Phasing out the incandescent lightbulb


Hoarders are reportedly stocking up on 100 watt and pearl lightbulbs as the phased EU-ban on their supply comes into force. Like the plastic bag, filament bulbs are an easy target for governments, since we all use them and politicians can be seen to be doing their bit for carbon reduction. But this is gesture politics at its worst. Domestic lighting (for that is all that the legislation covers) does not represent a major component of the UK's carbon dioxide emissions, but it is a soft target.

Many people have criticised the replacement bulbs, the so-called compact fluorescent lamps, despite their lower energy use and longer life. For one thing they will not fit all existing lights, and for another they give a light which is different in quality from the familiar tungsten light. On top of this, they contain mercury, so bringing more of this toxic element into homes just as it has been phased out from thermometers.

But don't take my word for this. Charles Clover, ex-environment editor of the Telegraph now writes a column for the Times. His latest contribution is called Dim thinking behind the new lightbulb laws.

In this, he comments on the reality that many people simply do not like the new bulbs, despite the fact that the head of Osram's consumer products division claims that nobody can tell the difference. Given the lower energy use, it's pretty clear that consumers would be flocking to use the new bulbs if there was no disadvantage. That politicians have to resort to compulsion and manufacturers have to lie to make the change happen speaks volumes. As Charles Clover and others have pointed out, a much more suitable technology is now viable and should soon be available at a more competitive price: the light-emitting diode or LED.

Encouraging the uptake of good new technology is one thing, but forcing people to use a flawed technology which may soon be obsolete does not reflect well on policy makers. But, in the world of environmental politics, few things do.