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The End of the Light Bulb as We Know It

Why Americans are hoarding incandescent bulbs before darkness envelops us all on January 1, 2012.

by
Belladonna Rogers

Bio

November 13, 2011 - 12:49 am

As the pale, weak sun rose beyond a charcoal gray cloud bank on Sunday, November 6th, the first day of the country’s dismal return to Standard Time, it was clear that the moment had come to lighten up.

Soon I was at Home Depot making a beeline for the light bulb aisle.  Why? Because the end of days is drawing nigh.  Not in the Biblical sense, but in the Environmental Protection Agency sense: there were only a scant eight weeks (now only seven) before the end of the light bulb as we know it.  As of January 1, 2012, Americans will have their freedom of light bulb choice snuffed out by an omnibus 2007 law requiring that general-purpose bulbs be 25% more energy-efficient than the current, justly-beloved, incandescent bulb.

There are a few exceptions, but the next 49 days are the last for the sale of 100-watt incandescent bulbs.

An excellent summary of this disaster-in-the-making and the grim options that will follow in its wake is here.

In July, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.  As the House debated the ultimately failed repeal, Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who had introduced the doomed measure, argued:

The 2010 elections demonstrated that Americans are fed up with government intrusion. The federal government has crept so deep into our lives that federal agencies now determine what kind of light bulbs the American people are allowed to purchase.

This vivid report from England in 2009 on the last days of the sale of incandescent bulbs there — ordained by a similar European Union ban on traditional bulbs — is a cautionary tale of what we can expect at lighting retailers in the United States on New Year’s Eve 2011. There could be more people at Manhattan’s two Home Depot stores than in Times Square.

As I’ve written here before, part of the meaning of freedom is freedom of choice.  Every green American who wants to read by mercury-ignited compact fluorescent bulbs is free to do so. Every environmentally-motivated citizen who desires energy-efficient halogen bulbs should enjoy that choice, too.  But many of us desire incandescent bulbs, just the way Thomas A. Edison invented them.

You know something nefarious is afoot when the Obama administration trundles out its own personal Nobel laureate (other than the incumbent himself), Energy Secretary Steven Chu, to lecture us — us, the pathetic, scientifically uneducated, financially ignorant, unwashed, energy-profligate, unable-to-balance-our-own-checkbooks fools he takes us to be — on light bulbs:

“Right now many families around the country are struggling to pay their energy bills, and leaders in the House want to roll back these standards that will save families money.…

“You’ll still be able to buy halogen incandescent bulbs. They’ll look and feel the same, but the only difference is that they’ll save consumers money.”

Of tea partiers’s philosophical argument that the law would deprive consumers of the choice of lighting products, Chu said, these standards are not taking choices away, they are “putting money back in the pockets of American families.”

Contrary to Secretary Chu’s disingenuous statement in July, viz., “They’ll look and feel the same,” they neither look nor feel the “same.”  He may be able to fool some of the people some of the time, but I regret to inform Secretary Chu that he can’t fool me — or tens of millions like me– any of the time.

These ghastly light bulbs casting their ghoulish, glary light — all gussied up to appear to resemble the older, familiar bulbs — are the light bulb equivalent of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

I, for one, did not elect President Obama, nor did I insist that he select Steven Chu to tell me how to “put money back in” my pockets. My pockets are my business, not his.  You look out for your pockets, Secretary Chu, and I’ll look out for mine.

Where do you get off telling me and my fellow Americans, “these standards are not taking choices away”?  It’s obvious you think we’re idiots, but idiots of that magnitude? These standards are unquestionably taking choices away: that’s why 100-watt incandescent bulbs are flying off the shelves at Home Depots nationwide.  Here’s a photo of my purchases from last Sunday alone — not my last foray by a long shot:

All the bulbs I bought were incandescent.  Secretary Chu’s vaunted halogen bulbs hurt my eyes.  And  the highest wattage compact fluorescents available at Home Depot last Sunday were the equivalent of 40 watts of incandescent bulbs.  Maybe Secretary Chu can read by 40-watt bulbs but I can’t.  If you’d like to read the Department of Energy’s guide to compact fluorescent bulbs, try reading it by daylight, here.

Contrary to this president’s view of his compatriots, many of us are adults.  We were children once, but not recently.  We can take care of our pocketbooks all by ourselves. My checkbook is balanced. Is the federal government’s?

The most tragic part of this tale is that it didn’t have to come to this.  No sooner had the Republican Congress announced it would vote to repeal the 2007 law this past July, than the light bulb lobby swooped in to protect the manufacturers’ interests — not, of course, those of the incandescent bulb-loving public:

[The] manufacturers … had begun producing the new bulbs, and feared the rollback of the standards would undermine their investments in developing energy-efficient bulbs. Bulb-maker Philips began an aggressive lobbying campaign, meeting with lawmakers and staffers on Capitol Hill, urging them not to roll back the light bulb law. They brought along samples of the new bulbs, similar in appearance to the old bulb.

No member of Congress should have been fooled.

The Senate voted against the repeal, and Obama would have vetoed a repeal, but the manufacturers’ heated lobbying was not in the public interest — of course.

Soon, if the Obama administration has its way, we’ll move seamlessly from the diminished light bulb to the energy-efficient vacuum that will take 90 minutes to clean a carpet that now takes five, and an energy-efficient hair-dryer that will require an hour to dry a head of hair now dried in three — in order to “put more dollars in your pocket” as Secretary Chu likes to say.  Of course, vacuuming carpets and drying hair may not be high on his to-do list on any given day.

Which leads us back to Home Depot.  After checking prices on Amazon.com, eBay and a wide variety of online lighting specialty firms, the lowest prices I found were at Home Depot.  They charge $3.97 for an eight-pack of 100-watt incandescent bulbs, with each bulb enjoying a double-life of 1,500 hours.

A word to the wise is sufficient.

—Belladonna Rogers

 

Belladonna Rogers is a close observer of international and domestic affairs.
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