What’s So Funny ‘Bout Lightbulbs and Global Warming…?*

A year ago, I called attention to a British environmental activist’s campaign to ban the incandescent light bulb.  “Ban the Bulb” had a simplicity and elegance to it that appealed to this exiled PR man’s sense of how to communicate the imperatives of global warming. 

I’m not into finger-wagging on climate change, or attaching blame.  I’m into solutions, the less bothersome the better.  Getting people to switch to a source of lighting that uses dramatically less energy and thus is much cheaper over its lifespan makes more sense to me than 1,000 Al Gore “Inconvenient Truth” spinoffs or Arianna Huffington autograph sessions.

Just as I expected, a U.S. political leader has embraced the idea, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s a Californian, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine.  From the press release on his website:

“Incandescent light bulbs were first developed almost 125 years ago, and since that time they have undergone no major modifications,” Assemblymember Levine said. “Meanwhile, they remain incredibly inefficient, converting only about five percent of the energy they receive into light. It’s time to take a step forward – energy-efficient bulbs are easy to use, require less electricity to do the same job, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and save consumers money.”

According to the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a nonprofit organization that focuses on energy policy, replacing a 75-watt incandescent light bulb with a 20-watt compact fluorescent would result in the same amount of light but would save 1,300 pounds of carbon dioxide and save customers $55 over the life of the bulb (while the life of one 75-watt incandescent bulb is roughly 750 hours, the life of a compact fluorescent is a whopping 10,000 hours). Meanwhile, incandescent bulbs use 750 kWh over 10,000 hours, while compact fluorescents use only 180 kWh.

Well, I hope Assemblyman Levine didn’t count on getting a lot of support for this idea based on my advocacy.  This idea is getting the California nuts and flakes treatment from some quarters.  Ann Althouse:

This is a California idea. If I lived there and faced this ban, I’d buy my lightbulbs in another state. It’s just too horrible to live in such an ugly glare. People who have no aesthetic sense don’t understand how a limit like this affects people. I’d be happy to make up for it by turning off more lights or using dimmers.

Why don’t you ban air conditioning?

Glenn Reynolds:

I’m quite interested in compact fluorescents — I’ve installed quite a few in my house, and I’ve been experimenting to see which ones suck (most of them) and which ones are okay. But banning incandescents? That’s just silly.

Now a ban on private jets? Much less intrusive, and there’s lots of reason to think that this sort of thing has gotten out of hand. Flying commercial — you can even fly First Class if you want — is a small sacrifice for our business and political and entertainment leaders to pay in order to fight the scourge of global warming. Plus, who knows, if the “jet set” starts flying commercial again, maybe commercial flying will get better . . . .

Certainly, Reynolds has a point about private jets — I’ve made the same point.  And, I get it that some compact-fluorescents are ugly, or flicker like office flourescents, and for some people can trigger migraines.  But let’s chill out here. Levine’s talking about 2012. If, as Reynolds says, there are some that are “okay,” why is it so hard to imagine further developments in the next five years to give consumers more good choices? It simply beggars common sense that the only alternative to a 125-year-old wasteful technology is an “ugly glare.”

Besides, the likelihood of Levine’s proposal becoming law anytime soon is nonexistent.  It’s a publicity stunt — the good kind of publicity stunt, one that educates people and stimulates a more informed debate.  Maybe it will sell more energy-saving bulbs.  Maybe it will cause people to turn off lights when they aren’t using them.  Maybe we’ll figure out a tax incentive to accomplish the same thing.  The debate has to start somewhere.  

Right now, I hate all the rhetoric about global warming. It’s so apocalyptic, on both sides.  Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.  Assume there is at least a good chance there is man-made climate change.  Assume there is an opportunity to mitigate it through a reduction in pollution from greenhouse gases.  Look for the most cost-effective, least economically damaging ways to attain those reductions. Push the technology, fund the research.  Make things happen. 

Maybe the seas will rise.  Or maybe future scientists will conclude the panic was silly.  We can’t know the future.  But we can make changes.  Levine’s proposal is a practical contribution, and I’d like to see more of them.  

*Update:  Just noticed that Glenn Reynolds has a new post up about compact flourescents. As he finds more bulbs that give off a satisfactory glow, his tone shifts.  Given his huge readership and his reputation as a small-l libertarian, he’s doing a lot of good.  Obviously, a guy like him will never endorse a bill that mandates a change in the market — he calls regulatory intervention the “hair-shirt approach.”  But Glenn’s talking as if Levine’s bill has a prayer.  It doesn’t. 

Reynolds and Levine, together, are educating people based on their respective positions in the intellectual firmament.  I’m sure Levine’s proposal got a lot of liberals and environmentalists to say, oops, why haven’t I made the switch?  If they’re interested in a non-tree-hugging consumer’s evaluation, they can turn to Reynolds.  Blogecology at its finest.


6 thoughts on “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Lightbulbs and Global Warming…?*

  1. another key change we can make, and probably the single biggest thing we can do as individuals to fight global warming is to go vegetarian. a recent UN report found that the livestock industry accounts for 18 percent of human-induced greenhouse gases (more than cars!), and a university of chicago study concluded that switching from a typical american diet to a vegetarian diet reduces your contribution to global warming more than if you switched from a regular car to a hybrid. not to mention all the other environmental damage done by the meat industry, or the horrific suffering of the animals.

  2. The “National Post” just published and interesting series of articles about some scientists who are questioning the UN’s line on global warming. Some people calls them “deniers”, implicitly comparing them to the nut-jobs who deny the holocast. These newspapers articles are an excellent background showing why that accusation is ad hominem — an obvious smear to dismiss scientific evidence.

  3. Whether humans are significantly responsible for climate change or not, less energy consumption without losing anything is unarguably good. That said, the only fluorescent bulb I tried was bad. Ugly, harsh light. That’s fine in the bathroom (for me, anyway; I just don’t care about anything I see while in there, so long as I can see) but would be unpleasant in the bedroom, where I read. Or where the precious few people who visit me might sit.

    Reynolds’s suggestion of a brand (I had no idea there was any much degree of variance in quality) means I’ll probably try again, when next I buy a bulb. Which brand did you go with, D4P?

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