Future generations may read with amazement that there was once a time in America when people were allowed to select their own light bulbs without the choice being micromanaged by government. They will learn that that era ended in July 2011, when the effort to overturn the incandescent-bulb-ban failed in the House.
..if I were forced to choose the best lighting for residential overall, it would have to be incandescent. I feel that we as humans have had a deep connection to flame for many thousands of years. It’s almost like it’s in our DNA. It’s interesting that as time moves on, people are still drawn to sitting around the camp fire, a fireplace, even a barbecue. Think of a Yule log. It’s just that this particular quality of light is ingrained in us. You can even get a screen saver of log flames. Incandescents with their glowing filaments are a form of flame and are thus an extension of this inborn affinity that we have for fire.
–lighting designer Ed Cansino, quoted here
But it no longer matters what this lighting designer thinks, or what you think…neither you nor he will be allowed to exercise your own aesthetic preferences and make your own economic tradeoffs. All that matters is the opinion of the holders of political office.
And to what extent are the opinions of these officeholders based on actual knowledge and understanding? Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA), for example, defended the continuance of the bulb ban with these words: “There’s a point to this, and the point is, it reduces the amount of greenhouse gases we have to send out into our atmosphere. It reduces the amount of energy we have to think about importing from other countries.”
Does Markey know where electricity comes from? Very little of America’s electricity is produced in oil-fueled plants–the primary sources are natural gas, coal, nuclear, and hydroelectric. (See statistics on the mix here.) How many of the CongressCreatures who voted for the incandescent-bulb ban, how many of the newspaper editorialists, activists, etc. who supported it are actually aware of these facts? (It is likely that there is some indirect effect of electricity savings on oil consumption–i.e., less electrical demand means less consumption of natural gas means more people will switch their home heating from gas to oil. But these are long chains of causation involving fairly speculative econometrics, and I don’t think they’re what CongressCreatures and others have in mind when they talk about “phasing out incandescents to reduce dependence on foreign oil.”) To what extent was the bulb-ban legislation actually based on knowledge and thought versus fad-following and lobbying? I think the answer is pretty clear.
To be precise, the law which goes into effect in 2012 does not technically ban incandescents nor does it mandate CFLs–it establishes efficiency standards which standard incandescents are unable to meet. There are some companies selling and developing higher-efficiency incandescents, and these lamps and/or advanced LEDs may…for a price…be able to give you something like traditional incandescent lighting quality. Until Markey and his friends decide to change the rules again.
During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, some European governments taxed windows, resulting in many buildings being constructed with minimal window area and, in some cases, existing windows actually being bricked up. Now, after a lapse of several centuries, governmental interference with light has returned.
An interesting blog focused on lighting here
And some thoughts on the ban from Rich Lowry