Energy Secretary Rick Perry said on Wednesday that it was “immoral” to help poor nations shift off of fossil fuels.
“Look those people in the eyes that are starving and tell them you can’t have electricity,” said Perry in remarks after his big speech to the oil and gas industry at the annual CERAWeek energy conference in Houston. “Because as a society we decided fossil fuels were bad. I think that is immoral.”
Perry’s logic and morality are both blinkered. First, despite being in charge of a $2 billion clean energy program, Perry seems completely unaware that solar and wind are now cheaper sources of electricity than fossil fuels.
Indeed, solar power keeps crushing its own record for cheapest unsubsidized electricity “ever, anywhere, by any technology.” And in Colorado, building new renewable power plus battery storage is now cheaper than running old coal plants.
Second, what’s immoral is not shifting away from dirty fossil fuels, but blindly sticking with them. A recent study shows that 1.1 million people die prematurely every year in India from air pollution, which primarily comes from burning fossil fuels.
And a 2017 Lancet study concluded that globally, air, water, and soil pollution kill more than 9 million people a year. Air pollution alone accounts for 4.5 million deaths, and those numbers are projected to rise sharply in developing countries in the coming years.
Finally, there’s climate change, a subject Perry conspicuously never mentioned in his big CERAweek speech. But as the Financial Times reported Wednesday, “Fossil fuel companies risk wasting almost $1.6 trillion on oil, gas and coal projects that will become uneconomic” if the world adopts the policies needed to avoid catastrophic global warming.
The world is currently on track to spend $4.8 trillion on fossil fuel production by 2025, finds a new study by Carbon Tracker. But to get on the path needed to preserve a livable climate — keeping total warming below 2°C (3.6°F) as the world unanimously agreed in the 2015 Paris climate accord — we should spend no more than $3.6 trillion on fossil fuels.
The failure to shift rapidly to clean energy will therefore squander trillions of dollars in the coming decades, while killing millions and irreversibly destroying the climate for centuries to come.
Back in 2015, the Pope expounded at great length in his climate encyclical on the immorality of inaction on global warming. So shifting off fossil fuels much faster than we currently are is one of the most moral things the world can do right now.
What’s immoral are the efforts by Rick Perry and his boss President Trump to undermine clean energy, reverse U.S. climate action, and thwart the Paris climate accord.