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Not a bright idea

This is a page from the original version of Pagan Vigil. There are some formatting differences. Originally published at

Will getting rid of incandescent bulbs really save that much energy?

By now you've heard about the energy bill. Among other things, it raises MPG standards for cars, demands more "alternative" fuels, and phases out the incandescent bulb by 2012. The whole thing is a mess and mostly unworkable, but let's focus on the incandescent bulbs.

Like any other engineering, today's incandescent bulb is a series of trade-offs. The four that I think are most important to consider here are the ease to make, flexibility of use, moderate power usage, and ease of disposal. Taken together, these four make light bulbs cheap and plentiful in a free market. You can improve any of those four factors, but a tradeoff means that any improvement in one comes at the expense of the others.

Compact florescent bulbs use less power, but they can't be used with a dimmer, and they are harder to manufacture, and throwing them away has a greater environmental impact.

Meanwhile, there are people like me who can't spend most of their time around florescent lighting without getting sick. My NeoDen at home has special lighting, that's where I do most of my thinking and work. There's a large solar tube to catch the most of the daylight. An overhead ceiling fan has two 40 watt GE Reveal bulbs and a 60 watt grow light. I can't tell the difference between a 40 watt Reveal bulb and a standard 60 watt. There is another wall fixture that has a another 40 watt Reveal bulb.

Except for the kitchen, there are no florescent lights in the rest of my house because they do give me headaches. The kitchen window lights the kitchen perfectly well during the day. I'm sensitive to bright lights, especially at night, so the living room and the master bedroom have dimmers on their overhead lights. In the winter, I use the light from the living room fireplace at night.

Those dimmers give me bright light when I need it, but mostly let me have low level ambient light without "hot spots." You can't do that with florescent or halogen lights.

Even assuming that incandescent bulbs are a major factor in global warming (unproven, even more than the notion of human caused global warming), the total environmental impact of an incandescent bulb is less than the alternatives.

This is another feel good solution that lets politicos claim credit even as it makes the situation worse.

And of course, there won't be a black market for incandescent bulbs. After all, there wasn't a black market for old plumbing fixtures when low flow fixtures were made the law of the land, was there?

Yes, that was sarcastic. Americans have this nasty habit of breaking laws they think are stupid. That's why we're not on the metric system. It's why there is a market for radar detectors. And it's why Prohibition went down in flames. Americans are better at choosing for themselves than politicos are at choosing for them.

I can just see the no-knock raids looking for "hot" light bulbs...

Posted: Tue - December 25, 2007 at 02:31 PM

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