The Light Bulb Wars: Lots of Heat, Very Little Light Coming from Conservative Talk Radio

By The Intersection | July 16, 2011 12:24 am

by Jon Winsor
Filament

Conventional incandescent light bulbs are tremendously inefficient. Only about 10% of the energy used to power the light bulb actually goes to producing light, and the remaining 90% is emitted as heat. And it’s easy to see why. An incandescent bulb filament relies on the fact that it’s a poor conductor of electricity. It’s essentially the same concept used by inexpensive space heaters. So doubtless, the technology could be improved—the same way that many appliances have been improved by efficiency standards over the years.

At least that was the way Fred Upton (R – MI) was thinking when he helped craft a provision of the Energy Independence and Security Act (ESIA), which was signed into law by George W. Bush in 2007with support from manufacturers, who have since invested millions in retooling their factories. The provision didn’t choose “winners and losers” as far as light bulb technology goes. Incandescent bulbs were fine, as long as they met the standard. Under the law, as the Christian Science Monitor reported,

…general-purpose light bulbs must become about 30 percent more energy efficient. Different bulb classes face different deadlines, all between 2012 and 2014. The old Edison bulb gets killed on January 1, 2012. But more-efficient incandescent bulbs, which use only 72 watts to give the same output as an old 100-watt Edison bulb, will still be sold.

While Edison bulbs today are about 30-50 cents apiece, updated versions cost $1.50. But the latter pay for themselves in energy savings in about six months.

These bulbs also last about 50% longer, and households were expected to save $100 to $200 per year under the new standards. Not to mention the power plants that wouldn’t need to be built, the gains in US energy independence, and the gains in US jobs (the Guardian reports that presently no US factory manufactures the old 100 watt light bulbs).

Enter Rush Limbaugh.

According to a number of sources, the genesis of the controversy was one Joe Barton coveting a committee chairmanship of Fred Upton. Sensing the opportunity for a tea party-style groundswell that he might ride to a committee chairmanship, Joe Barton made an appeal to the uniquely unreasoning and dialog-free medium called talk radio–which promptly turned the light bulb into a pet cause.

Now there could be a reasonable argument that talk radio might have made—that up front costs are something that consumers should choose to pay. Maybe consumers want to keep their $1 per bulb up front, instead of their $100-200 savings. That’s at least reasonable, although it makes you stop and go hmmm…

But that kind of nuance isn’t what talk radio is about. Says Rush Limbaugh, “Unless there’s a policy reversal, next year the 100-watt incandescent light bulb will be banned… Let there be incandescent light and freedom. That’s the American way.” Saying “ban” is entirely misleading, but it’s too much talk radio gold to pass up. “They’re coming for your lightbulbs, America, and you’ll be forced to fill your house with those weird, screwy things.” Now that’s exciting radio, exciting in the way that a Grover’s Mill, NJ farmer got excited during a 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds.

The campaign has been very effective. Upton defended his decision for a time, but eventually bowed to pressure and disowned his own bill (he even took down his 2009 defense of ESIA from his website). In the end, Upton managed to keep his seat. But the talk-radio based campaign gained momentum (with help from a CEI “grassroots” group), and eventually garnered 233 votes for their measure in the house, and then today finally got a procedural voice vote to block enforcement of Upton’s original provision.

An interesting question is, without talk radio’s misleading “stop the ban” campaign, would this effort have even come close to getting 233 votes? What does this do to our politics if every time a politician has a whim like Barton’s, they could just get Rush to do a few segments and work up the Republican base in whatever way is needed, no matter how capricious that need might be?

Comments (38)

  1. bad Jim

    Is the issue that compact fluorescent bulbs are twirly, girly and thus vaguely emasculating?

  2. Wil

    I agree that using inefficient outdoor light bulbs is just paying to very slightly warm up the neighborhood’s air.

    However, if it is cool or cold outside, then having inefficient indoor light bulbs means that the lights are helping the heater to warm the building. In that case, the light bulb’s inefficiency is not wasting any energy at all.

  3. Hugo Schmidt

    You come close to something here:

    Now there could be a reasonable argument that talk radio might have made—that up front costs are something that consumers should choose to pay.

    And that something is that, if these new bulbs really are so effective, they do not require government enforcement. People have an innate dislike to being bullied and shoved around by appartchicks.

    Also there is the minor fact that these new, efficent lightbulbs contain highly toxic mercury. Maybe some people would rather pay more for safety for themselves and their family? In any case, the point is that it is their decision.

  4. Hugo, you’re missing something here:

    While compact fluorescent bulbs are also being produced, and being refined, and made more efficient, they were being made and sold before this legislation was made. What is being discussed is that the incandescent, with its U-shaped or transverse filament, is being refined to the point that the unrefined model (the “Edison bulb”) will cease manufacture. Limbaugh is talking out of the side of his neck to make it seem, as his buddy Barton, that the government is shutting down the incandescent for the fluorescent, but this is ridiculous and false. The actual issue here is that two types of incandescent bulbs will continue to be sold, alongside the few types of fluorescent bulbs. One of those bulbs will eventually be phased out, and people do not have to buy the other type of incandescent.

    Note the insidious nature of not enough information? This is talk radio (right or left), and they have a mark to hit; the truth becomes “nerdspeak” and is to be pushed to the Science portions of shows on certain channels, or to be ridiculed by those who either understand but choose to obfuscate instead, or those who don’t understand and refuse to educate instead.

  5. Nullius in Verba

    The origin of the notion that they want to ban incandescents was in Europe, where they really have introduced a ban on them, and people have protested to no avail. The initial message was that the same law was spreading over to the US, and you’d better get your protests in early. The liberal argument against it is even older; JS Mill’s Harm Principle dating back to 1859.

    Electricity costs 0.11 $/kWhr, a 30% saving on a 100W bulb is 0.030 kW, $200 worth of electricity takes 200/(0.11*0.030) = 60,000 hours to expend. There are 8760 hours in a year, so each household must be running an average of 6.8 bulbs all the time, or 13 bulbs for 12 hours a night, 27 bulbs for 6 hours, etc. That sounds like a lot. Do you guys really use that many lights?

    The reason the legislation has the support of the manufacturers is that it was entirely their idea. Cheap imports are available from China, but China still has difficulty making the more advanced high-efficiency bulbs, where European and American manufacturers still have the lead. It’s pure protectionism. And protectionism always imposes a subtle economic cost on the American people.

    The primary argument against it is liberal – the Harm Principle – but banning any sort of bulb is a bad idea economically, too.

  6. Georg

    You Americans are lucky.
    The ban has been made in Europe some Years ago, and it is
    nonsense of course. “Blind actionism” as such things were called in 68 :=(
    Light is about 3 % of electricity in Germany, so all this is much ado about
    nothing.
    Georg

  7. Incredulous

    When the proponents give their arguments as “Trust us. We are experts.” rather than give the real costs and a real analysis of the benefits, they leave themselves open for attack.

    I personally prefer fluorescent lights for home use. They are just not the right choice in all places. They have limitations. They also pose serious questions because of their toxicity and disposal. As much as I prefer saving energy, I really get annoyed by meaningless gestures with a lot of hidden costs. Nobody can honestly say there is a closed loop with the materials and they are not just getting buried in landfills. How much energy will be used cleaning that up compared to the savings in use?

    All it really does for certain is move the costs to some out of sight production and disposal facilities and lets people have a warm fuzzy feeling about “saving energy” without any regard for the real costs. Much like the electric cars that people fantasize about.

  8. Mark

    Hugo @ 3: The amount of “highly toxic mercury” in CFL bulbs is minuscule. In fact, far more mercury is released to the environment by standard incandescent bulbs than by CFLs, simply because they are so inefficient, and coal-fired power plants emit mercury. The efficiency gain from switching to CFLs results in less coal combustion, and the corresponding reduction in mercury emissions is more than the amount of mercury in the CFL bulbs.

    If you’re truly concerned about “highly toxic mercury”, then you should be demanding that the EPA move forward quickly to impose strict mercury emissions limits on power plants, instead of worrying about light bulbs.

  9. peter

    WTF is all this talk abut “fluorescent” bulbs?
    They are definitely old school, LED bulbs are far more efficient and do not contain mercury.
    Unfortunately – a bit too expensive.

    BTW – I have fluorescent bulbs in my house since 1995. Over 50% are still the original ones.

  10. Nullius in Verba

    “In fact, far more mercury is released to the environment by…”

    It’s not release into the environment that’s the issue, but concentrated release into people’s homes.

    We’ve also found that regulations on disposal of toxic waste in landfill mean that they can’t just be binned, but require separate handling and collection. (Of course, most people can’t be bothered and just bin them.) Your regulations on mercury in landfill may be more relaxed; I don’t know.

    “The efficiency gain from switching to CFLs results in less coal combustion”

    You mean more coal combustion, (because of Jevon’s paradox).

  11. Chris Winter

    “It’s not release into the environment that’s the issue, but concentrated release into people’s homes.”

    You probably mean it’s both types of releases. (Unless you’re for giving coal-fired plants a pass.) Yes, broken CFLs could conceivably damage the health of someone (probably an infant) in somebody’s home. (The same goes for the old-style fluorescent tubes, by the way — and they contain up to 100mg mercury.)

    The solution is having more recycling centers like Home Depot and getting people to use them, and educating people to sweep up the broken bulbs ASAP and seal them in something for disposal.

  12. Chris Winter

    Wil wrote: “However, if it is cool or cold outside, then having inefficient indoor light bulbs means that the lights are helping the heater to warm the building. In that case, the light bulb’s inefficiency is not wasting any energy at all.”

    True. But sometimes you need to read, prepare rhubarb for canning, fix your bicycle, or do something else that requires light, on a warm evening. Then you might turn on the A/C — in which case your I/Bs would be fighting it.

  13. Chris Winter

    Enter Rush Limbaugh.

    It’s natural for Limbaugh to favor incandescent bulbs. Like him, they shed far more heat than light.

  14. Nullius in Verba

    “You probably mean it’s both types of releases. (Unless you’re for giving coal-fired plants a pass.)”

    I wouldn’t be in favour of giving anything a pass, so long as thresholds were set on a consistent evidential risk-based basis. The dose makes the poison.

    Personally, I don’t find it that much of a concern. Mercury should be treated with caution, but not panic. The liberal and economic arguments should carry far greater weight, in my view. But for environmentalists who don’t have much respect for either, using their own environmental legislation against them can be a difficult argument for them to counter. And amusingly ironic, too.

    I don’t mind dealing with products containing mercury, I’m not all that bothered by the extra hassle disposing of it, but I’d like the option to be able to avoid it if I choose.

  15. so simple really…as i just tweeted, re-frame the debate to ask why Congress is trying to impose a $6Bil “light bulb tax” on job creators…the $6bil being the number quoted as annual savings to consumers by the elimination of incandescents…so simple…

  16. Mark

    “I don’t mind dealing with products containing mercury, I’m not all that bothered by the extra hassle disposing of it, but I’d like the option to be able to avoid it if I choose.”

    You have the option. Buy LED lamps.

  17. Replying to #3 from Hugo, who said:

    “Also there is the minor fact that these new, efficent lightbulbs contain highly toxic mercury. Maybe some people would rather pay more for safety for themselves and their family? In any case, the point is that it is their decision.”

    Assuming that Hugo is a GOP stalwart, it should be pointed out that the GOP is attempting to savage many laws and agencies that protect us average U.S. citizens from toxic substances in the environment, particularly the EPA. Increasing energy efficiency at all levels provides the important side benefit of reducing toxic pollution. WRT mercury, this applies to mountaintop coal mining down to the mercury emissions of coal plants.

    Climate Progress absolutely NAILED this topic:

    http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/07/14/269068/nbc-blows-the-light-bulb-standards-story-entirely/

    Below is part of that blog posting:

    “During the debate on the BULB Act, H.R. 2014, to eliminate light bulb efficiency standards, several representatives raised concerns about mercury in CFLs. For instance, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) ominously warned

    “These new light bulbs, these CFL light bulbs, are dangerous to our health. Dr. Burgess has already pointed out they contain mercury. I thought for years we were trying to get rid of the mercury in our environment, but it is in these light bulbs.”

    Representatives Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Michael Burgess (R-TX), and Randy Hultgren (R-IL) also raised concerns about mercury. Yet they all voted to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from setting safeguards for mercury and other toxic pollutants from cement plants – the third largest source of mercury pollution.

    Representatives Blackburn, and Burgess also voted for the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act, H.R. 2401. This bill would delay EPA’s reductions of mercury, lead, acid gases, and other air toxic reductions from coal fired power plants. These are the largest domestic source of mercury in the United States.”

    Aww, the GOP is so concerned about our household environment. Since they are also so concerned about the fate and health of fetuses, maybe they should maintain enforcement of laws that reduce the exposure of pregnant mothers and infants to mercury in the environment. Maybe they could reduce the pollution from mountaintop mining while they’re at it. Maybe they could also realize that the increased use of CFLs and more efficient incandescent light bulbs reduces energy consumption, further reducing power plant emissions and also (incidentally) improving our national energy security.

    Who am I kidding? Most of the House GOP are demagogues who do not care for the common man, let alone the common fetus, or our future energy security.

  18. Nullius in #5 chose the high end of the dollar savings figure rather than a middle or low point, and assumed no use of >100W bulbs. Sadly, no.

  19. Nullius in Verba

    #16,

    Oh, yes. Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.

    #17,

    “Maybe they could also realize that the increased use of CFLs and more efficient incandescent light bulbs reduces energy consumption, further reducing power plant emissions and also (incidentally) improving our national energy security.”

    Increasing efficiency increases energy consumption. (As I already mentioned above.)

    And anyway, we’re all in favour of increased efficiency. We’re just not in favour of forcing it on people.

    #18,

    Yes, I chose the high end of the range – it was the high end that looked strange and that I wanted to check. You can easily determine the low end of the range, if you’re interested, by halving the number.

    I looked at 100W bulbs because those were what was mentioned in the article. But the same calculation applies if you treat, say, a 300W bulb as if it was three 100W bulbs. Is it really true that each American household uses either 13-27 100W bulbs, or 4-9 300W bulbs, etc. for 6 hours every night?

    It’s a fair point to clarify the presentational shortcomings of my simple calculation – I’m glad somebody is paying attention – but what do you think of the result?

  20. Chris Winter

    The rebound effect (aka Jevons Paradox) is real: raising energy efficiency will, to a degree, encourage more energy use. But that qualifying phrase is critically important.

    Let’s take the hypothetical case of an office building which, through various means, is enabled to use 10 percent of the energy it previously used. Will the owners of that building then permit the tenants to use ten times as many appliances? It’s very doubtful. Saving energy also saves money, and energy cost is a significant portion of most people’s budgets.

    True, that’s an extreme case. I doubt the energy consumption of most buildings could be lowered so dramatically. But I think the point is valid. How about a more realistic example: When gasoline hit $4 per gallon in the U.S. in 2008, driving declined significantly.

    See also: http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2011/02/16/207532/debunking-jevons-paradox-jim-barrett/

  21. Gaythia

    This isn’t really an argument about costs, its more about markets and how personal costs and social costs are distributed.

    If a community continues to allow widespread use of incandescent bulbs, for the most part those users are going to be connected to the public power grid. This means that while personal costs just for the light bulb may be low, there are greater social costs in providing that power, and coping with emissions that are distributed over the wider community. We could just as easily be ranting about the public costs of subsidizing energy wasters, as to think that the cause of individual freedom works the other way around. Welfare incandescent users!

    Looking at costs overall, there are many issues that need to be taken into account. CFL’s not only have disposal problems, they have manufacturing issues. Without proper regulation, mercury poisoning can be a serious problem: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6211261.ece. Imports from China may make CFL’s seem cost effective but may merely pass the true social costs on to somebody else.

    I agree with those above that LED’s are a preferred solution. As has happened with CFL’s public campaigns, sometimes utility connected, that increase demand can help ramp up production and lower costs. Again, this is about how the marketplace is organized. I can’t on my own change market conditions to lower LED costs, but working collectively (ie with the aid of government policies), market conditions can be changed.

    But we need to use common sense here as well. Sometimes it is true that the heat produced is beneficial. For example LED traffic lights have turned out to be a problem when it snows.
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34436730/ns/us_news-life/t/energy-saving-traffic-lights-blamed-crashes/

  22. Nullius in Verba

    “Will the owners of that building then permit the tenants to use ten times as many appliances?”

    That depends. If it is an office building, presumably a business is being operated there. Would using ten times as many appliances enable them to do ten times as much and hence to make ten times the profit? Or more? With costs per unit produced lowered, they can lower prices, sell more, and still take a bigger slice of profit, which is then fed back into more capacity.

    Or if taken as straightforward profit, it will be spent somewhere. It will be invested – loaned out to expand other businesses – or reinvested in the company’s own expansion, or paid to stockholders or staff, who will spend it on more goods and services – all of them using more energy.

    And the reduced demand, with the same level of supply from the electricity suppliers, will lower the price of energy, enabling businesses across the entire economy to benefit. That benefit is fed back into more production which uses more energy.

    It comes down to the law of supply and demand. If you plot the curves for the supply of goods versus prices, and the demand for goods versus price, they cross at the market equilibrium. If you make supply cheaper, you shift the supply curve upwards, and the market equilibrium shifts. How far and in what direction depends on the shapes of the curves, but in most normal situations more goods will be made, for greater profit/benefit, at a lower price. (There are exceptions, when supply/demand curves tilt in unexpected directions, but they’re rare. You may be able to come up with something there, though.)

    Jevon’s paradox is a feature of the whole economy. Take an isolated portion of it, like the one office building, (or just the domestic lighting economy) and you may indeed find that consumption of that part drops. But everything is interconnected, and the eventual effects may appear in some remote and unexpected places. It’s a bit like a conservation law – put more energy or momentum into some complex multi-body collision, and it has to appear in the output somewhere. You may not be sure exactly where, but you should be in no doubt that it will. Even if you think it isn’t so certain (and in economics few things are), the possibility should give one pause. If you got 200 miles to the gallon, say, would fuel at $4 a gallon lead you to cut down so much on your driving? Or would you instead be able to afford to live further from where you work?

    If you make it more profitable to use electricity, more electricity will be used.
    I’d like to say “It’s that simple!”, but it’s not, really. Economics can be oddly counter-intuitive to people – a source of many of our mutual misunderstandings.

  23. Mark

    “If you got 200 miles to the gallon, say, would fuel at $4 a gallon lead you to cut down so much on your driving?”

    I don’t drive just for the sake of driving, I drive as much as I need to drive. If gas is $2 or $4 a gallon, it makes absolutely no difference in how much I drive. If gas was $8 or $10 a gallon I would buy a more efficient car, but would still drive the same amount. So a more efficient car would lead me to use less gas, but not to drive less (or more, as you suggest). Same thing with light bulbs – I use the lights as much as I need the lights, whether they are using 100 watts or 20 watts. I don’t decide to leave the lights on all night just because I’ve installed energy-efficient bulbs. In fact, after spending money on more efficient bulbs, I’m probably more conscious of energy use, and more likely to turn lights off when not needed.

  24. Mark

    “Economics can be oddly counter-intuitive to people” – So true! There are people who actually believe that lower taxes result in higher government revenues, and who base entire economic agendas on this nonsensical concept even after the previous US administration ran up an astronomical deficit based on exactly that premise. Of course, most of those people were astoundingly ignorant and unconcerned about the deficit up until about 2009, when they suddenly decided it was the most important issue facing the US. Help me please, there must have been something that happened in early 2009 that suddenly made the deficit the most important issue facing America. What on earth could it have been?

  25. Hugo Schmidt

    Jaime & others, try reading the following:

    http://www.maine.gov/dep/rwm/homeowner/cflbreakcleanup.htm

    Hmmm. For my part, I will be sticking with the good old incandescent. If you want to go along with this tomfoolery, that’s your decision, but you should not be making it for anyone else.

    Oh, and for the record:

    Assuming that Hugo is a GOP stalwart,

    Assuming that Oakden is one of those unfortunates who cannot think beyond the confines of party politics, allow me to set him straight: I am not a “GOP stalwart”. I am not even a republican. I am not even an American.

    I recall what Dan Simmons said about thinking “outside the box” – if you’re really thinking, there are no boxes involved.

    Addendum to Mark,

    Your response get’s at the center of our disagreement. I am not in favor of bullying and shoving people around, and I am also not in favor of government taking on the responsibilities of the individual, and the power that comes with it. Case in point: I think that most people would far rather protect themselves by buying incandescent lightbulbs than dealing with some ministry of administrative affairs.

  26. I am so awesome, I make people try to do things just by pointing out falsehoods implied by removing information!

  27. Hugo Schmidt

    You are a citizen in an electoral democracy, that would be the first point. The second is that this is about coercing people to take these lightbulbs. The third point is that you do not make any factual objections to anything I have written.

  28. No one is coercing anyone to take out light bulbs. While I am more liberal than some, I am fairly conservative and willing to wait out social change rather than try to instill it by fiat. But I am also patient, and know that others are not, and will seek to enact change by fiat simply because they want to see the results in their own lifetimes. I am willing to note that we would likely get rid of incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs when we switch to the even more efficient LED bulbs simply by the quality of the last effectively causing the previous two to become outdated. But this will not happen when there are those who think that raising some sort of standard is itself tyranny, and try to enforce the first to the exclusion of the second or third. Which is what counter-CFL legislation is.

    As pointed out earlier in this thread by NiV, the amount of harmful material in the bulbs is below that of conventional and popular long-tube fluorescent bulbs (I estimate here using standard 3 foot bulbs used in most stores and office buildings), which makes the standard of cleanup only as dangerous, if not less so, than those bulbs. That there is more concern in CFLs over fluorescent bulbs in general is part of the campaign being highlighted here to act against the regulatory effect of raising standards and the higher care in disposal being put onto the consumer that they do not normally notice.

    As most of us work in office buildings or stores in which fluorescent bulbs are used, few of us are aware of how they are disposed of, and thus this issue is out of sight/out of mind. Instead, we care only that the immediate effect (how we must concern ourselves over the disposal process) is now ours, ignoring that it was always someone’s before this.

    So get a clue: NO ONE IN AMERICA IS BEING FORCED TO BUY ONE BULB OVER ANOTHER. NO ONE IN AMERICA IS BEING TOLD THAT THEY CANNOT PURCHASE THE OLDER, DUMBER, LESS EFFICIENT BULB.

    If you want to buy the crappier, cheaper, less efficient bulb every few months, then do so. If you want to spend slightly more upfront for three–ten times the lifespan of the bulb, then do so. If you want to spend a lot more upfront for something that will last YEARS, then do that, too. Unlike Europe, no one is forcing you to buy a damn thing by preventing the manufacture of the other; in many cases, like GE, they are electing to stop manufacture on their own. You havre to pay more now … DEAL WITH IT.

  29. Jaime,

    Just to take that last point, you concede openly that this will mean higher costs, not money saved. If no one is being ‘coerced’, I suggest you raise the point with Chris, as his post points out that they are using the weasel way out of “not forcing anyone” because “any lightbulb is fine” as long as it meets certain criteria, such as energy efficiency levels that these CFLs are best suited to. Incidentally, if you think that using taxpayer money to subsidize an industry, which is what is happening, is not “forcing you to buy something”…

    Now, in response to your highly tedious insistence that there is no problem with the toxicity, I will simply state that that is your opinion, and the people who draft the official guidelines have a markedly different one. I would not want one of those things around me, let alone near any small child.

  30. kirk

    The light bulb of journalism shines brighter if you clue us into the installed light bulb manufacturing base in the US. The US light bulbs we don’t make will not burn more watts/lumen if we , you know, don’t make light bulbs in the US. The installed manufacturing base for incandescent light bulbs is old, moldy and might be decomposing in a manufacturing plant in India or Brazil. The machine tools are probably fully depreciated and dying off. Now that FACT would be journalism-y. The incremental cost of each new tech bulb will decrease with the learning curve and no one anywhere will rebuild the machine tools for incandescents. Economy of scale 101 FAIL.

  31. kirk

    short version: Let’s replace transistors with vacuum toobs. Toobs are proof of American Exceptionalism.

  32. TTT

    Yes, broken CFLs could conceivably damage the health of someone (probably an infant) in somebody’s home. (The same goes for the old-style fluorescent tubes, by the way — and they contain up to 100mg mercury.) The solution is having more recycling centers like Home Depot and getting people to use them, and educating people to sweep up the broken bulbs ASAP and seal them in something for disposal.

    Uh, no, I’m afraid the solution is to not use them.

    Think like a marketer, guys. If a parent of young children breaks some glass in the kitchen, they want to go grab a broom and dustpan and get it all over with in 5 minutes. The moment you start talking to them about an involved, hazardous, legitimately toxic cleanup process, you have lost. If young kids are in the picture they simply will not do it. Most people do not raise young kids in the office buildings that use fluorescent tube lights, and if one of those lights breaks there’s someone whose entire job it is to do maintenance and cleanup. It is not an in-your-home-on-your-free-time pursuit. Recycling centers require driving, which, again, is just more of a pain, and renders questionable any pollution savings.

    Environmentalists backed the wrong horse this time. They should have chosen LEDs for the massive social / legislative promotional push. Republicans would have opposed those too out of pure spite just as surely as they are doing for CFLs now, but in those circumstances they would not have accidentally and through absolutely no merits of their own wound up being right.

  33. TerryEmberson

    TTT Said:

    Environmentalists backed the wrong horse this time. They should have chosen LEDs for the massive social / legislative promotional push. Republicans would have opposed those too out of pure spite just as surely as they are doing for CFLs now, but in those circumstances they would not have accidentally and through absolutely no merits of their own wound up being right.

    You made a lot of sense until you said the above paragraph. First, I’m all for the massive social push to use CFLs or LEDs in the place of Edison light bulbs. Heck, I’m all for a massive social push to start eating dogs so we don’t defile the sacred cow, but at least its only a social push. When the legislation comes along, it’s not promotion, its coercion. If you are cool with that, just be clear that you prefer coercive politics over collaborative politics.

    Second, there is an obvious bias against conservatives in your writing that is blinding you to the basic structure and ideals of the Republican party. Republicans are neither fighting CFLs for spite nor are they accidentally right; they have an ideological aversion to mandates from on high and regulation for the sake of ‘making people [economically] better’. If only we could get those conservatives to understand that trying to make people socially and morally better is just as restrictive and intrusive into freedom.

    I know that Limbaugh getting involved to motivate the base really muddies up matters, but he just uses the buzz words that get them rolling similar to how progressive icons use buzz words like “failure to regulate” or “lassei faire” or “Koch Brothers” to get the Democratic base all in an uproar. It would be more valuable if you listened to those you see as your opponents.

    As a note of disclosure, I use CFLs all throughout my house and have for the last ten years. I’ve changed 2 bulbs, one of which was broken and I had to clean it up. I used a mask and gloves and hope that was enough. I am willing to accept this risk because in 10 years, we have had only 1 broken light bulb while in the same period, I’ve dealt with two broken mercury thermometers. I LIKE CFLs and pay for them both because they are good for the money and because they make me feel like I’m helping the environment. It was, however, not forced upon me. I also have five traditional bulbs that operate on the dimmers because the dimmable CFLs are terrible.

  34. Hugo, you are misreading what I (and others have written) — deliberately, unintentionally, I don’t know, or care, but it makes you wrong on this matter and you should care.

    I specifically referred to “upfront” costs. This is VERY, very different from the overall cost of materials, or even the overall costs of energy (what you pay for wattage over time).

    If you take the purchase of a $.50 light bulb available now, versus a $2.50 bulb of the same luminary output but lesser overall wattage requirement, you conserve one cost at the expense of another. If you factor in replacing bulbs over time, a CFL bulb should last 10 times longer than a typical incandescent light bulb. If you spend $2.50 upfront for a CFL, you end up spending half the money in materials for CFL bulbs than for incandescents. The final component of this is the wattage used and thus watt-hours paid for, with an energy conserved for lumination at 25% that of incandescents.

    So the overall cost savings is over time, not upfront. As more and more CFLs are made, the technology becomes more refined, and this upfront cost will drop. This is not a supposition, but a projection of the actual effect since their arrival on the market, hampered only by the competing effect of misinformation of the value and effect of CFLs.

    The short-sightedness of looking only to the immediate costs is deliberative on some people’s parts, although I do not ascribe this to all arguments against CFLs. We cannot simply do away with the argument that increased use of CFLs domestically will require more care and safety in disposal, but this is a concern that is encountered with new foundational technology. It certainly affected the rise in Plasma televisions, and it will come the next time new or unfamiliar materials are involved in new versions of familiar domestic products. The fear-mongering involved in CFLs does not help the argument for people actually trying to discern value over the short-term, it only deters them from ever setting their feet into the pool … and I aver that this is the point of the fear-mongering.

  35. Hugo Schmidt

    Jaime,

    Your long and tedious arguments why one should by these little death traps would only be worth arguing about, if coercion were removed from the table. This is not the case.

  36. You misunderstand, Hugo, or are deliberately being disingenuous. I have never argued that anyone should buy them. My arguments on my own potential actions towards change had only to do with myself and its application to the system. This was by way of approaching the issue without making a political position, which I think is irrelevant for me.

    I simply showed that the statements you made about government enforcement were not based on fact, and as was pointed out later in the comments, was conflated with a European set of laws. You made what I argued was a mistake, and I pointed this out to you. You are still wrong.

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