Bans on top of bans

Did you happen to catch the news over the weekend that 140 countries have agreed to sign a UN mercury pollution reduction treaty?

Mercury is legitimately nasty stuff, and mercury poisoning can cause all sorts of brain, sensory, and kidney problems.  You know the phrase “mad as a hatter” that we still sometimes use?  Well, that comes from a time when mercury was used in hat-making and, over time, the hatters, who were handling the stuff everyday, would go crazy.  Mercury poisoning is no joke, and I’d like to see less mercury pollution.

But here is what I thought was so interesting about the whole thing.  As part of this treaty, the countries are agreeing to ban certain types of compact fluorescent lights because they contain that dreaded mercury, and those CFLs are the very bulbs that those same environmentalists have been telling us we need to use to reduce energy consumption.

We’ve know that CLFs contain harmful mercury for a long time, and that’s not the only problem with them.  We’ve written about those dangers before.  But here we are with a new ban on CFLs, which we’re only using to such a great extent because of previous calls to ban incandescents.  Even the very environmentalists who brought us here can’t now escape the mess they’ve created.

This is all to often the sort of result that we get when government steps in to regulate rather than waiting for the market to take care of these issues.  Electricity is expensive.  People want to find lower energy lighting solutions.  LEDs are coming on quickly and may offer that solution.  CFLs were never a great idea and they won’t last – much like Betamax.  But because the government over-regulated, we now have a mercury problem that’s worse than the energy problem they were trying to address.  Oh, the irony.

Julie Tisdale / City and County Policy Analyst

Julie Tisdale is City and County Policy Analyst at the John Locke Foundation. Before coming to the Locke Foundation as the research publications coordinator, she worked at the...

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