Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Great Light Bulb Prohibition

There is an excellent commentary at on political efforts underway to force the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL).
So the environmentalists have decided that light bulbs are the latest indicator of civilizational decline. Compared to "sustainable" sources, conventional incandescent lighting uses too much electricity, and hence is responsible for emitting greenhouse gases and global warming. The only solution is for government to ban incorrect bulbs. The greens may believe themselves more enlightened than the rest of us, but honestly.

The great light bulb prohibition movement is achieving traction world-wide. In February, Australia enacted an outright ban on incandescents, to take effect in 2010. In March, the European Union handed down a directive on "eco-design for energy using products" whose regulations phase out incandescents within three years. This expansion of the Eurocracy will affect 490 million people and all homes, offices and even streetlamps.

In the U.S., Al Gore and other global warmists demand federal prohibition. Democrat Jane Harman has introduced a bill in the House that would outlaw "non-conforming" bulbs; legislatures in California, Connecticut and New Jersey are considering similar measures.
What are the benefits of CFLs? They are estimated to use about 1/3 of the energy of conventional light bulbs, and it is also said that if every home in the United States installed just 1 CFL there would be an annual "savings" of some 15 million tons of coal annually. I guess that sounds good.

On the other hand, why should government force the use of this new technology?

According to the DOE, compact fluorescents constituted 0.4% of the U.S. residential lighting market in 2000. By 2006, out of the approximate two billion bulbs sold, CFL share jumped to about 5%. This is a larger displacement than it sounds, because CFLs last roughly eight times longer than normal bulbs, or seven years.

General Electric, which controls some 60% of the U.S. residential lighting market, has been aggressively selling CFLs. In 2005, GE tripled its manufacturing capacity, and tripled it again in 2006. Wal-Mart recently launched a major campaign to sell 100 million CFLs by 2008, which would double the CFL market share by itself.

Hmmm. Sounds to me like the new CFL light bulb has been doing rather well with consumers, even without government efforts to force the use of this new technology by prohibiting the continued choice of the old lighting technology.

CFLs are only now experiencing growth because of technological advances. In the 1990s, when they were introduced, they cost $15 to $20 each. They also tended to flicker and give off a harsh light. Now the per-bulb price is down to between $1.50 and $3, and improved "soft white" CFLs can mimic incandescent illumination.

Other drawbacks remain, though consumers are surely capable of evaluating for themselves the tradeoffs between energy savings and price, as well as other considerations. From the looks of it, they are gradually transforming a market that has been more or less static since the 1880s, when Thomas Edison invented the filament bulb.

The commentary ends with:
What's equally illuminating is that the environmentalists can't make their case through argument and persuasion. Instead, they immediately resort to state coercion--even when it is, as here, superfluous.
I think this is an interesting observation. The new technology is competing with the old technology for the choices of consumers, and with the recent advances and lower prices CFLs are gaining with consumers. I've replaced many of the old technology bulbs with the new technology myself.

For liberty and for efficiency, government should use force in other ways than prohibiting the continued choice of an old and familiar technology. The days of the old technology already seem numbered because of voluntary consumer and producer choices.

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