Northern Lights Out

Canada bans bulbs


In April, Canada's legislature voted to prohibit the sale of old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs. The bulbs, which also have been banned in Australia and are facing possible extinction in California and nearly a dozen other states, are being targeted in the hope of staving off global warming. "By banning inefficient lighting, we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by more than 6 million tonnes per year," Canada's natural resources minister, Gary Lunn, declared as the new regulation was announced.

If Lunn thinks that will have a significant environmental impact, he's in for some disappointment. China's emissions total about 3 billion tons a year. Is there something smaller than a drop in the bucket?

Worse, the new rules will, in effect, mandate the use of compact fluorescent bulbs, which have their own drawbacks. Since they contain mercury, water and soil contamination watchdogs are on alert; the bulbs will have to be treated as toxic waste. Many people find the light quality of fluorescent bulbs, especially the cheaper ones, unappealingly cold. And then there's the cost: The least pricey fluorescents cost about $3 each, compared with less than 50 cents for incandescent bulbs.

British Commonwealth countries may be leading the way when it comes to bans of incandescents, but there are two other nations where new, efficient bulbs can be found in almost every house: Cuba, where they were distributed by Communist youth brigades to relieve pressure on a failing electrical grid, and Hugo Chavez's Venezuela.