Friday, September 21, 2007

Fluorescent Lights: A Partial Solution to Global Warming?

Saving energy and reducing man-made emissions to curtail global warming have become major priorities for the United States. Inefficient incandescent bulbs, of which some four billion are installed in U.S. buildings and which convert only 5 percent of the electricity they use into light with the rest lost as heat, constitute a third of the world market. A switch to compact fluorescent bulbs would substantially cut energy use and, after paying the higher initial cost of fluorescent bulbs, save consumers $6 billion a year. If all the incandescent bulbs in the world were replaced with fluorescent bulbs, the reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions would achieve almost three-quarters of the reductions that industrial nations have pledged to curb global warning under the Kyoto Protocol. The U.S. by itself would achieve one-quarter of the reductions.

Congress is working on legislation to phase out conventional incandescent bulbs over the next seven years. Domestic U.S. manufacturers want a later phase-out date to avoid having to scrap large investments in producing more efficient incandescent bulbs.

A bigger obstacle to phasing out incandescent bulbs is an unpleasant political fact: nearly all compact fluorescent bulbs are made in China. The widening trade deficit with China has been a hot political issue in the United States for the past several years. Despite numerous official trips between Beijing and Washington, D.C., to address this issue, the U.S. trade deficit with China continues to rise. A mandated shift to fluorescent bulbs in the U.S. over a short period means that China will remain the principal supplier of fluorescent bulbs, thus undercutting U.S. efforts to narrow the trade gap. Given China’s head start in producing compact fluorescent bulbs, it is likely that China will be the world’s least-cost producer for the foreseeable future.

More on China

China is taking advantage of the U.S. preoccupation with Iraq and the Middle East by extending its political and economic influence in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. A recent deal about to be completed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo will give China access to mineral resources in exchange for $5 billion of Chinese funds to construct infrastructure projects. So long as the U.S. is tied up in the Middle East, China will continue to gain greater access to natural resources.

Russia and the European Union

European Union countries import 80 percent of their natural gas requirements and a substantial portion of their oil. A large share is imported from Russia, which gives that nation great leverage in European affairs. Shutting of the pipelines in winter for any length of time poses a major risk to Europeans. Moreover, the high price of energy means that Russia is rapidly accumulating funds that it can use to purchase European and other assets. A revived Russia under Putin is restoring a sense of pride and nationalism in Russia that may not be to the long-run benefit of Americans and Europeans. Globalization means different things to different nations. To the Western industrial democracies it means increasing trade and investment across national borders. To China, Russia, and the oil-producing countries it may also include the use of natural resources and the accumulation of foreign exchange reserves that can be deployed to achieve political ends. The West must be careful not to assume a mirror image of all its trading partners.

More on China, Russia, and Oil-Producing Nations

Congress must approve a rise in the current U.S. debt ceiling of $8.965 trillion for the U.S. government to pay its bill come October 2007. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has asked Congress to raise the debt ceiling by another $850 million. A considerable portion of this extra debt is likely to be purchased by foreign nations that may not have the long-term interests of the U.S. at heart. As foreigners acquire ever-greater U.S. assets, they correspondingly gain greater influence on both U.S. domestic and foreign policy. The U.S. does not allow foreign companies to buy airlines, shipping firms, television networks, and some security-related businesses. Some in the government have raised concerns about state-owned Chinese and Middle Eastern countries acquiring U.S. firms and assets.

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