Posted on 31 January 2007.
How far will the government go in controlling our lives? In California’s state house, left-wing and right-wing political opportunists are joining forces to enact sweeping green legislation that is often of questionable value – raising the ante. Now some have called for a statewide ban on incandescent lightbulbs. This latest prospect of flawed and over-reaching law takes the cake in many ways, almost surpassing California’s pending prohibition on parents spanking their own young children.
First of all, incandescent lights don’t pollute, dirty energy production is what pollutes. Why don’t California’s legislators fund another million solar rooftops instead? Why don’t they create incentives for investors to build in-state photovoltaic panel and industrial battery manufacturing plants? Why don’t the legislators mandate energy efficient elevators in commercial buildings? For that matter, why don’t they come up with new and comprehensive green standards to retrofit all commercial buildings, starting with those over 100,000 square feet? There are many ways to increase the supply and reduce the demand for electricity, without having to invade the insides of our homes!
A green hack is anyone who wants to push along today’s ultra fashionable “green, green, how much I want you green” bandwagon without bothering to assess who might be getting run over, or where better the bandwagon might go. That some of California’s ultra-green politicians may actually believe they are doing good is only somewhat reassuring. These are the same people who helped kill the electric car so they could waste billions of dollars and waste decades of precious time on hydrogen fuel cell cars.
And where will big government go next? Beginning in the late 1970’s, California had a drought that lasted over ten years. There will be another drought, and when there is, we will either manufacture more water, or the government will come into our homes – turning our showers into mist dispensers, rationing our wash cycles, and mandating cactus instead of lawns. When all we had to do was build a couple of desalinization plants (two kilowatt-hours is all it takes to desalinate a cubic meter of water), or increase our groundwater storage, or make everyone pay market rate – residential water consumers don’t use that much water, and pay far, far more than farmers do for their supply. A slight increase in water pricing, with means-tested credits for low income residents, would manage any drought, and fund investments in new water utilities. Using fair taxation schemes (if there is such a thing) is also the proper way to promote efficient electricity consumption, not through rationing, or punitive pricing for heavy residential users of water or electricity. If you think about the precedents represented by a ban on incandescent light bulbs, you will not support it. It is the wrong approach.
Another way to describe a green hack is anyone who might support drastic and long-term measures based on fluid tactical data. There are many ways to build a light bulb, with sea-changes imminent. Technically speaking, a light emitting diode could be considered incandescent, are we going to ban them, too? These “LED” bulbs are coming onto the market and have very low intrinsic costs to manufacture. Florescent bulbs, in spite of years of research, still require subsidies to be affordable. If you ban cost-effective incandescents now, you impart an advantage to the well-established florescent manufacturers to the detriment of the emerging and more efficient LED manufacturers. When it comes to light bulbs, innovation is better than regulation.
Instead of banning incandescent lighting, why doesn’t California’s legislature ban any form of lights on the outside of residences that exceed a reasonable amount of lumens? There are homeowners who think it’s ok to install a complete 360 degree array of 500+ watt outdoor lights. Too many homeowners have extreme outdoor lights; this is ridiculous, obnoxious light pollution, and collectively a prodigious waste of energy. If our legislators want to intrude again into our lives with regulations, let them be good ones. Ban over-illumination of outdoor neighborhoods at night.
What about the fact that florescent light looks bad? To threaten to come into our homes, and force us all to remove warm, variable, many-hued incandescent light bulbs, replacing them with blazing, micro-flickering, ultra cool, glaring and invariable florescents – this is an insulting, unconstitutional affront carrying possibly no benefit to society, and calls into question the competence of any legislator who might support it. And don’t tell someone who doesn’t like florescent light that they look “better nowadays.” Maybe we just like being able to see the glowing incandescent filament through the clear glass bulb. Or maybe some of us have different tastes, and finer discernment. Don’t regulate our personal illumination in our own homes! What about the fact that increasing numbers of homes are energy positive; they ought to be able to make any use of their energy they wish – including operating inefficient, but aesthetically acceptable incandescent lights.
So wake up, California legislature, and leave incandescent lights alone. Don’t discourage us from investing in energy positive homes, nor force us to turn our warm kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms into florescently illuminated industrial warehouse space.