Change the lightbulb, save the planet

Fluorescent and incandescent light bulbs.

KAI RYSSDAL: Change the light bulb, save the planet. That's the message from the Australian government. Australia's going to become the first country to completely phase out the incandescent light bulb.

The government says by replacing the common bulb with energy efficient compact fluorescents, Australians will cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 4 million tons a year. That's the equivalent of taking more than a million cars off the roads down under.

But Sam Eaton reports now from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk there'll still be plenty of demand for Thomas Edison's 125-year-old incandescent.


SAM EATON: Australia's news is a surprise.

The country's conservative Prime Minister John Howard calls himself a "climate change realist." But with an election looming and polls lagging, Howard has changed his tune. He says Australia will eliminate the common bulb by 2010 in favor of those funny looking compact fluorescents, which use less than a quarter of the energy.

Daniel Kammen

with UC Berkeley's Energy and Resources group says the plan makes sense.

DANIEL KAMMEN: It's the lowest-hanging fruit. Compact fluorescent light bulbs save a great deal of energy and money. Their payback times can be now very quick. And it opens up a door to do other things.

Like new technologies. John Davenport

is CEO of Fiberstars

, a U.S. company that sells fiber-optic LED lighting. It consumes even less energy than compact fluorescents. But he says without a ban on old-fashioned light bulbs, the new technologies will be slow to catch on.

JOHN DAVENPORT: Most everyone, if the light bulbs work, they'd rather just leave them alone. What this does is force you to rethink the problem.

He says if Australia's phase-out of traditional bulbs goes global, innovation in lighting technology would explode.

California is already considering a ban of its own. But David Victor with Stanford's Center for Environmental Science and Policy says a rapid transition could backfire.

DAVID VICTOR: If supplies run short, then prices are going to shoot up. And a lot of money will go into the hands of the manufacturers of these alternative light bulbs.

And that means less savings for the consumer.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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