We’re about to lose our light bulbs.

Among the many foolish things the political class in Washington has foisted on an unsuspecting public in recent years was the mandated phase-out of one of the most successful inventions in human history, the incandescent light bulb.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by President Bush, set in motion a scheme to phase out the incandescent light bulb, replacing it with what the public was told were “more efficient” and “climate friendly” alternatives. Those who questioned the wisdom of the move were assured that emerging technologies, specifically the Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL), would more than fill our lighting needs.

It hasn’t worked out that way. CFLs are more expensive than traditional light bulbs, less reliable as an instant and consistent source of light, and they contain potentially dangerous mercury. Dropping an incandescent light bulb on the floor is a matter of sweeping up broken glass. Break a CFL and you risk contaminating your home and clothes with mercury. Furthermore, the Washington Post recently reported that GE is closing its last remaining incandescent light bulb factory, located in Winchester, Virginia. CFLs can be produced cheaper in China than they can in the U.S., and that’s where the new green jobs are expected to go.

Some members of Congress are finally waking up to the folly their colleagues committed three years ago. Representatives Joe Barton (R-Texas), Michael Burgess (R-Texas), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) introduced a bill – the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act (BULB) — in early September that would repeal the section of the 2007 energy bill that mandates the use of more energy-efficient bulbs. “I’m not opposed to the energy saving bulbs at all,” Barton told the Daily Caller (Sept. 17). “But I say let the consumers make the choice, instead of mandating.”

Our misadventure with light bulbs touted to be more energy efficient is another example of what is known as “technology forcing.” Washington mandates the use of a technology under the assumption that when the mandate goes into effect, the technology will be ready. But if the technology isn’t ready for prime time – and CFLs are not – then consumers suffer. The exercise is all the more absurd when the phase out of a proven product by an unproven one is done in the name of fighting global warming, climate change, climate disruption, or whatever label is used to justify government interference in our lives.

Thomas Edison (1847-1931) is popularly credited with “inventing” the incandescent light bulb. Actually, Edison improved on work others had been performing for three-quarters of a century. But his light bulb, with its carbon filament, made the product commercially viable and so transformed people’s lives forever. Out went the gas light or candle of old, and in came the incandescent light bulb, powered by colorless, smokeless, weightless energy. Edison immediately grasped the importance of his innovation. Shortly before he filed for a patent for his incandescent light bulb in 1879, he said: “We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will buy candles.”

Compare this with the words of presidential candidate Barack Obama in January 2008. He told the San Francisco Chronicle in an interview: “Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”

The 19th century inventor wanted to make electricity accessible to ordinary people. The 21st century environmental elitist wants to impede that access.

The difference between the two men is well worth pondering.


Some light bulb FAQs


  • Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

    Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT, where he focuses on natural resources, energy, property rights, and geopolitical developments. Articles by Dr. Cohen have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Investor’s Busines Daily, The New York Post, The Washington Examiner, The Washington Times, The Hill, The Epoch Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Miami Herald, and dozens of other newspapers around the country. He has been interviewed on Fox News, Fox Business Network, CNN, NBC News, NPR, BBC, BBC Worldwide Television, N24 (German-language news network), and scores of radio stations in the U.S. and Canada. He has testified before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, and the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee. Dr. Cohen has addressed conferences in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Bangladesh. He has a B.A. from the University of Georgia and a Ph. D. – summa cum laude – from the University of Munich.