Don’t faint. The government appears to moving on climate change

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Leaders from both parties are proposing regulations to phase out the incandescent bulb by 2020

It’s rare that we get any good news on government and climate change, so today is a special day, with two good pieces of news, one involving cars, and the others light bulbs.

The first is the celebrated Vermont case, where a judge has ruled that Vermont can go ahead with its plan to regulate CO2 emissions from vehicles (see LA Times article). I won’t bore you all with the particulars, except to say that this increases the momentum towards California doing the same. When combined with the Supreme Court’s ruling, the legal path for CO2 regulation looks more and more solid.

Whether this case ultimately concludes with a balkanized patchwork of state regulations, or capitulation by opponents to a tougher federal standard doesn’t really matter. We just need progress on making our cars more fuel efficient, and there’s real progress here.

Second, an article in today’s Wall Street Journal suggests that lighting manufacturers and congressional leaders are close to agreement on a plan to ban the incandescent light bulb. This will be included in revised energy legislation to be voted on in October.

Many TerraPass readers (64% according to our customer survey) have already made the shift, but establishing a path to ban the inefficient bulb for the rest of America by 2020 will save consumers $6 billion and provide a massive reduction in carbon emissions. How big? Well if the bulb was eliminated worldwide, estimates of carbon reduction are about 75% of the total commitment under the Kyoto Protocol! Australia, Canada and the EU are also considering bans, and we’re delighted that the US seems headed down the same path.

Of course, what we really need is hard caps on carbon emissions. But these moves represent real progress in the pursuit to convince our leaders we need action on climate change, and that’s worth celebrating.

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tom

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  1. Tony Welsh - September 19, 2007

    I hope they improve the quality of CFL before they make incandescents illegal. I have CFL’s throughout the house, and some types/brands work a lot better than others. I bought 4 Bright Effects floodlights a few months ago and 3 have failed already. I also have one regular 15W Bright Effects bulb which takes several minutes to come up to acceptable brightness — it is in a closet, so by the time it is bright enough I am usually ready to switch it off! — and 4 dimmable floodlights which don’t dim very well and even at full brightness work only intermittently. Sylvania and GE seem to be good however, though they still take a few seconds to come up to brightness. Also, an incidental advantage of CFLs is that they give a more natural light than incandescents.
    CFL’s may not be the only answer; there are other technologies including white LEDs around the corner. But instead of legislating against incandescents, wouldn’t it be better to have a carbon tax so we could each decide what to do?

  2. Adam Stein - September 19, 2007

    I met Danny Seo last night, the author of lots of green living books. He claims that the trick is to buy the yellow GE CFLs that are designed for outdoor use. They might be called Bug-Lites, or something like that. According to Danny, the yellow outdoor light gives off a warmer glow than indoor CFLs.

    Haven’t tested this myself, so just passing it along.

    Also, I’m with you in theory on the carbon pricing, but sometimes good old command-and-control is just way faster.

  3. Sid - September 19, 2007

    I’ve switched to many CFL’s throughout the house, but I agree that there better be a lot more research given before some sort of incandescent ban is passed. I don’t think that the light quality, nor reliability is yet up to par.

    Personally, I only use them in applications where they are used for long periods of time and/or appearance is not an issue. Porchlights, refridgerators, hallways Etc. But I can’t have one over my desk or anywhere I read. The light is at best bothersome. And trust me I’ve tried dozens of different brands over the last fifteen years or so.

    I’m a person who is rather good about turning off or leaving off unneeded lights. I think that the truth is that our habits are far more at issue that the bulbs we use. Change your habit first, then change your bulb. Better yet do both. I know my bills are substantially less than anyone I know out of habit, not hardware.

  4. micah - September 19, 2007

    Banning certain types of light bulbs is ridiculous. Its a heavy handed approach. The govt needs to set limits on the amount of energy used per output. Otherwise they do nothing but stifle innovation. That would be like banning SUVs instead of regulating gas mileage in all cars, just because they use the most fuel. For all anyone knows, there’s a way to make incandescents more efficient than CFLs. With them outlawed, we may never know.

  5. Adam Stein - September 19, 2007

    Micah –
    The legislation does work in the same was as regulating mileage on cars. It isn’t strictly speaking a ban; it’s a requirement that bulbs meet certain efficiency targets (in lumens per watt, I believe, which is the bulb equivalent of miles per gallon).
    So, technically, a super-efficient incandescent could make the cut. But I’m pretty sure the laws of physics aren’t going to comply here. I’m certainly no expert on this, but my impression is that running an electric current through a filament is always going to generate tons of waste heat. That’s the problem with incandescents — they’re better heaters than lights.

  6. Steve - September 19, 2007

    I like the approach they are taking – phasing out the high-wattage bulbs first, and then eventually to all bulbs two years later.
    We’re taking 2014; presumably by then we’ll have better CFLs, and hopefully LEDs will be competitive by then.
    Adam, what do you think about the mercury content of CFLs? Legitimate concern or scare tactics?

  7. Anonymous - September 19, 2007

    I just hope that if incandescants are banned, the government also makes recycling of CF’s mandatory. we could have an environmental disaster with the mercury contained in CF’s if they are not properly recycled. Also,in short on/off time situations CF’s are not a good option; their lifetime will decrease significantly. Cf’s, as i understand are best in areas where the lights will be on for at least a couple hours. i put LED lights in closets, bathroom, etc.

  8. Adam Stein - September 19, 2007

    Steve –
    Mercury is really a bigger concern with incandescents. Higher wattage bulbs means more coal is burned for power, and coal is a big source of environmental mercury.
    Of course, people are understandably anxious about bringing mercury into their homes, but my understanding is that there is no real risk from CFLs. Also, I read recently that Wal-Mart is working intensively with manufacturers to lower the mercury content, so I imagine this issue will diminish over time. I agree that proper disposal of CFLs is important.
    Anon –
    It’s true that you get more benefit from CFLs in areas where lights stay on for a while. It’s also true that you’ll get more benefit in warmer climates, because the waste heat from incandescents isn’t necessarily wasted in cold areas.

  9. Anonymous - September 19, 2007

    Too little, too late I am afraid…

  10. Anonymous - September 19, 2007

    Replacing our old incandescent bulbs with CFLs is a great idea. And it is nice (and shocking) to see Congress apparently moving forward with it. We will see. It is a little disheartening that the phase out will not be in full effect for another 12+ years. Do we have this kind of time?! As we speak The Northwest Passage is ice-free for the first time. On a related note: Will someone explain to me how we are to prevent the energy saved from using these more efficient bulbs from being used for things we will view as “necessary” in the future? I am afraid that any surplus power will simply be exploited to sell us another gadget or toy that we didn’t know we needed. I apologize for the pessimism but this all just seems like more talk and far too little action (as usual).

  11. Xta - September 19, 2007

    Buy yellow buglite style CFLs? Double ugh!! I am SO happy to have gotten rid of the ugly yellow that is incandescents – since going to CFLs my house looks cleaner and brighter. Incandescents just make everything looks dingy and dirty. I can’t stand that awful yellow light anymore. I have exactly two incandescent bulbs in my house that I know – one in my fridge and one in my 3-way bedside lamp. I haven’t been able to find a flourescent fridge light and I did find a 3-way CFL but it didn’t work worth a damn (it had 3 settings, almost indistinguishable from each other, and all too bright for a bedside lamp).

  12. Anonymous Coward - September 20, 2007

    Ban incandescent by 2020? C’mon, seriously. We cannot afford to delay any longer on this!
    Have any of you seen PBS Nova show called “Global Dimming”? If you did not see the show, then you haven’t faintest idea of how screwed we are!!

  13. lkhoyt - September 20, 2007

    The only places in my house I have incandescents are in the stove and refrigerator and in the 3 fixtures controlled by dimmer switches. All of the most-used lights are CFL, and we rarely use the incandescents in the summer, to keep the place cool. But I wouldn’t really support an outright ban until they can make some truly dimmable (and 3-way) CFLs. My only other option would be to contract extensive rewiring to replace the lights on dimmer switches; it’s just too bright for most purposes with them turned up all the way.

    OTOH, the standards may never actually go into effect anyway. A 14-year time span is a way for politicians to look like they’re doing something without having to live with the electoral consequences. We can hope that by the time the standards kick in, efficient, dimmable, aesthetically-pleasing options will be inexpensive enough that everyone is using them anyway. If not, then political pressure will cause legislators to either push back the deadline, weaken the standards, or open loopholes. We’ve seen all this before. Nothing really is ever made to stick.

  14. Patrick - September 21, 2007

    Steve (6) and Adam,
    The last article I read concerning the “toxic” mercury levels in CFLs was written by a guy who works for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, one of the most aggressive purveyors of environmental disinformation in the nation (probably the world as well.) Don’t believe any information you can attribute to any member of the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Consumer Coalition or any of the other interlinked organizations in Washington that push disinformation and agree with each other to give it the illusion of legitimacy. ALWAYS verify your facts just to be sure. When you consider that you’d be throwing out exponentially fewer CFLs than incandescents and using far less energy in general, it becomes pretty obvious where the danger for the most mercury comes from.

  15. Patrick - September 21, 2007

    Almost forgot the most dangerous one. Check sourcewatch.org for information on the group known as the “Cooler Heads Coalition”. It is a large consortium of interest groups and conservative thinktanks that try to cast doubt on global warming. They even own the domain name globalwarming.org. You know something has to be wrong when companies and special interests take great steps to mask their identities when pushing this kind of disinformation.

  16. hollandgirl - September 22, 2007

    According to the article link to the Times, the majority of CFLs are made in CHINA. I want to be green but I want to stay “made in USA.” Anyone have any suggestions for brands I can try?

  17. Adam Stein - September 22, 2007

    No idea, but aren’t most incandescents are made in China as well? Unless you’re making your own bulbs, I think you might have to seek some accommodation with our global economy.
    On the bright side, CFLs can’t be made entirely by machine yet — the swirly bulbs require hand-shaping. So you can feel good about providing some deserving people with employment.

  18. Patrick - September 24, 2007

    Unfortunately you won’t have as many options for buying American until the US starts treating global warming as a reality, not a debatable topic. Someone in the US department of Health and Human Services recently tried to encourage its employees to buy more fuel-efficient, environmentally-friendly cars and was labeled un-American by Michigan lawmakers because the most efficient cars being recommended were not made in the US. This completely ignores the fact that it’s the automakers’ fault if there aren’t any fuel efficient cars made in the US. It’s part of the reason why Toyota unseated GM as the top car manufacturer.
    If we’re falling behind the curve, it makes more sense to support countries which are taking the issue seriously than continue to support our own country for not doing so. If another nation is being more responsible for the planet we all have to share, I don’t have any issues with supporting their environmental industries. It’s for everybody’s benefit in the end, and would probably send a stronger message to businesses who resist change than trying to appeal to their common sense.

  19. Jim - September 25, 2007

    Comment No. 12. I agree, and we should all agree. Enough Talk already and more action! These forums are great for sure but let’s not let it take the place of action. If your friends and neighbors haven’t heard of CFLs (or are too drenched in credit card dept to consider purchasing them) then go buy them an 18-pack. Make it hurt, spend your own resources if these issues mean so much to you. In short, put your money where your mouth is. We are all tired of the delay tactics, tired of the “12 to 18 months away” philosophy,tired of waiting. IT is time to stop blaming congress, stop blaming our president, stop blaming someone else. It is time to act locally, spread the good word. As with all revolutions the Green Revolution must be started by the people and of the people. To wait for the government to act is just more of the same and we should all have learned this by now. Thanks for the vent.

  20. Victoria - September 28, 2007

    Two comments:

    1. Because I love Al Gore and Mother Earth, I bought a whole box of these new GE bulbs. The first try was on my porch light. It blew out every few days. I thought something was wrong with my fixture. I finally put a regular bulb back and it was fine. I next tried in my bathroom. There was a lot of flickering. Finally it blew a circuit. It took me awhile to get it to come back. I put a regular bulb back in there. Now it is fine. I took the whole box to work to give to others who might have better results. My boss indicated he had had same problem with the bulbs. I had sent an email to Terrapass asking if they knew of problems with these bulbs and received a reply that they had heard of none. Now I see this blog. I believe I am done trying out those lightbulbs anywhere in my house.

    2. Has anyone considered that fluorescents are not good for your health? Perhaps you think it is fallacy that fluorescents are bad for you but you may not be one of the more sensitive. I had a friend with MS who would get nauseous and/or pass out if she was under fluorescent lights and I always have them unscrew such bulbs over the cube at my office because they make me sick. If anyone searches out holistic articles on lighting, fluorescents is possibly not a good idea for your health. We are already bombarded by EMR, cell phone towers, etc etc etc. http://www.holisticmed.com/toxic/fluorescent.html

    Is this like the great idea about raising the price of corn for fuel? Does anyone think these things all the way through? Should I run out and buy a bunch of light bulbs that don’t work right and make me sick? What is especially disturbing about this is that the time is short so whatever few ideas we can implement short term we need to make them the smartest ideas. Do you think this one is the best we can do?

  21. Adam Stein - September 28, 2007

    Hi Victoria,
    Sorry the bulbs don’t work for you. Of course, if you’re not having luck, then don’t use them. Your experience seems unusual — a low-wattage bulb should be easier on your electrical system, not harder — but if they don’t work, they don’t work. CFLs don’t have any adverse health effects that I’m aware of (the page you link to does not contain credible medical research), but it’s true that some people really hate the quality of light. If you’re one of those people, CFLs probably aren’t for you.
    In answer to your final question: yes, this is one of the best short-term ways of addressing climate change. Lighting is responsible for about 20% of worldwide carbon emissions. This number could be chopped down very quickly if we get rid of incandescents.

  22. Victoria - September 29, 2007

    I have a question. You say the lightbulbs are 20%
    How much do we save if we stop eating meat?
    Is this an accurate quote?:
    “The value of raw materials consumed to produce food from livestock is greater than the value of all oil, gas, and coal consumed in this country.” -Bureau of Mines; U.S Department Of Commerce,& Interior

  23. Victoria - September 30, 2007

    Hi Adam, did you read this blog? There are at least 2 other people in this short blog that also report problems with the bulbs. So statistically, on this blog, how unusual is it to have problems with the bulbs?

    Regarding the particular link to holistic health, it is just one of many and common knowledge in the natural health community that fluorescents are not good for you, but of course neither is climate change.

    But I will ask, since you specifically say that that particularly link is not credible: (1) did you read the books that it references or did you do any significant research into this matter before promoting these bulbs and (2) are you specifically denying this quote: At first, Dr. Ott’s work was ridiculed (as innovative work often is). Later in his career he received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Loyola University and the Grand Honors Award of the National Eye Research Foundation.

    All the time we hear about the “credible” and “not credible” results of what is good for us this week, and then next week we hear the big OOPS after we have brain tumors or cancers.

    So folks, just pay close attention to your nervous system, just in case. Our own instincts are the best credible test that there is. And especially watch out for the exposure for people who are already sick.

  24. Adam Stein - September 30, 2007

    Hi Victoria,
    Anecdotes are interesting, but they don’t really go very far as evidence. Two people have written on this blog about negative experiences. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart is on track to sell 100 million CFLs this year. Clearly the large majority of people are not having trouble with them. Again, if they don’t work for you, then I recommend not using them. But I do recommend that everyone give them a try. Most will be happy.
    I am not familiar with Dr. Ott’s work. If it’s credible, his results will be replicated and gain acceptance in the medical community. Until that time, I see no reason to suppose that fluorescent lights — a technology in wide use for decades now — pose health risks.
    - Adam

  25. Anaheim CA resident - October 17, 2007

    Dear All

    Here are my thoughts and observations.

    Use CFL bulbs as they work for you. Some applications are not good. There are places incandescent bulbs will always work better such as in garage door openers. CFL’s cannot take vibration and go out in a week. This makes a $3.00 bulb WAY too expensive. Outdoor lights used once or twice a year also are not a good trade. Incandescents are better light and brighter. Security lights are a toss up as there are very good CFL’s that can do the job just as well. I won’t use a CFL on my outdoor patio light controlled by a daylight sensor. I use a 25 watt decorator bulb with no dimming problems.

    Dimmable CFL’s are available now (try Target) but I have no dimmable circuits.

    I always use ‘instant on’ CFL’s, they 97% at start and are fully bright in 30 seconds.

    The newest incandescents & halogen bulbs are 30% more efficient. This is great for those who cannot or won’t use CFL’s. Try Home Depot.

    I will not use CFL’s if they flicker. I use daylight bulbs wherever I can. We have an 8, 40 watt bulb bridge between our kitchen & living room. I changed them to Daylight & added new efficient ballasts. This removed ALL flickering and the house seems twice as bright.

    I use 150 watt equivalent soft white to read by while watching TV and it works & lasts fine. I tried 3-way flourescent bulbs that lasted 15 minutes, tried three of them. Never again! I tried a daylight bulb there and everyone complained it glared too much.

    Another ‘rule’ I have developed is that if you take out a 100 watt bulb where you read, put in a ’150 watt’ flourescent (50 watt power) and you can see better & never need to squint. Other places can use lower CFL’s. The brighter the CFL, the less you will see flicker.

    These are MY observations I wish to share with you. CFL’s CAN work but each light location needs some thought, trial and error. I would suggest you read every package, pay attention to the LUMENS and remember that brownouts and vibration can destroy CFL’s quickly.