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February 21, 2007

If I were Jeremy Leggett

Then I would be applauding this move by the Australians:

Australia, which has yet to sign the Kyoto Protocol, has come up with a bright idea to tackle global warming, announcing yesterday plans to ban traditional lightbulbs.

By phasing out incandescent lightbulbs in favour of more fuel-efficient fluorescent bulbs, the government believes, that within a decade, it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by four million tons a year.

Part of my income comes from supplying a component to a competitor to incandescent light bulbs. This should thus (in a small manner) increase my income. To be truly like Jeremy Leggett of course I should be such a businessman who uses my public pulpit (however small it is) to call for the public subsidy of my products.

However, as I'm not like him, I'm able to say that I think this is an entirely silly idea. If such flourescent bulbs do indeed pay for themselves in a year then people will already be buying them, won't they? That the alternative needs to be banned shows that they are not quite as wonderful as claimed.

February 21, 2007 in Climate Change | Permalink


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"If such flourescent bulbs do indeed pay for themselves in a year then people will already be buying them, won't they? " - the trouble with such bulbs is that they cost a great deal more up front, more than some people can afford in one go. It's the basic cheap boots vs expensive boots problem - cheap boots won't last as long and will eventually cost you more, but on an ongoing cashflow basis, they are the only ones you can afford.

Posted by: Katherine | Feb 21, 2007 10:39:11 AM

Whether they are as wonderful as claimed, they are still better for the environment, surely? And in that case, we should be trying to get people to use them. I suspect that most people don't think, and just pick up the cheap light bulbs, whether it costs them more in the long run or not. People are like that.

Posted by: sanbikinoriaon | Feb 21, 2007 10:40:43 AM

Tim might argue that low-energy bulbs can't be better for the environment, because if they were then they would cost less over a lifetime's ownership, and therefore everyone would already buy them.

However, I suspect that a combination of Katherine and SB's analysis is right: a very few people don't buy them because they can't afford the upfront cash; most people don't buy them because they're in the habit of buying incandescent bulbs, and it's such a low-ticket transaction that they don't give the alternatives any thought.

In general, assumptions of economic rationality fall down most totally for low-ticket transactions - when such transactions add up to a substantial societal and environmental disbenefit, there seems to be a reasonable case for government intervention.

I'm mostly surprised because this is Oz: I thought Howard had nailed his anti-Kyoto, there-is-no-global-warming colours firmly to the mast...?

Posted by: john b | Feb 21, 2007 11:23:36 AM

Well, I'll be buying up plenty of stock of the incandescents so I can make do.

My understanding is that fluorescent bulbs experience seriously diminished life-spans if constantly turned on and off. Many rooms in the house only require the light on for maybe 15 minutes of the whole day/night, and not all in one go. What about the toilets; you might only need the light on for a minute or two. Having an expensive bulb in there that does not provide the advertised life-span will be costly.

But what I object to most is the utter pointlessness and pettiness of it. Will they even go so far as to employ "lighting police" to make sure nobody is selling black market light bulbs?(!) Will you need a certificate to verify that your incandescent is an old one you bought before the ban?

If they're serious why don't they ban me from owning a V8. A trip "to the seaside" in the family car will eliminate all of the benefit of having some more energy efficient light bulbs.

Posted by: Pete D. | Feb 21, 2007 11:25:38 AM

Another factor possibly over looked is that energy saving lightbulbs provide a less 'satisfying' light than normal lightbulbs. I understand LED is the direction to go in, if you want full spectrum light from a non standard lightbulb.

Tim adds: Yes, YES! They use even more scandium!

Posted by: Andrew Paterson | Feb 21, 2007 12:04:53 PM

Another factor possibly over looked is that energy saving lightbulbs provide a less 'satisfying' light than normal lightbulbs. I understand LED is the direction to go in, if you want full spectrum light from a non standard lightbulb.

Posted by: Andrew Paterson | Feb 21, 2007 12:05:21 PM

well, I'm Australian, and I regard this as one of the more fatuous ideas I've heard in a long time.

Incandescent bulbs are FAR more energy efficient than fluorescent bulbs in most household conditions. The reason is that they have near-zero initialisation cost -- switch them on and their cost-per-minute essentially starts at and stays at their nominal wattage. Fluorescent lights, on the other hand, have a tremendous switch-on cost, which typically takes a couple of hours or more of continual running to average out to a near-equivalent of an incandescent bulb.
Nearly all household lights, particularly in Australia which does not have 5pm sunsets even in Tasmania, spend less than an hour at a time switched on. Bathrooms and bedrooms in particular.

Removing incandescent bulbs will INcrease the energy footprint of the average Australian household.

Posted by: Saltation | Feb 21, 2007 12:10:45 PM

I don't believe that that is the case for small domestic bulbs, Saltation, only for the large, long ones you more often see in offices. I must admit though that I can't find a reference for that assertion at the moment.

Posted by: Katherine | Feb 21, 2007 12:28:09 PM

Okay, well, here's a start. Not a very good one, but now I've asked myself the question I want to find out now:


Posted by: Katherine | Feb 21, 2007 12:33:25 PM

They don't last a year and even the ones which claim they are the equivalent to 100watts don't give out enough light. It's fine if you don't mind that dirgy dim light in a room - and I have them throughout my entire flat but they aren't bright enough for close-up work. They are also too long for most lamps - so you can't use them with tablelamps. My hallway light socket is right above where the bathroom door opens and it hits the light every time you open or shut the door with a long-life bulb. They need to make special ones that are more compact for the table lamps and similar hallway instances. I have a 100watt normal bulbs for my sidelamps and kitchen light though because the long life ones are too dull for the work I do.

Posted by: Creepy Lesbo | Feb 21, 2007 2:10:13 PM

Creepy Lesbo - at the risk of using anecdote as evidence, all the energy saving bulbs that I have used are still going strong well after a year of use and I've personally found no issue with the level of light after you give them a chance to warm up. But hey, perception is subjective.

As to size of bulbs, there are many different varities now out in the market, including round ones, short ones etc...

Posted by: Katherine | Feb 21, 2007 5:34:04 PM

john b.:

Economic rationality is always at work and is always understandable if one simply appreciates that peoples opinions and values differ.

Those who'd forego the better bulb because there's a cheaper alternative (though the better might actually end up saving them money) exhibit what is sometimes referred to as "time preference," which is, more or less, one's "psychic interest rate." Those with high time preference are intent on present consumption as vastly more important than provision for the future. It is a characteristic that varies between people and even in the same person at different times.

If you needed a loan, you'd stand a better chance of getting it from a rich man than a poor one. In the first place, the poor one may not even have the amount you need. But, primarily, his idea of an interest rate that would persuade him to wait until some time in the future would be higher than that of the wealthier one (particularly one in that business)--he'd want too much. And, in part, that helps account, to a degree, for their respective positions. The more you discount the value of something in the future that you could have now, the greater the likelihood that you'll have consumed much or all of what you might have accumulated. Some food for thought might be which temperament shows greater optimism?

It is common for people to misperceive the nature of these relationships and to confuse cause with effect in the logical chain. But that's another story.

Posted by: gene berman | Feb 21, 2007 10:55:08 PM

I sometimes can't afford the ordinary ones I am thinking candles....and then thinking more fires would happen If they revamp the fluoros to make them full spectrum it would be nice Like they have in the States I was under the impression that fluoros were bad for epileptics and migraine people so avoid them but recently someone told me they have been improved and do not go on and off so slowly so it is okay for such people Still do not like them tho

Posted by: greenwithenvy | Mar 2, 2007 12:46:43 AM

"Whether they are as wonderful as claimed, they are still better for the environment, surely? And in that case, we should be trying to get people to use them."

Sorry, no. Some of us don't have the environment at the top of things that make us happy. There is no reason - none - for why your values should trump mine, with the proviso that the cost of the bulbs internalise any externalities.

Posted by: ben | Mar 2, 2007 6:35:30 AM