Rick Perry made remarks that are honestly just...astonishingly wrong. Here's the basic premise: Perry explained that “people are dying” in Africa “because of the lack of energy they have there. And it's going to take fossil fuels to push power out into those villages in Africa.”
Then he got to his other point: “Also, from the standpoint of sexual assault, when the lights are on, when you have light that shines, the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts. So from the standpoint of how you really affect people’s lives, fossil fuels is going to play a role in that. I happen to think it’s going to play a positive role.”
Let’s unpack this a bit.
No, Dirty Energy Doesn’t Stop Sexual Assault
Perry’s point: more lights = fewer sexual assaults, and burning fossil fuels = more lights.
It should go without saying, preventing sexual assault is not merely an issue of sufficient lighting. Sexual assault is a pervasive, repugnant and intolerable crime and should not be discussed casually.
In any event, it’s not clear that lighting has any connection to sexual assault. As the website Axios (which was hosting the conference) reported, one study on lights and crime rates found no connection between reduced lighting and sexual assault or other crimes.
We know the dramatically negative consequences of drilling and burning fossil fuels, but to promote their use as a weapon against assault is beyond outrageous. We also know the dramatically negative consequences of sexual assault, including emotional, physical and psychological trauma.
You Don’t Need Fossil Fuels to Generate Power
The other big problem is that Perry is equating electricity with burning fossil fuels. But there are abundant examples of clean energy projects in Africa that are providing electricity without the need for oil and gas infrastructure and the associated pollution and health impacts.
Perry cites an encounter with a young girl who told him that she wants electricity so she can read without relying on fire, and, in Perry’s words, “have those [fire] fumes literally killing people.”
This is maddening. People die from the air pollution from burning fossil fuels. The dramatic impacts of fossil fuel-linked climate change-- from floods to food shortages to the growing refugee crisis--is literally killing people right now.
Burning Fossil Fuels Harms the Very People Perry is Concerned with Protecting
We know that climate change is already having a devastating and direct impact on poor communities of color around the globe. Perry’s advice--to burn more fossil fuels--guarantees to deliver more destruction to these very same vulnerable populations.
Then again, it’s not clear that he necessarily understands this. At the same conference, he remarked that humans "have an impact” on climate change, but that "I still think the science is out" on the extent.
Telling Africans About the Virtues of Fossil Fuels?
There’s something disturbing about Perry delivering this message about Africa.
The history of colonialism, exploitation, and environmental destruction on the continent is closely linked to international corporations extracting fossil fuel resources.
To take just one example: Royal Dutch/Shell was the subject of international boycotts in the 1990s over the Nigerian government’s treatment of anti-Shell activists (several were executed), and the exploitation of the Ogoni people.
The legacy of environmental destruction continues to this day, but so does resistance: This summer, hundreds occupied a Shell plant in Nigeria; the protesters reportedly “wanted an end to the oil pollution that has ruined much of the land.”
Rick Perry Already Thinks Oil and Gas Companies Are Heroes
This wasn’t a slip of the tongue. Just a few weeks ago, Perry told a conference of oil industry executives, “This industry is leading the world in affecting the climate and affecting the climate in a positive way… “I’m proud to be a part of this industry. You want to talk about saving lives that’s what we are doing."
It’s worth recalling that Perry famously accepted the job at the Energy Department before he knew what the agency actually does. But it doesn’t seem to matter. Perry believes he is part of the industry he is supposed to be regulating and thinks these corporations are magic.