October 07, 2009
Here come the lightbulb police.

Nick Gillespie at Reason.tv has done a great job of summarizing the Envirofad of crusading against the incandescent lightbulb.

Does anyone on the left ever bother to think such garbage through? No, of course not. The approved party doctrine is that incandescent bulbs are bad, and that the new compact fluorescents are good. Anyone who disagrees must be a traitor or a racist right?

But for those who still like to think instead of blindly following Progressive ideology, here a few points to consider:

There are the obvious problems with the new CFL bulbs. They contain a lot of mercury, and make disposal hazardous. They also take a while to warm up, and don't give off enough light or enough quality light. So what are the unintended consequences of large scale adoption of these bulbs? Mercury will end up in our landfills, which environmentalists already scream are too full, and too full of bad stuff so as to ban plastic bags, install recycling police to watch your garbage, etc. One can imagine a whole new army of overpaid union droids, and a whole new fleet of King County vehicles (and not powered by ethanol because that boondoggle failed miserably) with the mission of going to hardware stores and markets and removing and/ or fining anyone who wants to sell an incandescent bulb. They would probably even arm these people like they do the CAO droids. And they will need to police proper disposal of that mercury too, right?

Then there are those who will leave the CFL bulbs on, because they take too long to warm up. At some point, a CFL bulb left on, uses more energy that an incandescent. We'll need police to go door to door and mandate that lights be turned off.

And because the light quality of CFL bulbs is so poor, there will be those who install more of these crappy bulbs, so as to increase the light output and quality, and again, they might then go over the energy required to otherwise power less incandescent bulbs. So the light bulb police will need to check how many bulbs are installed in a given room in your house.

And what about the costs of making a CFL bulb vs. an incandescent? There's the mining of the mercury needed and the solid state circuits needed to create the high voltage that causes the iridescence of the gas in the CFL bulb. Those require more factories, and more energy, a lot more energy that the simple production of an incandescent. Was that factored in to the overall savings of energy for CFL use? Doubtful.

Incancesdents also give off a lot of heat, which is why they are so inefficient. But, many people effectively use that heat to warm small rooms or areas, which in turn lowers heating costs. With the CFL bulbs, there is not only the cold blue light, but the relative cold air temp in the surrounding room. Right when bulbs are used the most in the winter, when it is dark and cold, there is no corresponding benefit from excess heat. The bulb police will need to be going around at night with Infrared imagers looking for those who have bulbs giving off too much heat.

Don't forget the high cost of CFLs, higher even than their longer life warrants. A cost that will be probably be dumped on to individuals as they are forced to buy new CFL bulbs. Don't try buying incandescent bulbs from a Chinese black market source. The light bulb police will be there to put you in jail for that heinous crime.

Lastly, what about all those halogen incandescent bulbs. Even though they are hugely popular and part of a large number of new lighting designs, they are not being discontinued. It's only the more old school Edison incandescent that is targeted. But why? The halogen bulbs give off even more heat and require even more energy than the Edison bulbs. Shouldn't the light bulb police be after those as well. Oops, I let the cat out of the bag, sorry, I am sure those are next.

The raft of unintended consequences of the stupid CFL Envirofad is amazing. And of course none of this is being vetted by the sensibility of a market that would otherwise arrive at a real problem solver. This will probably be the LED. As LED output in lumens steadily increases, there will eventually be a truly eye pleasing light source that takes advantage of the photonic release of the LED junction at much greater efficiencies than even the CFL bulbs, and with orders of magnitude longer bulb life and overall quality. In a more sane world, the market would be allowed to innovate until these bulbs truly reach a tipping point that then allows them to become the obvious better replacement for the Edison bulb.

But we will instead live through a vast and pointless forced market distortion brought on by the CFL fad, that is no doubt hugely driven by GE or some other large CFL maker who donates a huge amount to lobbying efforts for Democrat candidates in return for the back scratching monopoly, that only government can provide. And all with the willing support of those easily duped by whatever is the latest Envirofad.

Better stock up on Edison bulbs while you still can.

Posted by JeffB. at October 07, 2009 11:59 AM | Email This
Comments
1. But, but, but........CFL's can be recycled!!! Not one bit of mercury will end up in the landfill! Merely dispose of them in your government mandated recycle bin. You can't do that with other bulbs.

I do wonder though, how they recycle those things. That's a question that never seems to be answered. I suspect they don't want us to know they go to a landfill.

Posted by: Camille on October 7, 2009 02:15 PM
2. It is more than insanely ironic that the pols who passed this law eventually barring the purchase of incandescent bulbs (which I prefer) want me to have a choice of whether to kill my developing child (aka abortion), but the choice they don't want me to have is what lightbulb I use. It would be much more sane if these pols said "no, you shouldn't kill a child, but you can choose which lightbulb you want to use".

Posted by: Michele on October 7, 2009 11:16 PM
3. Wow... lots of half-truths and all around misrepresentation in that post. You should think, as opposed to blindly following conservative ideology (which just seems to amount to naysaying nowadays).

First, you're absolutely right in that mercury is an issue, and that CFLs are a source of mercury (5 milligrams -- 1/50th the amount in a mercury thermometer). But how do you rate that in comparison to the savings of energy over incandescents? Heck, if you live in an area that burns coal, you're putting mercury into the air anyway! Even if your area relies on natural gas, hydro, or nuclear, though, there are still other economic and environmental costs attached to meeting growth in demand. Assuming that mercury is the only pollutant in play here is just wrong.

Second, in terms of the life cycle impacts, it does take more energy and resources to make one CFL bulb than it does to make one incandescent. Problem, though, is that CFLs are expected to last 8 times as long! When you factor THAT in, CFLs win out with respect to energy and resources.

Third, point me towards a SINGLE enforcement mechanism that they've proposed in King County to force people to switch to CFLs. They've subsidized them, and the government has regulated the PRODUCTION of incandescents... but until you can show that jack-booted thugs are going to shoot you for using a regular lightbulb, you're just going off on a paranoid rant.

Finally, you're right in that LEDs are the next big thing. But if we're trying to manage energy demand NOW, should we wait until the next generation of lightbulbs comes out? Should we just dismiss every single possible advancement as a "fad" until the absolute best solution somehow appears?

Please. In arguing that everyone in favor of CFLs is somehow a mindless drone, all you're doing is showing you're mindless (and poorly referenced) in your opposition.

@2: Figures. Whenever conservatives want to argue about anything, they use abortion. Dim bulb, indeed!

Posted by: demo kid on October 8, 2009 04:27 PM
4. I know that tongue in cheek is a tough concept for demo kid to grasp. Because Progressives are so serious and enlightened.

And of course no consideration for the Halogen point, which basically nullifies any energy savings from CFLs because they are in widespread use. Halogens are in hundreds of current fixtures from Target, IKEA, etc. If there was any seriousness to energy reduction, it would have to also target those bulbs. But the problem is that people like light. They like it at night. Absent a media greening campaign, CFLs are not a quality of light that people would choose, nor a cost savings in energy that merits their few benefits and much greater cost and energy costs used for creation. Sure, theoretically a CFL bulb might last eight times longer than an incandescent. But, I just checked prices at Lowes. CFL bulbs are more than 10x expensive as incandescent bulbs and 5x that of halogens. Most people don't want to pay 10x for something that is inferior in terms of its output and quality. Especially when they can get a halogen bulb, that also provides are very warm and pleasing light, and also lasts a very long time, but at about 1/4 the cost of a CFL.

Newsflash, people pay money for the energy use that affords them the quality of light that they like. CFLs would not exist were it not for the massive campaigns that push them, because they are inferior in so many ways. Progressives always get it backward and try to punish their way to solutions when human nature works by incentive.

There's no reason at all for this market distortion, even in the absence of the light bulb police that I parody.

Lastly, you mention the subsidy, which is a major negative for CFLs. How much taxpayer money have we wasted on trying to force an energy conservation through CFLs while simultaneously allowing energy consumption in general. It's ludicrous to try and impact energy consumption on the whole through one small aspect of that consumption, and especially given the myriad of other choices of lighting. And where does that taxpayer money come from, and couldn't it be put to better use? If you have to massively subsidize something to get it to exist at all, maybe it just shouldn't exist. How's that light rail ridership working out?

As I stated at the top, it's a poorly thought through fad, that is most likely a GE phenomenon and nothing more. But you sure see a lot of dim bulbs who think that they are changing the world with CFLs. Normal people know they are expensive and not very good, and that's why they buy other products that do a much better job of lighting.

Posted by: Jeff B. on October 9, 2009 10:55 AM
5. @4: CFL bulbs are more than 10x expensive as incandescent bulbs and 5x that of halogens.

Eight incandescents plus the energy savings over the lifetime of the bulb equals...?


Most people don't want to pay 10x for something that is inferior in terms of its output and quality.

I think you just need to try to get the right kind of bulb. The ones I use are no different in "quality" from an incandescent.


CFLs would not exist were it not for the massive campaigns that push them, because they are inferior in so many ways. Progressives always get it backward and try to punish their way to solutions when human nature works by incentive.

And... where are the jack-booted thugs knocking on your door, inspecting your house? I must have missed that part of the legislation.


It's ludicrous to try and impact energy consumption on the whole through one small aspect of that consumption, and especially given the myriad of other choices of lighting.

Every bit helps. Otherwise, what's the point of wrapping your hot water heater? Getting more efficient appliances? Using rechargeable batteries? Tiny choices altogether can have a big impact.


As I stated at the top, it's a poorly thought through fad, that is most likely a GE phenomenon and nothing more.

I think that this is certainly an advantage for lightbulb producers and power companies. No doubt there, and if we want to talk about where the money comes from and where it's going, let's do that.

But if public money is going to subsidize the supply side in energy production, there is NO reason why it cannot also be used to influence the demand side.

The only thing that's poorly thought out here is the typical conservative ranting about any socially or economically progressive action. This is not a perfect policy that will massively reduce energy use due to lighting, but it was NEVER meant to do that. This is an incremental change, and when LEDs become more cost-effective over the next several years, we can replace CFLs when they wear out.

But hey, if we're looking to be MORE effective in energy conservation, what's your plan? What would be a better use of resources?

Posted by: demo kid on October 10, 2009 07:06 AM
6. That's the point. Many would rather purchase 8 cheaper incandescent light bulbs, even knowing they take more energy because it defers their total lighting costs over a longer period of time with less initial cash outlay. That decision should be left to the consumer, and not made for them by a consortium of government and large corporation forced mandates of a particular type of bulb. Especially since many prefer light fixtures that don't even take Edison screw base style bulbs.

As to quality of the light from the bulb. That's a subjective decision that is made by each individual. You might like blue paint on your walls, I like brown on mine. I like the kind of light given off by Halogens. If you like CFLs, great, but that should be on your dime, and not on the government's dime. If it were not for the massive subsidies injected in to that one particular type of bulb, they would not exist because manufacturers would not be able to support the extra cost of making them without the green mandates.

The jack-booted thugs part is your words, not mine. The light bulb police was tongue in cheek as stated above. But, note that King County does have a myriad of other inspection type forces. For recycling vs. garbage bins as an example. If people don't want to spend a lot up front for the 10x cost of the bulbs, and don't like the light quality of CFLs, how long will it be before there are some even greater mandates, and/or inspectors to enforce those mandates on bulbs? If it is warranted in the name of recycling, then saving energy is not far on the heels.

Saving energy is fine, but again, that should be an individual choice. The difference between wrapping a water heater and mandating the type of lightbulb is obvious. Wrapping the water heater does save energy, is common sense, is usually located in a non aesthetic and non functional part of the house, and isn't subject to vastly differing recurring costs.

Public money should not be in energy production at all. But since you bring it up, that's a major problem as well. We are wasting millions subsidizing wind and solar which are vastly less dense and less effective forms of energy production. Ask any wind farm CEO if he could exist were it not for the subsidy. If we instead let the market decide both production and use, with reasonable protections on air quality, safety and incentives for using more energy efficient appliances, etc. then we can arrive at a proper use of government within a market to allow people to make choices for creation and use of energy. Forcing wind and solar and CFL bulbs, which are on both ends of the energy life cycle replete with as many problems as they solve, doesn't make for success. It's like battery powered cars. They might be a good idea, but the day when the charging infrastructure, recharging speed, range of the vehicle, etc. is to a useful and competitive point with current vehicles is far off. It's worth doing R&D type funding on battery technology, etc. but not worth vastly subsidized toys for the rich like Tesla cars.

Again, this is poorly thought out. Because there is no cohesive strategy for consumer lighting choices, nor a cohesive ecosystem of energy production and consumption. There are simply mandates on a particular type of bulb that has been blessed as green with it's squigly shape becoming iconic for a feel good energy savings. And massive siubsidies for wind and solar even though the contribute a tiny percentage of the total energy production. The fact is that folks could save far more money on other far greater energy sinks within their homes and at far less cost. Insulation in the walls and attics would be much more effective, and reasonable use of government funding which we already have, then mandating a particular type of lightbulb that costs a lot more, is filled mercury, with a light quality not preferred by many, and all without regard to many other bulbs, there use, the fixtures which only support certain bulbs, etc. And again, if government was serious about saving energy on lighting, it should be working with lighting manufacturers on the whole to produce new standards of fixture and bulb, that like newer washers and dryers would be both pleasing to the consumer and efficient. Instead they are focused only on one particular type of bulb.

My plan, would be to start with a much more cost effective production of energy in the first place, so we don't have to try and fix everything on the demand end. We know that demand will grow as our economy and population grows. That's a good thing, and nothing to be ashamed of. And we also know that having had the time to evolve appliances to where they are today in the US, mfgs. now focus on energy efficiency, having already worked out many other functionality and aesthetic issues within a design. There will be innovation that continues to drive the demand end down, and it will roll out over time based on obsolescence and on great new products that people really do like, and don't have to forced upon them by subsidy and mandate. This is the proper way to allow for change.

A great use of government would be to establish a nation wide standardized expansion of 3G and 4G nuclear reactor designs, in the same manner, only using today's US expertise and technology as France has done. Per density and cost of fuel, we could get far greater efficiency and create a much, much lower cost of energy which would in turn do much for out economy and lower the costs for greater expansion of our grid, lower dependence on oil and gas, and pave the way for electrification of vehicle fleets assuming battery technology comes along as well. Because again, greens assume the panacea of electric cars as a replacement for oil based cars, without acknowledging the massive transformation that would be needed to move from fossil fuels and energy consumed by vehicles over to a grid based supply. And if you think that's going to come from wind and solar, I have bridge to sell you.


CFLs, just like Sounder Light Rail, are a symbol eliciting green hosannas, but that don't really integrate in to the real world of how people live their daily lives. On that note, as I drove up I-5 on Friday night during commute hours, I looked over at the Sounder train passing me, and counted passengers in the two car train. This was right a 5:45 pm during commute time. I counted a grand total of Two passengers. Gee am I glad we spent billions for that mess.

Posted by: Jeff B. on October 11, 2009 09:15 AM
7. The root of your argument, aside from the whinging about how CFLs are awful, is that the government should have no role in energy production unless it does, and that the government is mandating certain bulb when in reality they're not. In fact, you have a lot of arguments in here that are just plain absurd.


Many would rather purchase 8 cheaper incandescent light bulbs, even knowing they take more energy because it defers their total lighting costs over a longer period of time with less initial cash outlay.

Amortization of costs? Ummm... since this isn't a mandate to replace all of your lightbulbs all at once, I'm at a loss as to how you can think a couple bucks here and a couple bucks there -- which will even out in the end with energy savings! -- makes a lick of difference.


If you like CFLs, great, but that should be on your dime, and not on the government's dime. If it were not for the massive subsidies injected in to that one particular type of bulb, they would not exist because manufacturers would not be able to support the extra cost of making them without the green mandates.

The "subsidies" are granted by local governments and utilities that want to stave off the need to either build out new production or buy more power from other utility companies. In the end, it actually SAVES money -- especially since your local utility doesn't have to jack up rates to meet increased needs.


The jack-booted thugs part is your words, not mine. The light bulb police was tongue in cheek as stated above. But, note that King County does have a myriad of other inspection type forces.

Ha ha! So the government jack-booted thugs won't come to your door... until they do? I'm fascinated that you think that's even remotely plausible.


The difference between wrapping a water heater and mandating the type of lightbulb is obvious. Wrapping the water heater does save energy, is common sense, is usually located in a non aesthetic and non functional part of the house, and isn't subject to vastly differing recurring costs.

Wrapping your water heater is a cost, and new water heaters that you buy come wrapped already. CFLs save money over their life cycle, and many of them give off the same spectrum of light as incandescents.

Nope, not seeing too much of a difference, except that the water heater is just in the basement.


We are wasting millions subsidizing wind and solar which are vastly less dense and less effective forms of energy production. Ask any wind farm CEO if he could exist were it not for the subsidy. If we instead let the market decide both production and use, with reasonable protections on air quality, safety and incentives for using more energy efficient appliances, etc. then we can arrive at a proper use of government within a market to allow people to make choices for creation and use of energy.

Again, let me laugh a bit at that one. Conservatives that believe that the free market will lead to utopia obviously haven't studied Enron and PG&E to any great degree. Private companies can fold, but the government has an interest in making national infrastructure secure. That includes diversifying our energy portfolio, and investing in many different types of energy.

And not only that... you just bemoaned the subsidies for CFL use before, and here you claim that subsidies of appliances are the way to go? Sheesh.


There are simply mandates on a particular type of bulb that has been blessed as green with it's squigly shape becoming iconic for a feel good energy savings.

Wrong. The mandates are for a particular level of efficiency from bulbs, not for a particular bulb. If someone wants to market some ultra-high efficiency incandescent, they're free to do so.


The fact is that folks could save far more money on other far greater energy sinks within their homes and at far less cost. Insulation in the walls and attics would be much more effective, and reasonable use of government funding which we already have, then mandating a particular type of lightbulb that costs a lot more, is filled mercury, with a light quality not preferred by many, and all without regard to many other bulbs, there use, the fixtures which only support certain bulbs, etc.

Now you're saying that government funding should be used to subsidize measures to control demand? I agree! Let's do that too. This isn't just a "one or the other proposition" to improve energy efficiency.

And energy production puts out mercury into the environment as well... as I mentioned before.


Again, you're assuming that: a.) the focus on energy-efficiency is exclusively on lighting, and b.) the focus on energy-efficient lighting is exclusively on CFLs. Neither one is true.


My plan, would be to start with a much more cost effective production of energy in the first place, so we don't have to try and fix everything on the demand end. We know that demand will grow as our economy and population grows. That's a good thing, and nothing to be ashamed of. And we also know that having had the time to evolve appliances to where they are today in the US, mfgs. now focus on energy efficiency, having already worked out many other functionality and aesthetic issues within a design. There will be innovation that continues to drive the demand end down, and it will roll out over time based on obsolescence and on great new products that people really do like, and don't have to forced upon them by subsidy and mandate. This is the proper way to allow for change.

Ugh... what a dog's breakfast of a statement THAT is.

I don't have a problem with the free market adapting and presenting more energy-efficient appliances. However, demand-side management has just as important of a role to play in energy policy. The simple truth is that we DON'T demand energy directly -- we demand the services that come from devices that use energy. Utilizing the capacity we have is extremely important, and figuring out how to use the energy that we generate more efficiently can be worth just about as much as building few power plants... and can be much cheaper for all of us as well.


A great use of government would be to establish a nation wide standardized expansion of 3G and 4G nuclear reactor designs, in the same manner, only using today's US expertise and technology as France has done

Fine... but that's the intervention of the government in the market to promote a particular technology. Make a choice -- do you want government involved, or not?


Because again, greens assume the panacea of electric cars as a replacement for oil based cars, without acknowledging the massive transformation that would be needed to move from fossil fuels and energy consumed by vehicles over to a grid based supply. And if you think that's going to come from wind and solar, I have bridge to sell you.

No, that's the parody of the greens that conservatives have in their heads. The idea of an electric car is great, but anyone worth their stripes as a REAL environmentalist would be able to give you the exact line of reasoning you presented. Life-cycle environmental costs are essential to consider.

Don't get me wrong... there are plenty of liberals that are superficial environmentalists, just as there are idiot conservatives that refuse to eat French fries for political reasons. Still, better to be a liberal moron trying to make a positive change in the world than a conservative moron dumping $100 into the gas tank of an oversized truck to spite environmentalists (while their money goes towards funding Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and so forth).


CFLs, just like Sounder Light Rail, are a symbol eliciting green hosannas, but that don't really integrate in to the real world of how people live their daily lives. On that note, as I drove up I-5 on Friday night during commute hours, I looked over at the Sounder train passing me, and counted passengers in the two car train. This was right a 5:45 pm during commute time. I counted a grand total of Two passengers. Gee am I glad we spent billions for that mess.

Relevance? We're talking about CFLs and energy efficiency here. I might as well start in on the Republican policy in Iraq or something if you're going to spout off about this.

But damn! Yes! That train should have INSTANTANEOUSLY brought wealth and happiness to the entire region! Children should have been singing, old ladies should have been crying! What were we liberals thinking?

We're paying to build a system for tomorrow, not for today. Demand will increase. When the next spike in oil prices comes up, I'll be interested in seeing how many folks you'll count in the train then. When it gets connected to the airport, I'll be interested in the count then, too... same as when they extend the line to the university. Expecting it to be an integrated part of our transportation network after ONE month is foolish.

Sheesh. I have to scoff at brain-dead conservatives that think that everything they propose can evolve over time, but what projects liberals propose have to have instantaneous results.


Posted by: demo kid on October 11, 2009 05:09 PM
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