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A Choice Not an Eco

Rich Lowry on the controversy over the incandescent bulb:

If the new bulbs are so wondrous, customers can be trusted to adopt them on their own. Are we a nation of dolts too incompetent to balance the complex factors of price of bulb, energy efficiency and quality of light on our own?

Categories > Environment

Discussions - 6 Comments


John Lewis nailed it.

Boo-hoo. Why can't I buy leaded gasoline anymore? Why can't I buy an air conditioner or hairspray that will put a hole in the ozone layer? Boo-hoo, why can't I buy asbestos insulation?

Because society's decided that we will limit your right to injure yourself and possibly/probably others in the process?

The mercury thing is also way overblown (and likely to be a non-issue within 2-3 years as the bulbs improve even more), to say the least.

In fact, using incandescents as a way to avoid mercury is seriously missing the point, and ignoring a prime benefit of the bulbs:

"But the idea that sticking with incandescent light bulbs will help prevent mercury contamination is complete, utter hogwash.

The primary source of mercury pollution in the U.S. is burning coal for electricity generation. Despite EPA efforts to clamp down on emissions, in 2008, U.S. power plants pumped nearly 90,000 pounds of mercury into the air. That’s the equivalent of 10 billion CFL bulbs.

Ten. Billion.

And most of that pollution is concentrated in the Midwest.

As we’ve noted, CFLs use about one-fourth the energy of comparable incandescent bulbs. The EPA estimates that over its life cycle, a single CFL bulb will result in a net reduction of mercury emissions of about 4 milligrams, even if the bulb goes into a landfill.

So it seems if one is truly worried about mercury pollution, the obvious choice would be to buy energy-efficient bulbs and dispose of them properly."

Keep in mind also that airborne mercury (as in coal plant pollution) is much more dangerous than even swallowing liquid mercury.

Of course, the author is missing the point of the conservative outrage (with that level-headed conservative university scholar Glenn Beck leading the charge). It's not actually about concern for pollution or toxicity or protecting anyone from anything. It's about the right's degraded notion of "liberty" - which is little more than a sense of entitlement to waste, be gluttonous, and to pollute, and the standby "Screw you, got mine."

The dangerously left-wing source Consumer Reports also weighs in on the myths:

And the pathetic attempt to revert to Cold War tropes ("Soviet stairwell"?) is absurd. The bulbs now produce bright white light that turns on instantly or almost instantly. How whiny.

But the biggest thing about this whine-fest is that it's really all about tea-bagger ODS (Obama Derangement Syndrome). Dubya signed the thing that phased out the All-American bulbs. WHERE was the outrage then from principled conservatives? I recall precisely zero. But now it's all about the librulz takin' away our freedumz. Herp derp.

Don't be silly. Conservatives were upset about the original bill. We argued about it here at the time. You gave me about the same argument then. I'll give you just about the same argument back.

Incandescent bulbs deliver light cost-effectively. They are inexpensive. They may be more expensive in electricity, but that may be balanced by their cheapness. The cost of making them and therefore the cost of using, to the consumer, may be far less than "energy efficient" bulbs. It must cost more to make those darn new bulbs, as it costs more to buy them. Part of that expense is probably energy costs, aside from the material costs; there is a reason why they are more expensive.

Pity the poor. If it costs $.25 per bulb to buy incandescent bulbs and each lasts about two years, versus the new bulbs that cost at least four times as much which last -- ho much longer? The Consumer Reports piece, which is a bit dated on this matter, opens by saying the new bulb will save $30 per bulb over the course of its lifetime, but does not prove the data for the claim. It claims this is true because they last longer, besides being more efficient.

I've bought them. They don't last longer. CR suggests keeping the packaging for the warranties. Who the hell has time and space to keep track of a couple of dozen light bulbs? Do you want to worry about that kind of thing? You're welcome to the worry. Their tests show -- I'd like to see more about their tests as household use may be different.

Years ago, well before GWB, when the "efficient" bulbs first came out I bought a $7, energy-efficient bulb to make my own test. I forget the brand. My husband asked me if I were nuts; it became an argument. How was I going to prove the bulb was better? We could hardly be expected to notice a change in the electric bill over one bulb. There was no way I could afford to change over all of the bulbs in the house to make a real experiment. The measure would have to be longevity of that particular bulb. I put it in the lamp next to my bed, to keep track of it: fall to spring and then dead. In the meantime, someone had tossed out the package left on a shelf in the garage; the warranty was rotting a land-fill. The bulb was an expensive experiment that had failed. This was my object lesson in energy-efficient lighting.

I don't have room to store enough incandescent bulbs to keep the house going for years. I bought boxes of them when this first came up. We have some left, but I bought inexpensive packages of the new bulbs as the price came down at the local discount store, the most inexpensive new bulbs I can find. I have another one in the lamp next to my bed right now. It's outlasted the $7 one, already; maybe these things have been improved and really work. I'll see. Even if they don't, shortly, I will have no choice in the matter.

I'll bet people all over America tried the new bulbs just as I did. If those things were so great, saved so much money, no one would have to tell us to use them. People would buy them out of self-interest. Rich Lowery is right about that. America loves its life improved by technology. We are not a nation of Luddites, which Craig and the regulation in this matter implies. Build a better light bulb and people will buy it.

Good points Julie. I would like to add:
Consumers are not concerned about the mercury in the air (from power generation) but from poisoning in their homes with their pets and kids from dropped bulbs – and who hasn’t done that? The answer to cleaner burning energy/less pollution is not and never will be, “use less energy.”
Also, Craig, I would like to see how "whiny" you would be with a migrane headache.

"Consumers are not concerned about the mercury in the air (from power generation) but from poisoning in their homes..."

Oh, absolutely right, Mechelle. Fortunately we don't need to have any of that commoner air in our homes. I buy mine (purified, filtered, packaged) from my local Costco. It's produced by a PRIVATE company in New Jersey.

Hey cool blog, just questioning what anti-spam software you use for feedback because i get lots on my blog. Anyway, in my language, there should not much good supply like this.

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