10 09 2006

Poor Walmart. They so desperately want to be seen as the good guys, especially since Al Gore came and laid the word on them. They’ve gotten religion, but they still haven’t figured out that it’s not what they do that’s the basic problem, it’s what they are that’s the basic problem. Know what I mean?

F’rinstance, they figured out that if they could just sell one compact florescent light bulb to each of their estimated hundred million American customers, it would be the energy equivalent of taking 1.3 million cars off the road every year—and every American home has 40-50 light sockets in it, most of which could be filled by compact fluorescents. Walmart is willing to put its not inconsiderable promotional muscle behind persuading Americans to switch to compact florescent bulbs—although this will ultimately cut deeply into their light bulb sales, since a compact florescent bulb, in addition to using a quarter of the electricity of an incandescent bulb, also lasts 8-10 times longer.

This is where it starts to get interesting. The net effect of such a switch will be to practically end light bulb production in the US, since virtually all compact florescent bulbs are made in China—because the swirl of glass that is one of their distinguishing features still needs to be handmade, and only at Chinese wage levels are handmade compact florescent bulbs price competitive with incandescent bulbs. Even with all the American glassblowers put out of work by the DEA, we still lose the deal to China, and more American factories bite the dust.

Now, I have no complaint about shutting down factories per se. It’s good for the environment. I think there are whole industries that could be shut down, such as the cosmetics industry, that would leave us all better off. But importing all our light bulbs from China? This falls into the domain of unintended negative consequences. How much worse will this tilt our balance of payments with China? How much energy will it take to get all those energy-saving light bulbs here? What will we do if we can’t get any more light bulbs from far across the sea?

“and she hands you a light bulb that comes all the way from China…” excuse me….

So much for what they’re doing. Like I said, it’s what Walmart is that’s the problem. By the company’s very nature, it destroys communities and the neighborhood businesses that serve them. That ain’t ecological. Walmart sucks money out of its host towns, rather than circulating it within them like a locally owned business. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that the Walton family is one of the major beneficiaries of the Bush junta’s estate tax cuts. How do you think they got that way?

Oh, it would just tear me up if the Waltons had to sell their family farm….that little house on the prairie…right. The Walton family is one of America’s premier vampire clans, and selling energy-saving light bulbs won’t change that.

OK, now…how many Walmarts does it take to screw up a light bulb?

music: James McMurtry, “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore




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