Today I have a piece in the Mail attacking the EU’s plans to ban halogen light bulbs, possibly by as soon as next year.
This is not because I love halogen light bulbs: they’re a bugger to change, they get far too hot and the light they cast is cold, ugly and not bright enough. Rather, it’s because the technology for their replacements – LEDs – is not yet sufficiently developed to replace them on a mass market scale. So, by European Union fiat, consumers are going to be put to needless inconvenience and expense, just so that a bunch of unelected commissars can feel better among themselves for having speeded everyone’s passage towards a carbon-free future.
If you’re a greenie or a lefty (and frankly what’s the difference?) this kind of state-driven, environmental-minded initiative probably makes a lot of sense. It is, after all, one of the key articles of faith among those of an eco persuasion that without the hand of kindly, far-seeing, supra-national government we would all still be living up to our eyeballs in raw sewage and toxic chemicals and smog.
But the evidence doesn’t support this. Economist Julian “the Doomslayer” Simon was once in a debate with environmental activist Hazel Henderson who was trying to make the case for the benefits of the 1956 Clean Air Act – and produced a pollution graph showing that it had resulted in a clear improvement in London’s air quality. Simon, no fan of big government, countered with a graph of his own on a much longer time scale dating back to the 1800s and showing, from the 1920s, an equally distinct downward slope in air pollution levels.
Simon said: “If you look at all the data you can’t tell there was a Clean Air Act at any point.”
Environmentalists hate this story because it tells you what they don’t want to hear: that a clean environment is something to which we all naturally gravitate as we grow more affluent.
Look, I have no doubt that LED lightbulbs, when they’re ready, will be a big improvement on halogen bulbs.
But this is an issue for consumers to decide, not for government regulators. Especially not democratically unaccountable government regulators, like the members of the EU Commission who are trying to force through this ban.