Dim Bulbs in Tajikistan




October 13, 2009, The Wall Street Journal



In the globalization of bad ideas, count Tajikistan's 7.2 million people among the world's more unlucky victims. Over their history, the Tajiks have fallen prey to the ambitions of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and the Bolsheviks. Since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country has become a pied-a-terre for the region's Islamist groups, and has endured the state's unyielding encroachment on the economy under President Emomali Rahmon, in office 15 years and running.


This history, punctuated by invasion, revolution, civil war, and terror, has left Tajikistan the poorest and least developed of the former Soviet -stan republics.


The latest utopian project to invade Tajikistan is not military but environmental. This month, the Tajik government banned the importation of incandescent light bulbs. The government argues that banning the bulb will ameliorate the country's chronic energy shortages, which result in electricity rationing and leave much of the country with only a few hours of power per day in the winter.


This brainstorm comes straight out of the environmentalist playbook in the West, where phasing out the Edison bulb is all the rage. But replacing a $1 incandescent with a $5 or $10 "green" bulb is a nuisance in the developed world. In Tajikistan, where the average monthly wage is less than $70—that is, perhaps seven high-efficiency bulbs—it's a hardship if not an impossibility. This means that in Tajikistan, the ban on traditional bulbs amounts to a ban on lighting.


Yet there is no logical reason for this rationing. Tajikistan has ample natural-gas reserves and hydroelectric potential, but both are bogged down in corruption and state inefficiency.


None of this seems to bother Mr. Rahmon, who at last month's climate conference in Geneva bragged that Tajikistan is "in a group of countries with the lowest volume of greenhouse gas emissions," and lamented the "intensive economic development of countries in the region," which he complained was depleting resources. It's hard to imagine that average Tajiks, whose industrial production shrank some 4% last year, wouldn't trade their pious emissions record for some of that intensive development, which might even bring them electricity on demand. But instead of finding ways to generate more power, the government is forcing consumers to use less.


The Tajik light bulb boondoggle is the green agenda writ small. Environmentalists like to argue that global warming will hurt the world's poor the worst. But in the present, it is their agenda that is sending the Tajikistans of the world back to the dark ages.