Goodbye Edison

Experience has taught me that all stories on CFL bulbs generate the same comments:

  • I hate the light

  • The light’s gotten better!
  • Bah. LED FTW!
  • They’re poisonous
  • This is the sort of green energy-saving technology that will wean us off coal
  • Hitler loved those bulbs too

That’s it, more or less. The coal-weaning one is a favorite, since the amount of coal we’ll probably save per year will be half what China spills every week unloading the fuel for its factories. But since the bulbs are eco-licious, stories like this cause no rending of garments among their adherents:

The last major GE factory making ordinary incandescent light bulbs in the United States is closing this month, marking a small, sad exit for a product and company that can trace their roots to Thomas Alva Edison’s innovations in the 1870s.

The remaining 200 workers at the plant here will lose their jobs.

Apparently the company was offered tax credits to modernize, but said no. And why shouldn’t they? The Chinese factory is probably newer, cheaper, and they don’t have to worry 20 years later that someone will find three molecules of mercury in the groundwater and sue them for eleventh billion dollars. Point is, tax credits wouldn’t be necessary and jobs would be saved if they hadn’t banned a perfectly fine product and cast it on the dust-heap of history because it made Mother Gaia cry.

How did we lose the old Edison bulb? You search your mind for the name of the bill that took them away – surely something mendacious like the Energy Choice and Freedom Act, or somesuch piece of tin-eared newspeak – and wonder why the President didn’t veto it. Someone must have told him this would impress independents who are one step away from switching Republican, if only they’d get green religion and pass a law requiring everyone be composted in a hemp sack when they die. I suspect those people would be more impressed by a president who said it’s none of anyone’s business what kind of bulb you use, and released YouTube footage of the leader of the free world wadding up each page of the bill individually and tossing them into the wastebasket in the Oval Office. Up for a game of Horse, Rove? Here, you take the riders.

This may be the other thing the voters want from a new Congress: there’s less spending and fewer taxes, but also fewer beaks poked in our lives, thank you. But first the Republicans would have to be willing to deal with serious, concerned journalists on TV talk shows asking them why they vetoed a bill for clean light bulbs, and responding “for the same reason I don’t vote for a bill requiring everyone’s oven mitt to be plaid. It’s your own damned choice.”

They might also note that if they’re going to ban something people like, it’ll be a bill that does that and no more, and not one provision in an enormo-wad of laws that also increases biodiesel mandates AND regulates the number of type size of the BEST USED BY expiration date on potted meat products. Just a thought.

  1. Jimmy Carter

    Let’s ban congress. It’s older than the lightbulb. Think of all the energy that would save…. not to mention the tax breaks.

  2. The Mugwump

    Blasphemy! Heresy! Anathema! Mr. Lileks, you are hereby ordered to crawl on your hands and knees to the International Criminal Court in the Hague where you will be arraigned for thought crimes. The hemp sack idea might prod us to show some leniency in your case. Please bring your own sack. We don’t wish to waste paper invoicing your family for the cost of your disposal.

  3. Johnny Dubya

    I used the term “waste” in the engineering sense, referring to energy that is no converted into the primary product of the lightbulb, i.e., light. “Waste” heat frequently finds a useful purpose. That is consistent with my point that we should be free to choose. I choose CFLs for landscape lighting because they save me money on electricity and last much, much longer than incandescents. Someone in a cold climate may prefer to have hot bulbs. We ought to be able to make our own decisions, because we know our own need better than the feddle gummint does.

  4. Trace

    I agree with everything you said James except for the bit about the oven mitts. Researchers at the University of Iowa have found that the shocking plaid patterns of oven mitts draw the eye 3.7% more frequently (margin of error 4.2%) resulting in 0.2% fewer skin burns and 1.7% fewer incidences of burnt food — which of course reduces carbon.

  5. Kenneth
    Trace Urdan: I agree with everything you said James except for the bit about the oven mitts. Researchers at the University of Iowa have found that the shocking plaid patterns of oven mitts draw the eye 3.7% more frequently (margin of error 4.2%) resulting in 0.2% fewer skin burns and 1.7% fewer incidences of burnt food — which of course reduces carbon. · Sep 8 at 6:38pm

    Vital research.

    Paid for by generous grants from OSHA, the Departments of Energy and Health and Human Services and the National Plaid Foundation.

    I wonder if they had one of those American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signs next to the oven?

    And did they test on hallal meals?

  6. Dave Carter
    C
    Kenneth … I wonder if they had one of those American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signs next to the oven?

    Actually, it’s an American Recovery and Reinvestment Mitt. They found authorization in the Commerce Clause.

  7. John H.

    And experience has taught me that every story about alternative energy has “tax credits” in it. Except the last one I read, in Science, which had “direct payments” in it. As I say too often, I fear, in the 20th century it was famines and gulags, in the 21st it’ll be environmentalism and sharia. People love to give freedom away, consistently prove they will pay to do so, and I seriously doubt we’ll see incandescent bulbs (powered by carbon or anything) ever again.

  8. Cas Balicki

    My favourite twisty light bulb story had some legislator in Canada’s Northwest Territories, one of the coldest places in the world, trying to ban incandescent light bulbs because they were ‘inefficient.’ Then someone told the dolt that incandescent bulbs burned ‘hot’ and that if he banned them the home owners would simply have to burn more fuel oil to heat their houses. To me this anecdote encapsulates everything that is wrong with legislating human conduct that government should never involve itself with: a stupid idea, inplemented without due regard for its impact, and, as usually happens, a law enacted for the wrong reasons.

  9. Johnny Dubya

    Incandescent bulbs do waste an awful lot of energy in the form of heat, but that’s no excuse for central planning. The market was clearly embracing flourescent bulbs without coercion, and the same would have been true of LED bulbs. It sure would be nice if we still were “free to choose”.

  10. Kenneth

    Dave, Kenneth and Peter huddle around a Ouija board in a dimly-lit room:

    Peter:

    “Here it is! Here it is!”

    Dave:

    “…a…d…i…s…o…..n!”

    Peter:

    “Mr. President! We’re honored to have you join us tonight. I just want to say…

    Kenneth:

    “Cut the courtly crap, Peter and just ask him…outright.”

    Peter:

    “Well, we’ve been wondering, Mr. President, if you wouldn’t agree, in hindsight, that the commerce clause might have been, um, drafted a little more…tightly…”

    Dave:

    “Yeah, Jim, the way you guys left it, you can drive a freaking 18-wheeler through the thing.”

    Kenneth:

    “Nightmare, to put it lightly.”

    Peter (frowning at Kenneth):

    “Please excuse my friends, Mr. President. They’ve imbibed a bit too heavily…”

    James Madison:

    “By coincidence, that’s how the Commerce Clause was promulgated. We were writing to deadline, had tippled a fair amount and someone – you’ll have to ask Ben Franklin – said “Holy Cow! It’s two in the morning! Let’s just wrap this sucker up…”

    Kenneth:

    “Good enough for government work, huh?”

    Madison:

    “Don’t be snippy. We’re not the ones who installed a parliament of moonbat strumpets.”

  11. Dave Carter
    C

    Kenneth,…well,..THAT certainly puts it all in perspective.

  12. Michael Tee
    Kevin Walker:Ferraris do waste an awful lot of energy in the form of speed, but that’s no excuse for central planning. · Sep 8 at 7:08pm

    Fixed.

  13. Mark Wilson
    Kevin Walker: Incandescent bulbs do waste an awful lot of energy in the form of heat… · Sep 8 at 7:08pm

    In large swaths of the country that directly offsets heating bills, and is not “waste” in any sense of the word.

    It annoys me to no end that all kinds of light fixtures designed to hold transparent, spherical incandescent bulbs (like bathroom vanities) are going to be filled with those ugly, pasty, spiral CFL eyesores.

  14. Duane Oyen

    Kevin Walker: Incandescent bulbs do waste an awful lot of energy in the form of heat, but that’s no excuse for central planning. The market was clearly embracing flourescent bulbs without coercion, and the same would have been true of LED bulbs. It sure would be nice if we still were “free to choose”. · Sep 8 at 7:08pm

    Exactly. I have CFLs and LEDs all over the place, but because I like them and like advanced technology. I also don’t like to burn my hands.

  15. Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    George Savage:

    And I don’t need to call a hazmat disposal team when my dog knocks over an incandescent.

    Umm…. I know I’m not flattering myself by comparing myself to a dog, but I don’t know anyone (human or canine) who has knocked over more lamps than I have in the last year (I even can do this in my sleep, apparently). So I’m quite grateful that my husband insisted on incandescents (as a photographer, he really hates that “dead” fluorescent look) for most of our fixtures.

    My parents, on the other hand, use fluorescents, which is fine by me, since that’s what they want. Although the last time I was over at their place, I did knock over a precariously-placed lamp and break a fluorescent bulb, which we then cleaned up without proper precautions — because what else is the ordinary person going to do in these cases?

    Maybe clumsy people could claim protected status and that fluorescent bulbs are discrimination by disparate impact… “Klutzes of America, unite against an unfeeling government that doesn’t care if all clumsy people die of mercury poisoning!”

    It’s no stupider than suing bars for ladies’ night.

  16. Duane Oyen

    I like 200 watt equivalent lights for reading; I turn on the family room switch and two very bright, but cool, bulbs come on, staying on for hours for about 60 watts of heat.

    I don’t get the hostility to new bulb technology that is sometimes displayed on the right. We resent the Congressional coercion, of course- but that only speeded up a decline that was already occurring for traditional bulbs.

    We have somehow also persuaded ourselves that 3200K to 4000K light color is “white”, rather than the actual 6100K

  17. George Savage

    I’d like to challenge the notion that incandescent bulbs are inefficient as used.

    Clearly, fluorescent lighting is the efficient choice for continuous, constant-intensity lighting, which is why it dominates in offices and factories. However, for episodic use in the typical home? Hah! The sequence in my house runs like this: I flip my CFL on, wait a few minutes for it to come up to usable brightness (thanking Congress all the while), find what I’m looking for and then . . . then I just leave it on. I might need to head back into my home office later and I’m certainly not going through this again.

    Americans aren’t stupid. We prefer an inexpensive, flexible lighting source instantly available when we need it to an expensive bulb that takes minutes to warm up to usable intensity.

    And I don’t need to call a hazmat disposal team when my dog knocks over an incandescent.

  18. Rob Long
    C

    It’s truly the only time I’ve every pitched a genuine Hollywood fit: when the studio where I was working decided to “upgrade” all light bulbs, and replaced them with those awful murky Dairy Queen-looking things.

    Which meant that when the sun went down (which it did a lot of the time on us, on that particular project) you couldn’t see a thing in my office.

    It took a genuine tantrum — me, eyes blazing, demanding that the studio lot president come down to my office at 7PM and tell me he can read a script; me, golf-carting over to his office in a rage, demanding an emergency meeting with the studio chairman; me, eventually, placated and soothed by the immediate restoration of the right bulbs in their sockets.

    So when I snapped and had a Hollywood-sized meltdown, it wasn’t over money, or trailer size, or points on the back end, or even the right kind of bottled water.

    It was over lightbulbs.

  19. Harrington Elligidgy

    Love it love it. Don’t forget they also banned books with lead in the ink or whatever the crap that was

    http://reason.com/blog/2009/05/07/your-yard-sale-is-illegal

    http://www.city-journal.org/2009/eon0212wo.html

  20. Duane Oyen

    Frozen, I don’t put CFL in my garage or other unsuitable places. And I’d need to see data on bulb life, not anecdotes.

    I do have some CFL floods in my library, and they are a bit slow to warm up- I may swap them out because I am usually to find a book quickly. After they warm up, they are very nice, but they do take a while, so that may be a bad application.

    I look forward to price reductions on LED. I bought 100 loose component LEDs and have been putting them into different places where they make sense, such as three in series, plus load resistor (each has about a 3.3 load voltage drop to cover the car 12 v), replacing my car’s inside dome light, which used to burn out pretty frequently. Now it is brighter and they last forever. Next, I will make an array of about 35 LED for my garage door opener light (with a full-wave bridge to convert the 110v. house current to DC) and report back.

    Edit: (it may be closer to 50 LED for the 110v. power source, given the bridge effect on voltage)

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