The Department of Energy’s bumbling head, Rick Perry, has done it again, this time at CERAWeek, an annual energy conference. As reported by the Houston Chronicle, he declared the world’s shift away from fossil fuels as “immoral” as it threatened the economic developments of low-income nations.
“Look those people in the eyes that are starving and tell them you can't have electricity,” he blustered. “Because as a society we decided fossil fuels were bad. I think that is immoral.”
Funnily enough, it is true that fossil fuels are generally regarded as “bad” because they’re the key driving force behind anthropogenic climate change and a decent chunk of deadly pollution.
Climate change affects everyone, but it happens to affect the poor the most, whether they reside in already wealthy nations or in the planet’s poorest. Immorality, then, could very well be defined by an American federal government’s push to support fossil fuels knowing full well that low-income nations will suffer the most if it were to succeed.
As for developing and low-income nations, no-one is telling them or preventing them from accessing fossil fuels or generating electricity. All commitments to the Paris agreement are voluntary for one thing, and coal use will rise in plenty of developing nations in line with improving economies.
However, although it’s too early to sound the death knell for still-cheap coal, it’s clear that it’s becoming increasingly economically unfeasible too, with clean energy getting less pricey and more accessible by the day. In fact, plenty of poorer countries are set to avoid coal and go straight for solar, as well as geothermal, hydrothermal, and natural gas if they have the resources for it.
This is for three very simple reasons. Firstly; their electrical infrastructure is often in a dire state, so it makes more sense using power sources that can be sourced and used very locally – i.e. solar power much of the time. Secondly, coal is dirty, and its negative effects on human health and the environment just aren’t worth investing in. Thirdly, solar power is increasingly cheap, portable and has better storage capacity year-on-year.
No matter what angle you take, Perry’s argument doesn’t hold any water whatsoever – so why is he using it?
At the same speech, Perry also spoke of the Trump administration’s urge to “share America’s energy bounty with the world,” which included “multiple fuels.” Despite touting an “all of the above” energy strategy – a well-worn talking point – it’s clear that the administration is trying to support the coal industry as much as possible, through drastic funding changes, clean energy rollbacks, and its general messaging strategy.
This latest egregious word salad of Perry’s follows a similar theme: He’s once again using the flimsy veil of supporting low-income nations in the development of their electrical infrastructure to awkwardly justify the promotion of coal.
Despite such promotions, it’s unlikely they’ll do much other than stall the inevitable. Forget low-income nations for the moment: the future of the US energy sector, based on current adoption rates and their affordability, is more natural gas and more renewables, not coal – there’s no question about it.
Perry can claim that economic development is hampered by moving away from fossil fuels all he wants, but it doesn’t reflect reality no matter where in the world you are. Clean energy isn’t just "moral" in a mitigating climate change sense, it also gives you trillions in savings and creates more jobs than fossil fuels ever could.