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"Green" products and free market conflicts

By Paul A. Ibbetson
web posted May 30, 2011

In recent years the move toward green products and technologies has gone into overdrive. Everything from the expansion of windmills and solar technologies to the hard rush toward passenger vehicles that run on alternative fuels is in the media. Few people disagree that America needs to continue to develop more efficient and cost-effective products. However, what has been a bone of contention with many consumers is the way in which many within the "green" movement have gone about attempting to integrate these new technologies into the market.

The primary problem with the green movement is that it is often inhospitable to the mechanisms of the free market. Many of these green products cost more than they are worth. Then there is the strong-arming.  As soon as one hears of the wonders of a new green technology, it is not long before government intervention follows with either manipulating buyers with rebates, which come straight from the tax payers' pockets, or penalties for those that fail to comply with new green mandates. What is completely missing from this picture? It is the freedom of choice that comes with the free market.

American buyers welcome innovation and creativity. The expansion of green technologies would be no exception if they were presented fairly within the market place. That is, new technologies such as hybrid cars can and will do well if they can be designed to be cost-effective and equal in quality to their current competition. If not, they will and should fail and no government rebate will change that. When the government attempts to subvert the free market, products that should have been colossal marketing failures are wrongly saved and kept from their deserved and natural extinction. Let us illuminate a conflict between the pushers of green products and the free market.

Light bulbs -- they are a major part of American life. No one will argue that a traditional light bulb has too short of a lifespan. Everyone who reads this article, who is honest, will admit to doing the "light bulb shuffle." That is, taking a working light bulb to different rooms within the home when there is a shortage of working bulbs but still the need for light. There is no shame here, just the realization that the technology could be improved. Here is a bright example where the green industry could work to fill a very needed and practical niche in American life. The criterion for success here is simply creating a better product for a competitive price.

Unfortunately, those pushing this green technology fail to embrace the free market and turn to the government to create buyer appeal. Despite the reasonable argument against energy waste when comparing new bulbs to traditional incandescent ones, the government decides to strong-arm the American consumer with an upcoming ban on 100-watt incandescent light bulbs even though the nearest LED alternative light bulb is reported to come in at a cost of $50 apiece. This is ridiculous. The "green" compact fluorescent light bulb brought about by the current environmental push is even worse. Why? They are not only expensive, they are dangerous!

According to the Environmental Protection Agency's website, breaking a CFL light bulb is the equivalent of creating a hazardous material spill. Due to the poisonous mercury powder and vapor released when a green CFL is broken in common household settings, the EPA recommends that all humans and animals evacuate the room. Windows should be opened and the room should be aired out for five to ten minutes. Heating and air conditioning units should be shut down to limit contamination spread. Remains of the broken CFL should be placed in a glass jar with a metal lid and taken to a disposal location. Vacuuming the location of the CFL break incident is reported by the EPA to potentially spread mercury powder or vapor. In other words, if your new environmental friendly "green" light bulb doesn't kill your pocketbook, it might kill you personally. What were they thinking?

Bottom line, we are a free market society and Americans have an engrained expectation of being able to decide what products are worthy of their purchasing dollar. Currently many of the green products and technologies being marketed to the public cost too much, under-perform, are at times unsafe and are presented to the public under government mandate. This formula will at best yield weak economic results in the marketplace, and at worst will bring about strong resistance from the American people. ESR

Paul A. Ibbetson is a former Chief of Police of Cherryvale, Kansas, and member of the Montgomery County Drug Task Force. Paul received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Criminal Justice at Wichita State University, and is currently completing his Ph.D. in Sociology at Kansas State University. Paul is the author of the several books including the 2010 release, "Oliver's Tale: A Squirrel's Story of Love, Courage, and Revolution." Paul is also the radio host of the Kansas Broadcasting Association's 2008, 2009 and 2010 Entertainment Program of the Year, Conscience of Kansas airing on KSDB Manhattan 91.9 FM. For interviews or questions, please contact him at mibbetson91.9@gmail.com.


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