Saturday, October 24, 2009

Light Bulbs: Taking Away Your Choice

By Alan Caruba

I am always amazed at the variety of choice that exists in my local supermarket. There are other supermarkets in the area, but the one I frequent most has lower prices on most items and almost anything you want to purchase allows one to select among several brands available.

We Americans may not think much about choice when it comes to what we buy because we have so many choices. It is the mark of a free marketplace where competition determines winners and losers. It says a lot about a society that puts a high premium on freedom.

Your government, however, has decided that, in 2012, you can no longer choose to purchase and use Thomas Edison’s iconic invention, the 100 watt incandescent light bulb. By 2014, all such bulbs will be banned from sale. That’s right, they will vanish from the shelves of supermarkets and other outlets.

As this is being written, your government is debating taking away your choice to purchase health insurance. Or not. If it gets its way, everyone, old and young, healthy or ill, everyone will have to buy health insurance—most likely the brand issued by the government because it will drive most present insurance companies out of business. That is so un-American as to defy belief.

In Europe, thanks to a European Union ban on incandescent light bulbs, consumers are cleaning out the shelves to stockpile a supply when they can no longer be sold. As Jason Lomberg, the Technical Editor of Electronic Component News, a trade publication, noted recently, “The ban has proved to be massively unpopular. All across Europe its media are reporting huge increases in the sales of incandescent sales. In Germany alone, sales for 100 watt bulbs rose by 80% to 150%.

Why were the EU and U.S. bans put in place? It is the view of environmentalists who insist that incandescent bulbs are less energy “efficient” than compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and that consumers must be denied the choice between them.

They are less “efficient”, but it is equally true that CFL’s unnatural, bluish light takes time to achieve full brightness, about three minutes on the average. At least a quarter of them fall short meeting their rated service life, meaning you will have to buy more of them.

In addition to the fact that some “emit a headache-inducing buzzing sound” the worst thing about fluorescent light bulbs is that they contain mercury. As a recent issue of The DeWeese Report points out, they “contain poisonous liquid mercury over 300 times the EPA’s standard accepted safety level.”

“In addition, days after a bulb has been broken,” noted Tom DeWeese, “vacuuming or simply crawling across the carpeted floor where the bulb was broken can cause mercury vapor levels to shoot back upwards of 100 times the accepted level of safety.” Who crawls on the floor? Babies! Whose closer to the floor than you? Pets!

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection reported that a woman was quoted $2,000 for cleanup of a broken compact fluorescent bulb in her house.

The politicians in the U.S. Congress, pandering as always to the crazed environmentalists, enacted the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that put the ban in place to begin in 2012.

The Obama administration has declared war on the building of new coal-fired energy plants despite the fact that they currently provide just over half of all the electricity we use daily, nor has a new nuclear plant been built in decades. It won’t allow any offshore exploration and extraction of oil or natural gas either. So, while allegedly providing for “energy independence” the government is thwarting any new provision of electricity.

But you will be forced to buy fluorescent light bulbs to ensure “energy efficiency” while one of the greatest inventions, the incandescent light bulb, is banned from use. The result will turn all U.S. landfills into toxic dumps.

Where the government finds the justification for destroying your right of choice continues to elude my grasp.

What it portends are supermarkets with far less products and food choices than currently exist because some environmentalist or vegetarian has decided that coercive laws are the best way to take away the freedom of choice that is quintessentially American.

This ban must be repealed along with so-called healthcare “reform” and the hideous “cap-and-trade” law, renamed as the “American Clean Energy and Security Act”, that will raise the cost of electricity in the name of saving the Earth from a “global warming” that is NOT happening.

As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”


Buzzg said...

By my current calculations I have stored about 10 years worth of incandescents for future use. Maybe more if I cease reading late into the night.
I wonder if the 'Bulb Police' will come to my door asking to inspect my light fixtures?
Unfortunately, it was George Bush who succumbed to this farcical attempt to save energy and signed the legislation.
Just one more way that Big Brother is coming to your neighborhood soon.

Guy said...

Buzz.... don't worry about the "bulb police" ... we won't be needing them, because they already have plans in place to monitor and control your electrical usage with their new "smart grid". Then, they can price your electricity in such a way that you will be begging them for CFL's and other "green" devices just to avoid going to the poor-house. If you do happen to have the money, and decide to use more than your "fair share" of electricity, they'll just shut you down as they see fit. It may seem hard to believe, but they already have the technology in place. In my area, electric water heaters are already being sold that contain the control circuity to do it. The days of free-market and common sense are behind us now. Political games, special interests, extortion, and coercion are the wave of things to come....

Buzzg said...

Guy: Well, that's a relief, I guess. Hopefully, since I am approaching the actuarial life time limit, it's possible my lamp won't be lit when that happens.
There was a move afoot in Kalifornia last year to put radio-controlled thermostats in all new residential housing so Ahnold and Co. could control heat/AC usage.
I feel somewhat like a stranger in a strange land these days.

Ron H. said...

I was particularly interested in the idea that someone had been quoted $2000 to clean up after a CFL was broken. I wasn't upset that someone would ask so much, after all in a free marketplace anyone can perceive a need for a good or service, and offer that good or service at whatever price they want to. If that price is too high, the company will soon go out of business. As Thomas Sowell said, "The market, or black market if necessary, will determine prices."

I would guess that the most people would be willing to pay to clean up a broken CFL would be what it costs them to do it themselves, in which case we will begin adding mercury to our landfills.

As I wondered what a possible solution could be to this problem, I realized with dismay that the same people who decided I shouldn't be allowed to choose my own light bulbs, would probably save me from the costs of cleanup by using my tax money to subsidize the cleanup service.

Dismay soon turned to joyful anticipation, however, as I realized the golden opportunity this presented. I could probably easily get certified and/or licensed as a hazardous material cleanup technician and start my own lucrative business.

I have now completely changed my mind about CFLs. They are now my friends. Bring 'em on!

Ron :-)

Roch101 said...

That's crazy! Who signed that light bulb ban into law?

Alan Caruba said...

@Roch101: One would assume that Bush signed it into law or stood by while it was promulgated as a regulation as it occurred in 2007.

jason.lomberg said...

This is more evidence that Bush was far more liberal than people assumed. Of course, the Obama administration expanded mandates like this, but the Incandescent ban was signed into law by Bush.

Alan Caruba said...

Thanks for the confirmation re Bush signing the bulb ban...and, yes, he was far more liberal than most people realized and not friendly to energy generation and was Bush who said we were "addicted to oil", knowing full well you cannot be addicted to a vital element of transportation. He might have well said we are addicted to rubber tires. He also put off until the last week or so of his second term the lifting of the ban on the exploration for oil and natural gas off the US continental shelf.

Peter said...

Hello Alan, Buzz and Co

Yes, we have the crazy ban already here in Europe

A ban that doesn't make sense on any level, if you think about it

It may sound good to "only allow energy efficient products".
Unfortunately, products that use more energy may be popular for many other reasons, relating to
performance efficiency, appearance, construction, as well as cost, and sometimes the overall savings
See onwards
for examples with cars, buildings, dishwashers, computers etc

Put it this way with the light bulbs:

Americans (like Europeans) choose to buy ordinary light bulbs around 8 to 9 times out of 10 (light industry data 2008).
Banning what people want gives the supposed savings - no point in banning an impopular product = no "savings"!

If new LED lights - or more efficient incandescents etc - are good,
people will buy them - no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (little point).
If they are not good, people will not buy them - no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (no point).
The arrival of the transistor didn’t mean that more energy using radio tubes were banned… they were bought less anyway.

The need to save energy?
Advice is good and welcome, but bans are another matter...
ordinary citizens -not politicians – pay for energy, its production, and how they wish to use it.
There is no energy shortage - on the contrary, more and more renewable sources are being developed -
and if there was an energy shortage of the finite oil-coal-gas fuels,
1 renewable energy becomes more attractive price-wise
2 the fuel price rise would lead to more demand for efficient products – no need to legislate for it.
Any government worried about say oil use can simply tax it
(and imported oil is not used in electricity generation).

Supposed savings don’t hold up anyway,
for many reasons: onwards
= comparative brightness, lifespans, power factors, lifecycles, heat factor etc with referenced research

About electricity bills:
If electricity use does fall, the power companies have to put up prices to cover their overheads, maintenance costs, wage bills etc (using less fuel doesn't compensate much in overall costs).

Does a light bulb give out any gases?
Power stations might not either:
Why should emission-free households be denied the use of lighting they obviously want to use?
Low emission households already dominate some regions, and will increase everywhere, since emissions will be reduced anyway through the planned use of coal/gas processing technology and/or energy substitution.

Direct ways to deal with emissions (for all else they contain too, whatever about CO2),
with a focus on transport and electricity:

Peter said...


The Taxation alternative

Taxation is just another unjustified way of targeting light bulbs - but might be a compromise solution:

A ban on light bulbs is extraordinary, in being on a product safe to use.
We are not talking about banning lead paint here.
This is simply a ban to supposedly reduce electricity consumption.

For those who favor bans, or who want to act quickly in targeting electricity consumption as well as production and distribution,
taxation to reduce any such consumption would therefore make more sense, governments can use the income to reduce emissions (home insulation schemes, renewable projects etc) more than any remaining product use causes such problems.

A few dollars tax that reduces the current sales (USA like the EU 2 billion sales per annum, UK 250-300 million pa)
raises future billions, and would retain consumer choice.
It could also be more revenue neutral,
lowering the sales taxes on less energy using products.
When sufficent low emission electricity delivery is in place, the ban can be lifted

But the real deal is simply to supply energy as needed with whatever emisssion criteria is needed,
and let consumers use and pay for what they want, in their own homes