By Eric Pettifor
Way back in February of 2007, I wrote of an announcement by General Electric that they were developing an energy efficient incandescent light bulb. I speculated that they were motivated by a proposed California law to outlaw the incandescent. Later on, in March, I noted that it wasn’t just California, but that such legislation was coming down the pipes in several nation states. G.E. were facing a global phenomenon.
In the U.S., federal legislation was passed in the same year, 2007, effectively banning the old incandescent. Hooray! Everybody won — even G.E., who could continue selling the bulbs in the more energy efficient form they were developing.
Interestingly, in a recent article in The Washington Post, no mention is made of more efficient incandescents. The story is centred on the closing of a G.E. plant in Winchester, Virginia, and the jobs that will be lost. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) will not take up the slack, at least not for the employees there. G.E. will continue to sell CFLs, but for the foreseeable future they will all be made in China. Because their manufacture is more labour intensive, U.S. manufacture would be less profitable.
This could reflect a worrying trend. The Post quotes President Obama:
See, when folks lift up the hoods on the cars of the future, I want them to see engines stamped “Made in America,” Obama said in an Aug. 16 speech at a Wisconsin plant. “When new batteries to store solar power come off the line, I want to see printed on the side, “Made in America.” When new technologies are developed and new industries are formed, I want them made right here in America. That’s what we’re fighting for.
What Obama wants and what corporations are willing to pay for may be two entirely different things, and “newness” appears to be a disadvantage, if the case of the Virginia light bulb factory is any indicator.
The U.S. has no monopoly on green technology. Expect to see more of the “Made in China” label whether you want to or not, and don’t expect to see manufacturing jobs in the former industrial nations of the West recover due to some Green Renaissance. It’s just too labour intensive to do here. But then, isn’t just about everything?