One of the great questions concerning the migration to renewable energy is as follows: Will it come from policy, i.e., government’s creating a level playing field, perhaps with a carbon tax—or will it come from technology, i.e., waiting for the cost of energy from clean sources to come down to that of fossil fuels?
First, we should point out that this is a meaningless question in the developing world, by which we mean countries that do not have the economic resources to choose a more expensive form of energy over another simply because the former is better for human health and the environment. While we can hope that China will continue to invest in renewables, expecting them to knock off their construction of new coal-fired power plants when coal is the least expensive form of energy is like expecting water to start to flow uphill.
And, since the urbanization of huge populations in China and other Asian nations is the real driver of energy consumption now and for at least the next 30 years, this is the problem that humankind needs to solve if it is to somehow avert large-scale catastrophe, in terms of climate change, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity, lung disease, etc.
Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us everywhere to pour resources into the development of clean energy technology, and bring down the costs at the most rapid rate possible. Countries like the U.S., Brazil, the economically health parts of Europe, etc.,–as well as China and the others who can make a real difference, should be investing heavily in public-private partnerships to bring about a low-carbon future. Exploiting fossil resources, simply because they’re cheap (if you ignore the consequences) is morally wrong.