Tag Archives: lightbulb

Why I just can’t get enough of bannng lightbulbs

I wrote my article earlier this week on the Daily Mail’s bonkers line about a sinister EU plot to ban traditional lightbulbs primarily to point out quite how many non-facts were in the story. I should have remembered the golden rule – nonsense begets nonsense. Because the next thing I knew I was getting ticked off, not for making any factual errors, but for advancing the cause for banning things (yes Jennie, I am talking about you).

There is a certain degree of irony in this, having pontificated about the perils of banning things myself from time to time. When it comes to bans, Rob Knight gets to the heart of things:

what about when trying to control the bigger picture is just as harmf ul as ignoring it?

Well exactly. Indeed, I would go further than that. You need more justification for a ban than simply some narrow cost-benefit analyis. You can justify pretty much anything that way. Where bans are bad is when they become about bullying and forcing conformity (the tricky thing being that sometimes not banning can have the same effect).

So it is that, eighteen months down the line – and despite being a non-smoker and enjoying the benefits – I’m still not comfortable about the smoking ban. Patio-heaters, and thus a cost to the environment, have not become quite as ubiquitous as we were promised they were – although that has clearly been a problem. The fact that every single bit of shelter on the London streets now reeks of tobacco as smokers have taken up semi-permanent residence, is an unfortunate by-product but still nicer than the alternative. Why I’m uncomfortable about the smoking ban is that I simply don’t believe that the dangers of passive smoking actually outweigh the denial of the smoker’s liberty – particularly given that as a non-smoker I always did have at least a degree of choice to avoid smoky pubs, etc. I appreciate it was a balancing act but I continue to think the wrong call was made. Furthermore, the more I consider the class angle and the fact that anti-smoking policies seem to be generating a small, inevitably poor, hardcore who are more addicted than ever, the more uneasy I get. These policies are helping those who need help the least while harming the most vulnerable.

That it was a balancing act at all however, is a fact that is not recognised by the libertarian right, who only consider the restriction on the smoker as material. And this gets to the heart of why I don’t frankly have much time for libertarianism. It is a fetishised, parodic version of liberalism in which personal liberty trumps everything (except money). Libertarians have it easy; they never need to consider anything other than the fact that all bans are automatically Wrong.

Going back to lightbulbs, the calculation seems extremely one sided if you accept the need for urgent action on climate change. Incandescent lightbulbs are not a lifestyle choice but a different way of producing light less efficiently. If you don’t define their dominance as a market failure (General Electric even originally decided to shelve the design of Compact Fluorescent Lights as soon as they were invented – they were only produced at all because the designs were “leaked” and copies made), I seriously question how you define market failure. We could try taxing incandescent bulbs and try gradually phasing them out like that I suppose, but that would be even less popular.

And the arguments in favour of keeping them? That CFLs are “too dim” (they aren’t)? The interests of the snake-owning, lava-lamp demographic (even that is contested)? 33 year old studies on fluorescent bulbs based on miniscule sample sizes? Come on!

There may well be a killer argument out there for not phasing out incandescent bulbs, but I haven’t heard one yet. You’re entitled to disagree with me of course, but until you can come up with a stronger argument, implying that supporting phasing them out is illiberal is simply lazy.

Eek! Evil EU ban our traditional way of light!

Chris Applegate’s life work is without purpose. Why? Because the Daily Mail is unspoofable. What satirical mind could have come up with this pile of nonsense for instance?

Revolt! Robbed of their right to buy traditional light bulbs, millions are clearing shelves of last supplies

Millions of Britons are finally waking up to the fact that their beloved light bulb will disappear for good after 120 years.

Traditional 100-watt bulbs are vanishing from the High Street because of a controversial European Union decision.

Yesterday panic buyers were snapping up the remaining bulbs in a last-ditch attempt to stockpile the final supplies. Hundreds of leading supermarkets and DIY chains – including Sainsbury’s, Asda and Homebase – have already sold their last remaining bulbs after a surge in panic buying.

Other stores say they have enough stocks to last until the end of next week.

Let’s work backwards on this one. First of all, very few stores will have enough stock to last until the end of next week. That’s how modern shops work. Why keep loads of deadweight stock in store when you can have it delivered to you when you need it?

Secondly, until you read this, were you aware of any panic buying? No? Me neither. On the other hand I am very much aware that one of the main suppliers of lightbulbs on the high street, Woolworths, shut its doors for the last time yesterday. I was also very aware over Christmas how all stores were keeping their stock particularly low. During an economic downturn and with the banks in trouble, we should expect this as cash flow has become that much more important.

Thirdly, traditional? Joseph Swan invented it 131 years ago (with that crook Edison trying to rip him off as per). How does that count as “traditional.” My generation’s grandparents will have had gas when they were kids – that is how new an invention this is.

Fourthly, 100w? If your complaint about energy saving lightbulbs is that the light from them is “harsh” (I disagree, but there you go), why would you want a 100w bulb? Wouldn’t a 60w or 40w suit you better (lower wattage bulbs will remain on sale until 2011)? I am not a historian of the lightbulb but I’m pretty much willing to bet you that the “traditional” bamboo-filament bulbs of the late 19th century would have blown up if you put 100w through them.

Fifthly, an EU decision? The UK voluntarily signed up to the scheme.

Sixthly, energy saving bulbs cause seizures? Epilepsy Action don’t think so (hat tip: Blagger).

Seventh, energy saving bulbs cause rashes? Maybe, in certain cases, but only for people who already have dermatological conditions.

Eighth, energy saving bulbs damage the environment? They do contain trace levels of mercury, but if recycled properly are no problem (I’ve been using these bulbs for over 20 years and have never even seen a broken one – they’re much more robust than incandescent bulbs). “Traditional” bulbs contain mercury as well – in fact by switching to compact fluorescent lamps, you will reduce the level of mercury you use.

Regarding points six, seven and eight though, they are out of date as LEDs are set to replace CFLs over the next few years. The main barrier to introducing them has been, yes, the predominence of the “traditional incandescent light bulb.”

All in all, the Mail story amounts to a confection of lies and misleading scare stories. Pretty much nothing in it turns out to be true. So no change there then.