Energy Secretary Rick Perry suggested on Thursday that increasing fossil fuel use to spread electricity across Africa would help prevent sexual assaults there.
Perry, who traveled to South Africa last week to tout the Energy Department’s partnerships there, said he spoke with a young girl who wanted electricity so she could read without relying on the light of a fire “and have those fumes literally killing people. But 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,” he told an Axios event.
Perry was implicitly responding to a protester who yelled that fossil fuels were causing climate change and killing people in poor countries.
“Let me tell you, where people are dying in Africa is 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.”
Since taking the helm at the Energy Department, Perry has said he doubted the scientific consensus that carbon dioxide was causing climate change, and he has sought to promote the use of fossil fuels, including pushing a plan to financially support coal-fired power plants in the U.S.
That access to fossil fuels that the U.S. has would also benefit Africa, he said.
“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, and I wish we could understand it’s not just about us living here in the comfort and confines that we’re in.”
The World Bank’s Michael Toman and Jörg Peters observed in a recent blog post that while there is widespread interest in extending the electric grid to serve the 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa without access to power, fossil fuel infrastructure is not always necessary to meet their near-term needs. In many countries, electricity usage remains low even after people have access to the grid, they wrote in a July blog post, citing one study from Tanzania that found it cost as much as $6,600 per household in public subsidies to expand the electric grid if usage remained low.
“Hence, if subsidies are required either way, off-grid solar implies a much lower cost burden for governments aspiring to expand basic service to households in the nearer term, compared to extension of the grid,” Toman and Peters wrote.
This article first appeared on Politico