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.


  1. Am I really meant to be impressed that a Cameron A-lister turns out to be a bit dim and agrees with the Daily Mail?

    Her justification is hilarious: “I have a lazy eye and have worn glasses most of my life for reading and writing. A good overhead light is essential… how many will it take to provide the equivalent of a 100 watt incandescent light bulb hanging from my ceiling?”

    Yet the whole point of CFLs is that in terms of energy consumption THEY ARE BRIGHTER. This isn’t just a claim, the brightness of a bulb is measured (in lumens). A 20w CFL is brighter than a 100w incandescent bulb.

    It isn’t as if she’s the only shortsighted person in the world and I seriously doubt she is more shortsighted than by partner who doesn’t report the same problem. PA-THE-TIC.

    I don’t think she has a lazy eye. I think she’s just lazy.

  2. Yesterday I went out on a rush for lightbulbs and strugled to find any. However these were the very cheap energy saving bulbs.
    Attempts in Argos failed (screw type), Wilkinsons failed (too expensive), then a chance passing at Homebase resulted in 5 bulbs for 99p (thanks e.on).
    But then last night whilst wandering around B&Q, turns out that Brisitsh Gas were offering 5 for 39p, so I got some more.

  3. Incandescent bulbs are necessary if you keep reptiles, because they provide both light AND heat.

    Similarly, you can’t run a lava lamp on an energy saving bulb.

    All the lights which are used for lighting rooms in my house are energy savers, but I still need incandescent bulbs for my snakes, and would prefer to be able to keep my lava lamp going too.

    Still, you carry on with your very liberal celebration of a nice liberal ban.

  4. Oh, well, if it means traditional lizard owners might have to buy heaters and the end of all traditional lava lamps, that’s a completely different matter. What are our carbon reduction goals next to those vital parts of our Way of Life?

    I apologise for my lack of perspective.

  5. It would have been quicker to type “It doesn’t affect me, and anyone it does affect is either misguided or doesn’t matter”.

    There ARE other solutions for heat and light available for my snakes, but none of them are as optimal as incandescent bulbs, and using them doesn’t make as much difference to my carbon footprint as whether or not I eat eggs for breakfast and produce a hefty methane emmission thereafter…

    Seriously, though, the Mail’s article is one-sided, reactionary, and chooses its arguments to fit a predetermined conclusion, yes. However, this is hardly unexpected: it’s the Mail. From you, I expect better.

  6. Well, it would have been quicker for you to write ‘it affects me personally, therefore it is automatically wrong’

    I’ve never claimed to be anything other than one-sided – who isn’t FFS? I’d have no problem with the Mail having an agenda if it didn’t advance that agenda by spreading outright falsehoods and uses spurious justifications for stories such as ‘a well placed source who works for the BBC’. If anything I’ve written is actually wrong, feel free to point it out. But if you expect me to apologise for having an agenda, I will if you will.

  7. @Jennie

    To approach this from the angle of information rather than argument. As it happens, lava lamps are likely to fall outside the ban.

    As a collector with originals going back to the 70s, I cared enough about this to email Mathmos and ask them why they were still marketing new products in the face of it.

    I got the following reply:

    Thank you for your email and your enquiry about the issue of the restriction policy coming 2010.

    I can currently say that we are a member of the lighting association and are in close contact with them. All our products are currently classified as household luminaires and therefore exempt from this restriction.

    If there are any changes approaching regarding this exemption or classification we will surely react accordingly closer to this time.

    I can not answer what will happen beyond this point but I am sure that our products will remain currently as they are.

    Since Mathmos has a brilliant spares section on its website that includes the necessary spotlight bulbs, it appears that lava lamp owners are sorted and will still be able to buy the replacements they need.

    Jennie, you and I would clearly have conversational topics in common at any putative party, since I also keep reptiles as pets. But mine can get by on a full-spectrum fluorescent bulb…

  8. Charlotte,

    Well, I’m not willing to pay the $34 to read that article, but I note:
    a) it’s from 1976;
    b) the abstract refers to “fluorescent” light, not CFLs explicitly;
    c) it has a sample size of 6.

    Presumably you can point me to a meta-analysis? If not, then I would suggest that a single 33 year old paper does not a case make.

    You can do better than that, surely?

  9. Just to expand on a point:

    CFL technology has changed dramatically in the last four decades – there was very little economic case to switch to them in the 80s compared to now for instance – and the difference between the fluorescent tubes I have in my office (which evil those regulators have transformed over the past two decades precisely to deal with the flicker issue) and the CFL I’m writing by right now. And to an extent they are a red herring because, as I wrote above, the real problem with the over-reliance of incandescent bulbs is not that CFLs are perfect but that LED technology is struggling as a result.

  10. Oh, and PPS, the CFL was invented in 1976, the year this paper was published. So we can safely assume they weren’t used in the aforementioned experiment.

  11. If CFLs are so great then why does it take a ban to make people use them?

    This year’s ban affects not only 100W bulbs but *all* frosted bulbs.

  12. I agree with M Nystrom..

    Re daily Mail shock-horror,
    yes unfortunately the focus of this ban is about how good or bad CFLs are..

    The ban is wrong in itself, in my view, for many reasons:

    Europeans (like Americans) choose to buy ordinary light bulbs around 8 to 9 times out of 10 (European Commission and light industry data 2007-8)
    Banning what people want gives the supposed savings
    – no point in banning an impopular product!

    If new LED lights – or improved CFLs etc – are good,
    people will buy them – no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (little point).
    If they are not good, people will not buy them – no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (no point).
    The arrival of the transistor didn’t mean that more energy using radio valves were banned… they were bought less anyway.

    The need to save energy?
    Advice is good and welcome, but bans are another matter…
    people -not politicians – pay for energy, its production, and how they wish to use it.
    There is no energy shortage – on the contrary, more and more renewable sources are being developed –
    and if there was an energy shortage of the finite oil-coal-gas fuels,
    1 renewable energy becomes more attractive price-wise
    2 the fuel price rise would lead to more demand for efficient products – no need to legislate for it.

    Supposed savings don’t hold up anyway,
    for many reasons: onwards
    = comparative brightness, lifespans, power factors, lifecycles etc with referenced research

    About electricity bills:
    If electricity use does fall, the power companies have to put up prices to cover their overheads, maintenance costs, wage bills etc (using less fuel doesn’t compensate much in overall costs).
    As with other consumption, those who use less tend to pay more per unit used (and heavy users get discounts).

    Does a light bulb give out any gases?
    Power stations might not either:
    Why should emission-free households be denied the use of lighting they obviously want to use?
    Low emission households already dominate some regions, and will increase everywhere, since emissions will be reduced anyway through the planned use of coal/gas processing technology and/or energy substitution.

    Direct ways to deal with emissions,
    with a focus on transport and electricity:

    The Taxation alternative
    A ban on light bulbs is extraordinary, in being on a product safe to use.
    We are not talking about banning lead paint here.
    This is simply a ban to (supposedly) reduce electricity consumption.

    For those who favour bans, taxation to reduce any such consumption would therefore make more sense,
    also as governments can use the income to reduce emissions (home insulation schemes, renewable projects etc) more than any remaining product use causes such problems.

    A few pounds/euros/dollars tax that reduces the current sales (EU like the USA 2 billion sales per annum, UK 250-300 million pa)
    raises future billions, and would retain consumer choice.
    It could also be revenue neutral, lowering any sales tax on efficient products.
    When sufficent low emission electricity delivery is in place, the ban can be lifted

    Taxation is itself unjustified, it is simply a better alternative for all concerned than bans.

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