In a commentary by Irwin M. Stelzer (published December 20, 2010 by the Weekly Standard, and republished by CBS News on its website), China is portrayed as a clever global chess player, bent on economic and military domination. From cornering supplies of vital rare earth minerals, to buying 800-pound-gorilla levels of US Government debt, China appears to be on the verge of succeeding in its ambitions.
Mr. Stelzer's comments seemed particularly poignant as I stood knee-deep in several dozen monuments to Chinese economic superiority in my garage. I mean, of course, the dozens of broken, plastic “Hecho in China” things I bought at Wal-Mart. It made me wonder, to what end this supposed dominion over the rest of the world? What can we expect to result from the onslaught of the economic giant that brought us lead paint in toys and melamine in dog food?
Maybe something unexpected.
What if China's preoccupation to compete with the rest of the world created a product so useful and inexpensive that it benefited the world enormously? Then it wouldn't matter so much who manufactured the product. Just the product's availability alone would be an economic blessing.
I'm talking about solar panels. China is on the path to become the world's low-cost producer of them, to the point where the panels will start to compete with fossil fuels in terms of economy.
Now here is a competition that, if successful, will result in a specialization for China that will transform into a cooperation with the rest of the world to replace fossil fuels and their accompanying problems.
That effort on China's part to do well for itself, by being the number one manufacturer of solar panels, and making them affordable, will result in China's creating an enormous good for the rest of us. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that cheap solar panels do much more than a Kyoto conference to stabilize environmental problems that may result from petroleum consumption. The good done will be, by any definition, and for whatever reason, Noble.
Though there is criticism of China for its methods of achieving manufacturing (and therefore economic) prominence, the fact is, if someone creates a life-saving solution, it doesn't matter who produces it. It just matters that the solution is available and affordable.
The marvelous thing is that, hidden in this ostensibly selfish plan is the paradox of a Noble cooperation resulting from the plan.
It would be a great gift. Here it is, a product of our profession-- the solar panel--which could change whole economies as China drives the price down further and further. And rather than create dependence, it could create independence. It would be a surprise present to everyone. It may even surprise China. And if the intent may not have been Noble, then at least the outcome will be. But what is no surprise is that it will all be enabled by the work of the Noble Profession.
Rich Krajewski is an electronics engineer, editor, and amateur-radio