United States Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the clown prince of the Trump cabinet, attracted fresh scorn late last week when he suggested fossil fuels constituted a defence against sexual assault.
“From the standpoint of sexual assault,” Perry said in somewhat stream-of-consciousness remarks, reported by the Washington Post after returning from a trip to South Africa, “when the lights are on, when you have light that shines the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts. [And] “fossil fuels … play a role in that. I happen to think it’s going to play a positive role.”
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The comments were evidently meant to bolster American efforts to export its hydrocarbon surplus to Africa and achieve Donald Trump’s declared goal of global “energy dominance,” the outlet reported. They may have been intended to play sympathetically against the backdrop of social revulsion over sexual assault allegations against well-known figures in entertainment and media.
But while it is true that better lighting in public spaces can help reduce sexual assaults, “to suggest that fossil fuel development will decrease sexual assault is not only blatantly untrue, it is an inexcusable attempt to minimize a serious and pervasive issue,” the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune said in a statement calling for the Energy Secretary’s resignation.
It fell to New York Times columnist Gail Collins to nail the non-sequitur in Perry’s logic and point to the obvious answer to the shortage of public illumination in many communities in developing countries: solar power.
“It’s similar to cell phones,” she quotes Brune as saying. “You don’t have to build a new grid. You can just use solar power plus batteries and bring power to a community—not just much more cheaply, but much more quickly.”
“Fossil fuels have had their reign for 100 years now, and there are still a billion people without electricity,” Kristina Skierka of Power for All, a global campaign for universal energy access, told Collins.
Instead of her country buying American fossil fuels and experiencing their effect in a hostile climate, the Times columnist writes, “the little village girl [in Africa, whose alleged comment sparked Perry’s helpful suggestion] could put a solar cell on the roof and power a battery for her reading light. And no pollution.
“That’s exactly the kind of thinking that drives Perry nuts.”
Perry has previously drawn mockery for failing during a candidates’ debate to remember the names of all three federal departments he wished to abolish (one was the department he now leads), for not knowing that one of his responsibilities as Secretary was managing America’s nuclear arsenal, and for mixing up the basic economic relationship between supply and demand.