We're all used to hearing bad news about global warming: that man-made climate change is accelerating, that the Arctic sea ice is shrinking to a record low.
But here's a big ray of hope: clean energy is booming. It now produces nearly 20% of the world's electricity. In the last decade the Chinese government has invested billions in solar, sending panel prices plummeting and making clean green tech almost as cheap as dirty fossil fuels.
Yet now the US and the EU, who give billions in taxpayer subsidies to big oil and coal, are about to drive solar prices back up by imposing tariffs on China. And China, in turn, is threatening to retaliate. This could spark a full-blown trade war that would kill the green energy revolution that the world so desperately needs.
Are you dumping on me?
China's investment in solar energy has seen global prices fall by 80% in the past few years. The implications of this are enormous. By 2017, global solar capacity is projected to exceed 230 gigawatts: roughly the equivalent of 345 average-sized US coal power plants. Only by switching to cleaner forms of energy on this sort of scale can the world hope to mitigate the dangerous effects of climate change.
But that dramatic drop in the cost of solar panels has made some manufacturers in Europe and the US nervous. A number of solar panel makers are losing money, downsizing or even going out of business, and some blame what they say is unfair competition from China. They complain the Chinese government is giving subsidies that allow Chinese solar firms to "dump" their products on western markets at below cost, and that domestic jobs in Europe and America are threatened by these cheap Chinese panels.
But the truth is the opposite. The vast majority of jobs in the solar sector outside of China are in installing and servicing panels, not manufacturing them, so cheaper panels now means more work, and more jobs, in the EU, United States and the rest of the world. And less climate change.
Don't let the sun go down on us
Despite these facts, the US recently imposed a stiff tariff on Chinese solar modules, and now the EU is investigating whether China's solar companies are benefitting from illegal subsidies. Both the US International Trade Commission and EU Trade Commissioner are holding hearings and deciding whether to implement tariffs in the next few weeks.
The whole world will suffer if prices jump back up. This is no time to stall the momentum toward the clean energy future our planet urgently needs.
Sources: Avaaz, PV magazine, EnergyJustice.net, New York Times, Financial Times