News & Politics

John Kerry May as Well Have Told Laid-Off Keystone XL Pipeline Workers to Learn Chinese

AP Feed

The United States invented solar panel technology and dominated manufacturing for decades. But we don’t anymore. China surpassed the United States several years ago and now manufactures somewhere between 50-73% of all the world’s solar panels. The actual percentage fluctuates and can be difficult to pin down. For the sake of argument, let’s go with the 60% cited by this Al Jazeera piece.

Yet seven of the world’s top 11 solar panel manufacturers are now in mainland China. Canadian Solar, one of the remaining four, is named for where it’s headquartered but does most of its manufacturing in China. Chinese companies account for around 60 percent of total annual solar cell manufacturing capacity globally.

There’s also the energy consumed manufacturing solar panels, and the petroleum-based products that must exist — plastics for multiple uses — for solar panels to be able to be made. And the energy used to mine the minerals and move the parts and assembled panels from manufacturer to market.

Then there’s this.

[S]ince 2008, photovoltaics manufacturing has moved from Europe, Japan, and the United States to China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Taiwan; today nearly half the world’s photovoltaics are manufactured in China. As a result, although the overall track record for the industry is good, the countries that produce the most photovoltaics today typically do the worst job of protecting the environment and their workers.

Calling solar power “green” doesn’t necessarily make it so.

The United States does have a lot of oil and we do have proven methods for extracting it and refining it cheaply, reliably, and more cleanly than anyone else on the planet. Fossil fuels provide good jobs and fund education and other government priorities in many states. But in the name of so-called “green energy,” green czar John Kerry pretty much told displaced U.S. oil pipeline workers last week to pound sand (as long as there’s no oil in it), get retrained, or learn to speak Chinese.

“Make better choices,” he said dismissively of people who have spent years if not decades in one skill, only to be told that the stroke of a pen by a man who has never held a real job has put them out of work.

“[T]hey can be the people to go to work to make the solar panels,” he said, without the first clue regarding the fact that the skills necessary to build pipelines are not analogous to the skills necessary to build solar panels. They’re entirely different trades. They require different training and certifications.

They also don’t pay the same amount at this point. Solar panel assembly and installation pays less on average than pipeline construction. Those pipeline workers will be starting over from zero, too, losing all the seniority they’ve built up.

So, sure, go make solar panels, plebes, and you’ll earn less and get to toss out your career success and start from scratch.

And most of the jobs in your new field are actually in China, because that’s where most of the world’s solar panels are made.

Brush up on your Mandarin, folks.

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