Canada recently announced a ban on incandescent light bulbs which are significantly less efficient than fluorescent lighting (link). Such bans are getting more popular, California and other places are considering similar bans, likely because of concerns about global climate change and other pollution concerns.

This specific ban on incandescent lighting might or might not be a net gain for society; I won’t speculate, but bans on energy inefficient items don’t address the root problem. Inefficient use of energy isn’t inherently immoral; Inefficient energy use is a problem only because energy prices do not reflect the social costs of energy production. Most energy production releases CO2 and other more local pollutants into the atmosphere which harm bystanders, but producers don’t have to pay those harmed by those pollutants so energy prices aren’t affected. Environmental activism and legislation should focus on correcting this, charging polluters for the harm they inflict on others. Of course, this isn’t easy; a lot of research is required to figure out the costs of such pollution, and it is not as dramatic as banning sources of inefficiency, so there isn’t as much political capital to be gained, but result will be much more natural and doesn’t require undue arbitrary government intrusion into the private sphere. Such taxes will also help solve a host of related environmental problems, everything from poor engine efficiency to methane emissions from garbage dumps. Imagine how much more attractive wind power would be if the price of energy from coal doubled or how much less attractive an H3 would be if the price of gasoline were $7. Taxing pollution for the harm it inflicts on others will let society figure out works and what doesn’t instead of planning centrally what harm to allow and what to disallow. In the long run, pollution taxes will be cheaper and more effective than specific regulations and bans.

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