You’ll recall that our masters over in Brussels decided to ban the incandescent light bulb all in the name of protecting Gaia? You might also recall the occasional mutter from the likes of me that we really don’t want government picking technological winners in quite such a manner? Even if you don’t, here’s an illustration of the point:

Light-emitting wallpaper may begin to replace light bulbs from 2012, according to a government body that supports low-carbon technology.

A chemical coating on the walls will illuminate all parts of the room with an even glow, which mimics sunlight and avoids the shadows and glare of conventional bulbs.

Now as someone who works in the lighting industry* at times I’m a little more suspicious of this new technology than the journalists who have been printing this press release are. However, it does illustrate one problem with this “picking winners” approach. Note please though that I’m not talking about the government funds going into developing this new technology, rather I’m interested in the banning of the old.

Lighting as a whole is going through a technological revolution. It’s quite obvious that at some point in the coming decades light will be provided by some variation of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs, as this is a form of). The incandescent bulb will be gone after having had its century in the Sun. But so also will the mercury vapour bulb, including the compact fluorescent lights which we are now all urged to install and consume.

And the problem with the banning of the incandescent is that we’re currently being forced into investing in the re-equipping of a large percentage of domestic light fixtures because CFLs will not work everywhere that incandescents do: and the LED technologies are just not ready for prime time yet.

That is, because politicians have to do something, anything, right now, are entirely incapable of simply doing nothing and allowing the world to unfold at its own pace, we’ve been forced into the very expensive process of adopting a third light technology. An unnecessary one: if we’d left well alone we would have gone from incandescent to LED without the costs of retro-fitting for CFLs.

That’s why we don’t want politics or politicians deciding which technologies we may use: they always, but always, make the wrong decisions.


* Just to note that my work in the lighting industry makes money out of people using mercury containing bulbs. So I’m delighted personally by this stupidity but I do try not to think that what is good for Tim Worstall is also good for Great Britain.