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Dimming Down America

Dimming Down America

1,867 words

Get Ready To Buy The Light Bulbs That The Government Commands You To

I wasn’t intending to write an article on this subject because it seemed to me that everything that could be said about the topic had already been covered. But the issue has become somewhat relevant again because in recent weeks the US House of Representative courageously refused to pass a bill overruling the mandate which will have everyone in the formerly-free United States of America buying nothing but Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs starting in 2014 (which will be here sooner than you think, folks!). So, here goes.

Most people have heard the PR story of these bulbs ad nauseam, about how they are the new intelligent choice for lighting because they use only a fraction of the energy which is consumed by the old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs that everyone has been familiar with for a hundred years. And on the surface it sounds like a good idea. But I have several objections to these new bulbs (Not the least of which is the fact that I will be forced to use them!) which I will cover in the following paragraphs.

1.  They look stupid.

Okay, granted that this is no legitimate reason not to use them, but let’s face it: CFL bulbs, in either of their two incarnations, look stupid and ugly.

2.  They cost too much.

CFL advocates say that the costs of CFLs are going down. I recently did an informal survey at two light bulb retailers, an Orchard Supply Hardware store and a Walmart. At the Orchard I could buy three regular, bright 60 watt CFLs for $9, or three soft whites for $7. Four 60 watt Reveal incandescent bulbs made by GE cost $3.40. That breaks down to $3.00 or $2.33 respectively for the CFLs versus eighty-five cents for each incandescent. At Walmart you could get just two 60 watt GE CFL bulbs for $8.48 ($4.24 per bulb) or two GE Reveal CFL bulbs for $10 ($5 per). Walmart wanted $2.44 for four 60 watt incandescent Reveals, or sixty-one cents per bulb. The prices for the energy-saving bulbs are obviously very much greater than the price of a “normal” lightbulb, which raises some interesting questions. For instance, why are these new bulbs so much more expensive? Does it really cost that much more to manufacture them? If so, why? Does the production of CFL bulbs require more expensive materials than the manufacture of incandescents? Is more energy required for their manufacture? If so, how much?

Of course, the response to this argument of higher purchase cost is that consumers will actually save money because of the bulbs’ longevity and lower electric usage (i.e., operating) costs. But I don’t think that this rebuttal is true, because in my experience the bulbs don’t last for years, as advertised. (See # 3, below.)

3.  They don’t last as long as they are alleged to last.

Hey, I don’t care what anybody says. These bulbs flat-out don’t last as long as their advocates claim that they will. I have been using CFLs for just the last few years, and I already have over a dozen which have burned out. And since they are hard to properly dispose of (see item # 6, below), I still have all of them! I’ve seen some claims that these bulbs are supposed to last for up to 12,000 hours. The packages say that the bulbs will last ten times longer than incandescent bulbs. But then, while I was reading bulb packages, I noticed something else that was very interesting, something else that’s been on all of the CFL bulb packaging that I’ve examined: the words “Made in China.”! (See # 4, below.)

4.  They are manufactured overseas (in China, most particularly).

Why are we giving any business to the Chinese other than that (if any) which is totally necessary for our survival as a nation? And besides that, why would anybody believe what the Chinese say about anything? I mean, they are not exactly known for being upright, honest, and honorable.

If you want to take the word of something made in China, be my guest.

5.  They take too long to reach their full brightness.

Some CFL bulbs can take 30 seconds to reach just 80 percent of their promised brightness. (Some larger-sized bulbs, like outdoor floodlights, can often take almost two minutes.) This means that the bulbs are not practical where light is not needed for an extended period of time, like in closets. And this brings up another problem with the bulbs. Their much touted longevity decreases greatly relative to the shorter amount of time that a light is on. In other words, if you turn a CFL light on and then off again after just a few minutes (as people have been taught to do for decades — “Turn out the light when you’re done with it!”) it substantially decreases the life of the bulb. This, I would think, defeats the purpose of buying an allegedly “longer lasting” light bulb in many instances.

6. When you turn them off, they keep glowing.

Yes, they do. And sometimes it’s creepy.

7.  They contain mercury, which makes safe disposal of them an inconvenience.

I’ve heard that most Home Depots and some Ace Hardware stores in the United States take in the old bulbs. But how convenient is that, really? The nearest Home Depot to my house is over fifty miles away, and while I can’t say that I never go there (or go by there), I would hardly call it convenient either. And this is a main point, namely that someone like myself who cares about the environment might actually save all of my burned out CFLs and take them to the Depot  or Ace Hardware the next time I’m in its area. But how many other people in my situation (or even in the situation of being considerably closer to these stores) are going to do the same thing? What percentage of the ever increasingly lazy population of the United States is going to do this? Not a great percentage, I’d wager. In fact, as it is now perhaps a little as 3% of burned-out CFLs are disposed of properly. The other 97%? In the landfills or just on the land, I guess . . .

As for the mercury in broken bulbs being a health hazard, I’ve known since grade school that you wouldn’t want to be around a regular, old-fashioned tubular fluorescent bulb if it broke. But I’ve seen children and adolescents gleefully breaking piles of them. So I have to wonder, how well known are the health hazards connected with these products to, for example, children and other persons who might not have researched them? One source I consulted while researching this article (Consumer Reports) stated:

Exposure to broken CFLs can pose a health risk, especially to a fetus or young child. But don’t panic. Open a window, shut off central A/C or forced-air heating, and clear the room for at least 15 minutes as the Environmental Protection Agency recommends. Read “What to Do If a Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb Breaks” for more details. And be sure to keep CFLs out of lamps that could easily tip, especially in rooms used often by children or pregnant women.

I wouldn’t say that the above-advised response was necessarily panicky, but it is quite a bit more involved than the common sense solution of getting a broom and dustpan and sweeping up the remnants of a broken incandescent bulb. (And considering the number of CFLs that will be broken by youngsters, either accidentally or by design, it is worth asking how many of these young people are going to be aware of these necessary clean-up precautions.)

(My first reaction to this obvious problem of disposal was to conclude that if the government is going to mandate that the public use these bulbs, then the government should provide recovery facilities that make it easy — very easy – for people to get rid of their old, defunct bulbs. But then I flashed — That’s all we need! The government taking more of our money to do something as stupidly as possible! So that option is obviously out!)

8. They can buzz while they are lit.

This is a complaint that I haven’t seen publicized too much, but I’ve noticed that some of the CFLs in my house (especially the one that used to be in my bedside reading lamp) buzz annoyingly, like their tubular big brothers often do. I’m not really that noise sensitive, but after a while my partner picked up on it and the offending bulb was replaced with a regular 60-watt incandescent model. (The buzzing bulb? It’s in my pile of “What do I do with these?”s.)

And last but not least, beginning in 2012 (and stretching to 2014) sales of incandescent bulbs in the United States will be halted and the sale of CFLs will basically be mandated. So, even if you want to buy a lightbulb that will only be lit for a few seconds at a time, like in a closet, you won’t be able to. (The last major domestic maker of incandescent bulbs has already shut down its manufacturing facilities.)

But the main thing that gnaws on me about this whole situation is that somehow I think that this mandated conservation is not going to be applied equally across the board. As an über-staunch environmentalist, I actually have no problem with curbing my light bulb and electricity use. But I already do it by having a minimal number of lamps and having them on for only as long as necessary. (You can also cut your energy use by just using bulbs with a lower wattage. In most instances, you won’t even notice the difference in lighting.) I also rise early and go to bed early, so I get most of my light from the natural and non-polluting and free source known as the sun (and without all of that “solar panels and power grid infrastructure” stuff). Still, that’s not enough for the governmental geniuses who know better than I as to how I should live my life. They are going to make me buy the bulbs that are good for me. And take note of that “me,” because that is also “you.”

But here’s a news flash: The government doesn’t have the natural (or even moral) authority to tell me what kind of light bulbs to buy. They don’t have the authority in part because they haven’t demonstrated that they have the honest intelligence needed in order to lay a claim to it.

But there’s yet another reason why they lack the authority. While it would be easy to dismiss our governmental representatives as idiots not worthy of being obeyed (and, given that they are representatives of the people who elected them, what else could they be?), beyond that they don’t have the authority because they will most certainly be selective, unfair, and incoherent in their enforcement of their new policy. They’ll mandate a procedure for common citizens but they’ll grant exemptions for the moneyed interests who play their games and produce piles of money for the big government/business trough. In other words, it’ll be lights dimmer (and dumber) for you and for me, but it will be big business as usual for:





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