Policies Meant To Address Climate Change Can Worsen Human Suffering

Which would you prefer provide electricity to your home? A polluting coal plant or solar panels made with slave labor?

Authored by Philip Rosetti and Robert G. Eccles through RealClear Wire


Most people would agree that climate change and pollution can negatively impact human health.

It is difficult to tackle this issue, as there are always tradeoffs. However, people tend to ignore them when they focus solely on a specific outcome that benefits a certain industry.

Take this hypothetical example as an example.

Which one would you choose to provide electricity for your home? Which would you prefer: a coal-fired power plant polluting the environment or solar panels manufactured by slave labor?

What if you were forced to make a choice? How can one compare the suffering of people caused by coal plants and the violations of human rights in the production solar panels?

It's time we move past'save planet at any cost' and say'saving planet means protecting people in the long-term'. We must accept that policies designed to address climate change and reduce human suffering can make it worse if we do not. This issue is ultimately owned by the voters. We can't support politicians on the basis of slogans. We must hold politicians accountable for their policies and take into consideration all factors.

Tradeoffs Are Inevitable

All consumption involves some sort of compromise. Even eating requires land to be cleared, and the habitat turned into a farm. The more aware we are of the possible harm caused by our consumption, we will naturally prefer sustainable alternatives. Regenerative agriculture and renewable energy, electric cars (EVs), reusable bags, and many other things appeal to our sense of concern. What happens when there are unintended consequences from our efforts to live a sustainable life?

Consider the case of EVs that almost always need cobalt

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the largest producer of cobalt in the world.

Child labor

What about solar panels? China is the world's largest supplier. The majority of polysilicon used in solar panels is produced by the Xinjiang Province, home to the Uyghur minority.

Slavery is a form of slavery

There are

Wind turbines require neodymium. The majority of it comes from China where rare earth mining created a toxic retention pond.

Three times as large as Manhattan's Central Park

Even attempts to replace the plastic have failed.

Exposing people to more toxic chemicals

Sustainable agriculture is not just a good idea.

Incentivize the adoption of unsustainable agricultural practices elsewhere


In recent years, as society moved toward a greener energy transition, we learned that the social aspect of things is not as green as they appear. It is a problem that policymakers are reluctant to confront the reality of what this might look like, or to acknowledge that their policies have sometimes been wrong and worsened problems.

Solar panels are a hugely popular product, and even those produced by slave labor can be a part of the demand.

Subsidies worth billions of dollars

Payed by wealthy countries

When it was discovered that some of these solar panels are made using slave labor, and should not be imported, officials have taken action.

Slow-walking or skirting such

It would be more difficult to achieve their "clean energy objectives." This sentiment is wrong: ending slavery is a greater priority than meeting the renewable portfolio standard deadline.

EVs have been in the news since '

blood batteries

The push to have them is still on.

Recently, Europe adopted zero-emission vehicles mandates

The U.S.

Following one's own

The Inflation Reduction Act set limits on eligibility for subsidies for EVs manufactured with child labor. However, this is of little impact since the Administration still proposes a mandate.


Three-quarters of vehicles sold by 2032 will be electric

EV batteries are increasing in demand globally.

Technological Tribalism

It is a problem that the clean energy paradigms are so dominated by a technological tribalism. This prevents politicians from recognizing that their preferred energy sources and modes of transportation are not always appropriate. Biden's administration has been so focused on opposing all fossil fuels that it has adopted a policy with regard to offshore energy leasing that the Obama Administration had embraced.


Increase your chances of success by contacting us today.

Global GHG Emissions

The Trump administration, on the other hand, was so devoted to coal that at one time it considered using the powers of the big government to stop the burning.

Force Americans to Buy Coal Power

Even when it is being retired due to cheaper natural gas and renewables.

Politicians are always drawing lines in the sand.

On one side are plastics, solar, wind and electric vehicles.

The red-versus-blue environmentalism is a misnomer, because good policies in these areas reduce pollution and reduce human suffering. The appropriate policies are different when we consider the benefits of the policy, rather than the preference of industries.

The best policy for renewable energy and electric vehicles is not to mandate them or give subsidies.

Tax the pollution

Imports made with slave or child labour are prohibited. The best way to reduce the plastic pollution is to instead of banning plastics.

Improve plastic waste management

Particularly overseas. Instead of

Opposing new mining in U.S.

Importing foreign products is not the best approach.

Socially responsible mining

Much of this would be done domestically. Instead of fighting industrial farming, we need to embrace our highly-productive agriculture industry.

Avoid the need to destroy wildlife habitat

Farmland is available abroad.

This list could continue on and on. There are occasions when

pipelines reduce pollution


Exports of fossil fuels reduce emissions

There are benefits to the U.S. being a producer, given its better environmental and labor protections. This is in contrast to ceding production to foreign producers who have no qualms about the pollution they cause or the harm that they do.

It is also important to note that many of the raw materials we use and the finished products that we want to combat climate change are sourced from despotic regimes with little concern for human suffering.

China is also the largest economy in the world.

Leading global supplier of Clean Energy Technologies

, our main geopolitical competitor, is a clear standout. We are not naive, and we do not advocate an end to the trade relations which have brought many benefits to our trading partners (and at times create opportunities for them to temper their trading partners). We must also recognize that we are helping China to gain an advantage in industries such as solar panels, minerals, electrolysers and EVs.

Voters have a responsibility

We end up with new policies when we focus on the outcomes of policy instead of methods. Politicians may find it less appealing to change slogans like 'keep it on the ground' into'sometimes keep in the earth' or to "ban single use plastic" instead of "ban single use plastic".

Except for avoiding food wastage

Politicians are supposed to represent the interests of their constituents and the public, so they should choose what's good for them, not what's popular. Congress and the Administration should focus on policies that reduce harm, rather than favoring producers who are popular with their constituents.

The idea that politicians should be more responsible for their policies is a concept that starts with the voters, since they are ultimately those who hold politicians accountable and reward them when they behave badly. How are you going to ensure that these policies don't worsen child labour? Are we taking into account the global environmental impact of this policy?" These questions are often asked but rarely answered.


In order to achieve a government policy that reduces suffering, politicians must be held accountable for their decisions and not just their choice of industries.

By rewarding politicians who promote industry progress instead of progress for humans, we are only perpetuating the tribalism that is seen in today's politicians. We should expect politicians to focus on tangible improvements in the environment and the human condition under their supervision, rather than just the amount of money spent on one sector over another.

Philip Rosetti, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Energy and Environment at

The R Street Institute


Robert G. Eccles will be at the

Said Business School at the University of Oxford