🎁 'Tis the season to support public service journalism Donate Now

Change the lightbulb, save the planet

Sam Eaton Feb 20, 2007

Change the lightbulb, save the planet

Sam Eaton Feb 20, 2007

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.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.