Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry said on Thursday that the use of fossil fuels to power an electric grid in South Africa could prevent sexual assault there.
Speaking at an Axios-sponsored event Thursday, Perry responded to shouted comments from a protester about fossil fuels causing climate change and killing people in poor countries by explaining a conversation he had with a young woman during his trip to South Africa last week.
He said the woman told him electricity would make it easier for her to read and claimed it would take “fossil fuels to push power out” to African villages, but didn’t explain why renewable energy sources couldn’t be used as well.
“A young girl told me to my face, ‘One of the reasons that electricity is so important to me is not only because I’m not going to have to try to read by the light of a fire and have those fumes literally kill people.’ But also from the standpoint of sexual assault,” he said. “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.”
Better lighting doesn’t necessarily decrease the likelihood of sexual assault, according to a study conducted by University College London.
Perry has been an advocate for coal-powered plants and has repeatedly questioned the science behind the role carbon dioxide plays in climate change since he took over the Department of Energy.