The Federal Government has adopted standards which will effectively prohibit the sale of incandescent bulbs for most purposes, beginning next year. Virginia Postrel has an excellent piece on the problems with this idea, in which she makes several important points.
I suspect that many if not most people believe that reducing electricity consumption, via more efficient bulbs or otherwise, has something to do with reducing oil consumption—but in reality, as Virginia points out, “electricity comes mostly from coal, natural gas and nuclear plants, all domestic sources.”
Much more important, though, is the bulb ban’s interference with individual choice. Different people value different things, and for some individuals, the quality of light in their houses or apartments is aesthetically important. As Virginia notes:
Maybe I want to burn a lot of incandescent bulbs but dry my clothes outdoors and keep the air conditioner off. Maybe I want to read by warm golden light instead of watching a giant plasma TV.
Indeed, it’s noteworthy that many of the same people whose aesthetic senses are so offended by the existence of a Wal-Mart anywhere within 20 miles of them (and, I suspect, are also aesthetically offended by the typical Wal-Mart shopper) are not willing to respect the aesthetic preferences of their fellow citizens when it comes to lighting.
Be sure to read some of the comments at Virginia’s post. There are evidently a lot of people who believe their concerns about energy and “the environment,” whether founded on actual knowledge or otherwise, give them pretty much an unlimited license to control other Americans.
And where does this stop? Light bulbs are not the only things in a residence that use electricity. How about electric stoves and ovens? The typical oven uses about 2KWH for a one-hour cooking session. That’s equivalent to the electricity usage of four 100-watt light bulbs for 5 hours each. Maybe we should require all cooking to be done in microwave ovens, which are far more energy-efficient. Maybe there could be a special exemption allowing electric oven use for a few days each year, such as Thanksgiving. (And, of course, Congresspeople and other government officials will be allowed to use any appliances they choose, since they are engaged in Public Service.)
And what about books, newspapers, and magazines? The production of paper uses nontrivial amounts of energy; so does the inbound transportation of raw materials or scrap and the outbound transportation of the product–indeed, the transportation aspect of publishing uses OIL, not just electricity. Maybe production of media in non-electronic form should be banned? Yes, some people are happier reading the hard copy. But why should the preferences of book and newspaper lovers have a higher priority than those who prefer “clean, beautiful light (R),” as GE puts it on the packaging for the light bulbs that they have been so complicit in attempting to suppress? We can see here yet another example of how the overreaching regulatory state instigates the war of all against all, on an individual as well as an institutional level.
Speaking of GE, that company recently put up an interesting post featuring some of their advertising campaigns from earlier years. Note the early-20th-century ad for electric street lighting, in which electric light was portrayed as “a floating goddess of prosperity and life.” Good symbolism.
Now, what is the symbolism of the incandescent bulb ban and the suppression of free choice that goes along with it–not to mention the endarkenment campaigns that are periodically instigated by various environmental groups?
(“Clean, beautiful light” is a registered trademark of the General Electric Company, in which I must confess to being a shareholder)