If you’re not already connected to an electricity grid, renewable energy is a no-brainer, argues Michigan professor of history and “scholar of the Muslim world” Juan Cole. For the one-third of the world’s population that lives on less than a dollar a day, fossil fuels aren’t just environmentally unsustainable — they’re financially unsustainable too.

For example: As cell phones have become ubiquitous throughout Africa and the developing world, the electricity to charge them has not. Currently, villagers have to pay private, for-profit charging stands to top up their cell phones. It makes a lot more sense to get your hands on a solar panel to do it instead.

Because much of the developing world doesn’t contend with the sunk cost of an existing power grid, it’s possible these villagers and city dwellers could leapfrog the developed world by going straight to all-renewable sources of energy.

It is likely that the cost of solar power generation will cross with that of hydrocarbons sometime in the next 5-10 years, even for the advanced countries. Because they don’t have a built-out grid and because even an electric light is expensive for them, the villagers of the global South are pioneers of the new, renewable world.

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