U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry provoked outrage on Thursday with his "absurd" suggestion that fossil fuel expansion could play a role in preventing sexual assault. The backlash was swift and damning, with the Sierra Club and others calling for Perry's immediate resignation.
"It was already clear that Rick Perry is unfit to lead the Department of Energy, but 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," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune.
"Women, and particularly women of color, are among some of the most severely impacted by the climate crisis, and it is these same communities that are most at risk of sexual assault," Brune added. "Rick Perry's attempt to exploit this struggle to justify further dangerous fossil fuel development is unacceptable. He does not deserve to hold office another day with these twisted ideas, and he should resign from his position immediately before he causes any more damage."
The environmental advocacy group NextGen America, also urged him to resign, tweeting: hey rick, quit.
Perry was attending an energy policy event hosted by Axios and NBC News, where he discussed a recent trip to Africa, and the importance of bringing electricity to the villages he visited. Timothy Cama, a reporter for The Hill, tweeted a partial transcript that highlights the controversial comment about sexual assault.
Jezebel's Joanna Rothkopf pointed out that Perry's comment could be "a play on Proverbs 13:9: 'The light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp of the wicked goes out,'" and noted that "the connection between Christianity and climate change denial is one the anti-science right has been pushing for some time, a connection that Perry seems to be actively embracing."
An Energy Department spokesperson attempted to walk back the remark, claiming that Perry "was making the important point that while many Americans take electricity for granted there are people in other countries who are impacted by their lack of electricity," and that during his trip, "one person told him about how light can be a deterrent to sexual assault and security in remote areas."
Emily Atkin, an environment reporter for the New Republic, outlined in a series of tweets that "Perry's use of sexual assault victims to promote Trump's fossil fuel agenda is offensive," as well as ill-informed.
"Perry's comments also willfully ignore the renewable energy boom and increasing potential in the developing countries he claims he wants to help," Atkin wrote. "Developing countries know renewable energy is a better option. In fact, developing countries invest more in renewables than rich countries do.
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, called Perry's comments "absurd" while also noting the consequences of using fossil fuels, and presenting renewable power as "the better path forward."
"We all need light in the dark," Hauter said, "but what we don't need are the host of calamitous impacts of dirty fossil fuels on society: air and water pollution, destruction of natural landscapes, deadly human health effects and global climate chaos. There are better ways to keep the lights on, Mr. Perry."
Rick Perry's name was trending on Twitter Thursday afternoon as others weighed in:
Energy Sec Rick Perry told people fossil fuels can help prevent sexual assault on women by creating light that "shines the righteousness." pic.twitter.com/FedhGsCFer— AJ+ (@ajplus) November 2, 2017
When you see Rick Perry trending, and you think "What stupid thing did he do now" and you're still not anywhere near prepared for it. https://t.co/WPEA5y5MgO— Daniel Kibblesmith (@kibblesmith) November 2, 2017
Dear Rick Perry,— Amy Siskind (@Amy_Siskind) November 2, 2017
Please go back to what you’re qualified to do. pic.twitter.com/phPQ7U5lHt