we can fight climate change by turning a blind eye to the abuses of the CCP is not only a betrayal of these progressive values but also diametrically opposed.

Even if the CCP were to sincerely make an effort to reduce emissions and conserve our natural environment, the lives of Uyghurs in concentration camps cannot be the price we are willing to pay for clean energy technology and global climate mitigation strategy. The climate and environmental justice that progressives seek municipally won’t come from violating those principles abroad. Put simply, we must be unwilling to make human rights the sacrificial lamb for climate action.

If the United States stands for both human rights and climate action as we have portrayed ourselves to, the CCP is one of the last governments we should endeavor to please on either issue. A country that has repeatedly proven they have nothing at stake aside from financial interests is not one that should be trusted with negotiations. As the adage goes, when someone shows you who they are, believe them. 

Danielle Butcher is the executive vice president at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).

Tags Bernie Sanders China human rights violations climate action Climate change climate mitigation Coal Cory Booker Ed Markey Elizabeth Warren Growing Climate Solutions Act Jeff Merkley Joe Biden Ted Cruz US-China relations Uyghur

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