Monday, May 11, 2009

Lighting Authoritarianism Is Hilarious

It appears that the European Union is set to ban certain energy-inefficient light bulbs, "forcing consumers to buy more energy efficient alternatives." First to go will be conventional 100 and 60 watt pearl bulbs and frosted 25 and 40 watt bulbs; the rest of the inefficient bulbs will be "phased out" (i.e., prohibited by force of law) by 2012.

Do I care? No. But I did find one part of the article to be utterly brilliant. According to the owner of the British lighting chain Ryness, "We are seeing people coming in and bulk buying. People like frosted bulbs because they have a softer light." But according to a spokesman for The Lighting Association, a European Trade Association, "Consumers will realize in the end that the alternatives provide substantial savings and have equivalent light quality to incandescents." Sends chills down your spine, doesn't it?

For the uninitiated, the problem with the spokesman's statement is not that "They're regulating light bulbs! Communism is right around the corner!" The problem is that this guy has an opinion about the quality and value of these products that is very clearly not shared by a lot of people. And these people are apparently willing to spend a whole lot of extra money in order to have light bulbs that this guy finds to be equivalent to the cheaper ones. So could it be that the fluorescents have yet to prove their value to some people?

I personally use compact fluorescents in my home. They work just fine, and I'm very happy to save the money, energy, and space it would take to maintain a supply of incadescents that would match the life of the fluorescents. But the light bulbs are very much not the same. Fluorescents take time to heat up, they look funny, and they emit a decidedly different quality of light. Maybe I will "realize" that this wasn't true after I haven't seen an incandescent light bulb for a while, but while I still see the differences every day, it's pretty difficult to come to that "realization." Again, I don't mind the differences, but some people might. And if they're willing to actually pay money in order to not use fluorescents, then why on Earth would I want to forcibly stop them from doing so?

One possible answer might lie in the fact that the European Union is trying to limit CO2 emissions. Using energy inefficiently, then, is not just a waste of money -- it's a contribution to global climate change. I may be reading into this too far, but it seems to me that what's happening here is a proclamation that "The differences between fluorescent and incandescent bulbs are not important enough to justify allocating a portion of our CO2 budget to allowing consumers to use incandescents." But this is exactly the kind of mindset that market-based policies are designed to avoid! The whole point of a market-based policy is that you increase the price of the thing you want to avoid, and people cut back wherever it's the least uncomfortable for them to do so. The policy is specifically designed to make it so regulators don't have to decide where those cuts will take place; that's the problem with centrally coordinated programs!

According to the owner of Ryness, if you watch what people are doing, you will clearly see that switching from incandescent light bulbs to fluorescents is not the least uncomfortable thing to do. The fact that people are motivated to actually go to the store and buy massive quantities of light bulbs suggests that they are quite uncomfortable indeed with this switch, and are willing to significantly go out of their way to avoid it!

And so in conclusion, facepalm.


Michael said...


Shouldn't that be "flowerescent"?

Anyway, funny post.

Danny said...

Haha I'm certainly a friend to environmentalism, so you can extend that flower child moniker to me. I just don't think environmentalism needs to translate into idiocy.

I'm glad you liked the post!

Michael said...

No, no, it's just that "flour" is pronounced like "flower."

The word you're looking for is "fluorescent."

You know, U before O, except after C.

Danny said...


Actually, the unspellings to which you refer never existed.


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