Compact fluorescent bulbs cost more than regular incandescent bulbs. But according to the U.S. Department of Energy, they last up to 10 times longer, use about one-fourth the energy, and produce 90 percent less heat. Over its life span of four and a half years, a CFL more than repays its higher cost in energy savings: $62.95 per light bulb. Oh, and they're good for the planet, since they produce fewer emissions. But while they've grown in popularity, CFLs have yet to emerge as a household staple, in part because consumers can't see beyond the shock of the sticker price to the long-term savings. "When you buy a compact fluorescent bulb at the cash register, you experience the higher cost vividly and all at once," says Robert Frank, a Cornell economist and author of The Economic Naturalist. "But when your electric bill goes down as a result, the savings are not as evident." Consumers routinely make such short-term economically irrational decisions.
As it aims to vanquish Thomas Edison's filament bulb—and save the Earth—the CFL is running into the brick wall of human nature. But the CFL is getting a lift from two of the globe's most powerful forces: image-conscious Western governments and Wal-Mart.
With its $346 billion in annual sales and 100 million customers, Wal-Mart is the carrot. In 2006, eager to improve its image as a low-wage emporium of Chinese imports, Wal-Mart pledged to sell 100 million CFLs this year. The megaretailer stacked CFLs front and center, hammered out deals with suppliers like General Electric, and enticed customers the only way it knew how: by appealing to their desire to save money. According to a calculator on Wal-Mart's Web site, replacing 30 incandescent bulbs with CFLs can save more than $1,000 over the life of the bulbs—real money for a Wal-Mart shopper. At Wal-Mart, CFLs are cheap: A six-pack of 26-watt GE CFL bulbs goes for $15.16. And they're getting cheaper. In September, Wal-Mart introduced a cheaper private-label CFL that undercuts name brands.
Of course, Slate, being a leftwing site, has to make this sound as ominous as possible.
Here's the headling: "How Wal-Mart and the government are killing the incandescent light bulb."