While our last dip in the dirty energy-funded climate denial cesspool that is RealClearEnergy surfaced a relatively new denial group, on Wednesday the site published a somewhat new take from a group infamous for once claiming coal ended slavery. And the content here is similarly themed, exploiting Black bodies to sell fossil fuels — this time, poverty.
The “energy poverty” angle of climate disinformation has been a favorite of dirty energy advocates, allowing them to pretend to care about poverty by promoting their product as its cure. But Katie Tahuahua of the (industry-funded) Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Life:Powered project has put a bizarre and even more shameless twist on it in her op-ed attacking Biden’s clean energy agenda.
Tahuahua opens her piece by describing how “Aysha,” a 13-year-old Ethiopian girl, spends every day trekking four hours to get water and then another four to bring it back home to her family. “The water there is dirty and brown and unsanitary,” Tahuahua writes as though she actually travelled there, and isn’t just describing a 2 minute UNICEF video of a day in Aysha’s life, “but it’s water, and her family needs it to survive.”
Playing up the pity factor, Tahuahua notes that “Aysha doesn’t get back home until the sun is already setting. Meanwhile, her brother has gone to school.” Except the video, which very clearly shows the time of day, shows Aysha getting home in the middle of the afternoon, well before sunset. The point here isn't that Aysha's trek isn't grueling and tragic, or that access to clean water isn't a problem. The point is that Katie Tahuahua is not only a shameless exploiter of a child’s tragic situation, she’s also a flat-out liar.
Having preyed on readers’ compassion by deliberately misleading them about a child’s situation that needed no embellishment, and using Aysha as a convenient framing device for her political propaganda about how only fossil fuels can provide electricity to the poor, Tahuaha gets to the point.
President Biden’s climate agenda “will deny Aysha … a self-actualized life of equality and opportunity.” Specifically, his executive order to stop the US from funding dirty energy projects apparently means that Aysha won’t be receiving “funding that could have offered clean running water flowing right into her home.”
But, uh, for starters the UNICEF video of Aysha is from 2017, when Donald Trump was just getting started with a fully fossil-fueled agenda. (We don't know if Trump knows where Ethiopia is, but we're reasonably certain that if he saw Aysha, he'd assume she was from a shithole country.) So how, exactly, did President Biden’s 2021 Executive Order barring dirty energy spending abroad deprive Aysha of clean water in 2017?
Even if Tahuahua weren’t criticizing the president for not time traveling, what’s clean water got to do with dirty fuels? Last we checked, oil, gas, and coal pollute clean water. They certainly don’t provide it! Sure, pumps and filters and such need electricity, and electricity is vital to development and safety, but — in addition to the fact that Ethiopia has huge renewable energy resources — blaming Aysha's lack of access to clean water on efforts to fight climate change is a mind-bogglingly reductionist red herring. (Also, the country needs massive grid and transmission investment to get electricity to rural areas. Did we mention this is complicated?) All this is in addition to the incalculable suffering brought on by repeated drought, so it’s pretty dishonest to suggest that the problem of clean water access in Ethiopia could be solved by just building some power plants burning your fossil fuel of choice.
And of course, she’s wrong to claim that renewables aren’t a viable option for getting places electrified that have been so far overlooked by fossil fuel power plants — in fact, developing countries started installing more renewables than coal back in 2018.
But obviously accuracy isn’t important here. What’s important is that the fossil fuel industry’s spokespeople will eagerly and misleadingly exploit an African child’s 8-hour day collecting water in order to collect their paycheck.