Recently at Light Bulbs vs. The Nanny State


In September, the European Union banned the sale of 100-watt incandescent light bulbs, with lawbreakers facing up to $70,000 in fines. Over the next few years, bans on lower-wattage bulbs kick in. In the United States, similar legislation comes into play in 2012. The idea is to kickstart the market for compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), which use less energy than conventional incandescents. Although CFLs present any number of problems (even beyond a much higher initial cost), governments all over the globe are determined to make them the new standard.

Invented in its modern form by Thomas Edison in 1879, the light bulb became synonymous with a brilliant idea. Now, it seems, it's just one more symbol of a nanny state that increasingly dictates more choices in our public and private lives.

"Light bulbs vs. The Nanny State" is produced by Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie. Approximately two minutes. Go to for downloadable versions.

NEXT: The Unknown War

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  1. I have decided to avoid sending all that mercury to the landfill when my cfls break. Now I rinse em off real good in the sink before I put em in the trash can.

    1. Bless you and your enlightened concern for the environment!

      1. Better to dump the mercury into the water supply of the politicians who enacted the ban.

  2. the European Union banned the sale of 100-watt incandescent light bulbs, with lawbreakers facing up to $70,000 in fines.

    HOW is the EU supposed to enforce such regulations? By relying on snitches? By warrantless searches?

    1. By monitoring electric bills for patterns consistent with high-wattage light bulbs.

      1. Aren’t CFLs cool? They can use infrared imaging helicopters.

        Which run on fairy dust and children’s prayers rather than nasty old hydrocarbons.

        1. The bulb on a CFL runs pretty cool, compared to the envelope on an incandescent. The circuitry in the base still gets pretty warm though, over 120F atleast.

      2. By monitoring electric bills for patterns consistent with high-wattage light bulbs.

        WHAT patterns?

        1. Among other things, we may compare electric use before and after the ban. If you do not show a sufficient reduction we may send an inspector to investigate. If it turns out you had already switched to CFL’s before the ban and therefore had already reduced your wasted electricity then you have nothing to worry about as you have nothing to hide.

          1. Re: Incandescent Elimination Dept

            If you do not show a sufficient reduction we may send an inspector to investigate.

            Are you THAT cavalier about a state bureaucrat entering your home just to make sure you bought the proper light bulbs? Don’t you find anything disturbing about such a notion?

            1. We’re talking about Europe here. It’s really the government’s house, they are merely being so benevolent as to let you live in it and pay for it

        2. You know… the… electric patterns…

    2. Warrantless searches? This is the EU, not the US with your silly, anachronistic notions of individual rights which only serve to get in the way of the collective good. We don’t need warrants to make sure all citizens are doing their part. We are way ahead of you in this regard but it is heartening to see you are finally catching up. With your Nobel Prize winning President at the helm, it won’t be long before you have joined the enlightened European world.

  3. LEDs are already several times as efficient as CFLs. The CFL makers should watch out. How long till their nanny state friends ban CFLs and orders everyone to start buying LED lights?

    1. LEDs are already several times as efficient as CFLs.

      Yes but they have yet to deliver on a color of light that resembles daylight. Even with their inherent inneficiency, incandescents still give off a warmer and more cozy light than CFL’s and more than LEDs. Now, I do buy CFLs and have found several brands that offer lights with much warmer-looking light than the standard CFL’s, but they are still 6-10 times more expensive than incandescents or the uglier-light giving CFL’s.

      1. You can get LED lighting that’s adjustable from zero to 20,000 Kelvin.

        For an aquarium.

        1. nice cover

          1. Yeah, but I would say it’s a matter of time before you can get that with home lighting as well. IIRC when the T5-HO flouros first came out they were made for marine aquariums (where I have some). I’m seeing them now over desktops at work. LED lighting will also continue to advance rapidly.

        2. You can get LEDs that can be adjusted to a color temperature of absolute zero? That’s amazing. For all those fish whose eyes are sensitive to light at zero Kelvin, I guess.

          /maybe you don’t understand Kelvin?

          1. OK, not zero. The lowest I see you can set this one is about 2000 K. (not Kelvin, we’re talking color temperature).


            But I believe 2000 K is pretty dark, probably darker than a 420nm actinic.

            1. 2000 K would look a bit warmer (redder) than a standard incandescent, which is typically around 2700 K.
              For comparison the bluish ‘white’ on a TV screen is usually around 6500 K.

              1. I should have added that, for lighting, Kelvin IS color temperature; it’s the color of a blackbody glowing at that temperature. The Sun has a color temperature of about 6000 Kelvin.

                1. The Sun has a color temperature of about 6000 Kelvin.

                  At what time of day? I thought that on a clear day in the middle of the day the rating was about 10000K. Maybe that’s at reef level…

              2. I have two types of lamps over my tank. What’s weird is that one set is 10000K daylight, and the actinics are rates in nanometers (420nm). Do you know what that would be in Kelvin rating? I wonder why they’re not consistent like that.

                1. A clear blue sky contributes to the effective Color Temp that shines on a surface. The color of snow on a mountaintop on a clear winter day might approach 10000 K.
                  Actinic light is like UV light. Is this lamp for controlling algae? 420 nm is a deep blue wavelength, though there is probably other light mixed in.
                  420 nm is well away from the blackbody line on the CIE diagram, so there is no equivalent color temp.

                  1. Oh, OK. The lamp is for the photosynthetic needs of some corals. Also to simulate sunrise/set (they come on first and turn off last). Trust me, if they’re for algae control, they’re missing the mark by a stretch.

                    Thanks for the info. I’ve read a lot about this stuff but there’s always more to learn. I hope to advance to HIDs some day so I can grow SPS corals.

          2. Kelvin and Hobbes?

            1. Any reference to Calvin and Hobbes is a good one. Loved that strip.

              “Let’s go exploring.”

              1. Scientific progress goes “boink”?

      2. “Warm” incandescents do not resemble daylight, however much humans may prefer them. Haven’t you ever heard that expression “the harsh light of day”? LEDs get pretty close. But even though people profess to prefer “daylight,” they really don’t. (The closer the light gets to true daylight, however, the better for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.)

        1. That’s quite true. In fact, there used to be something called daylight glass, which converted the light of an incandescent bulb to something more like actual daylight. Microscopists, among others, used it with their microscope illuminators – some still do.

    2. GE, Osram and other makers of incandescent and fluorescent lamps are already heavily invested in LEDs.
      The white LED has surpassed the CFL in efficacy (lumens/watt) and they continue to rapidly improve.
      Regarding Gillespie’s comment that CFL light is not as good as incandescent light — well, light is light. Whether one type (spectrum) is better than another depends on the application.

      One other problem the CFL promoters ignore is operation in excessively cold or hot environments. CFLs do not like cold, and will run dim and burn up faster when used in sub-freezing areas like outside lighting, unheated garages, and attics in the wintertime. Likewise in hot extremely environments, the output dims and the cathode can burn up.

      1. i have 175 60 watt equivelant Home Depot brand CFLs in outdoor fixtures, in three years not a single one has failed. we haven’t received any complaints about the quality of light at all.
        i’m not a greenie or nothing, but i’ve become a fan of CFLs over the years. LEDs are still too expensive.

        1. in the winters of northern new jersey, the incandescents that we used would burn out on average once every three weeks.

          1. I’m actually a fan of CFLs, too, I use them, and incandescents and LEDs.
            I haven’t seen those outdoor CFLs you mention. Do they have built-in heaters? My comment was based on the performance curve of FL lamps, which have their peak efficacy between 20 C and 45 C. The physics of FL lamps is complex and they have numerous ways they can age quickly if not operated properly.

            1. these are pure indoor lights, technically not rated for outdoor use. it’s actually quite silly when you think about it, but these bulbs have performed admirably outside of their stated specifications. They are protected on 5 sides by glass and brass, but they are still out in the elements all-year long.

  4. I guess I should just try and figure out now how many regular light bulbs I’ll need for the right of my life and just go out and buy them all at once.

  5. European Union banned the sale of 100-watt incandescent light bulbs, with lawbreakers facing up to $70,000 in fines. Over the next few years, bans on lower-wattage bulbs kick in. In the United States, similar legislation comes into play in 2012.

    See Matt Welch’s Berlin Wall article about Eurpoean economic liberty and lack of centralized government…

    1. But we still won the cold war…..right?

  6. the light bulb became synonymous with a brilliant idea.

    Except even the ‘bright idea’ icon has been replaced with an Environmentally Friendly mercury-laden CFL.

    1. Unless your power is from hydro electric / wind / nuclear than a CFL is a net decrease in mercury output.

      It turns out, burning coal releases a lot of stuff.

  7. How long till their nanny state friends ban CFLs and orders everyone to start buying LED lights?

    I’m not waiting to find out. I’m buying the LEDs from now on, assuming I can afford them when I need them. Of course, I’m doing it for my sake, not Nanny Sam or Mother Gaia.

  8. Great news if you get your electricity from Ohio Edison. FirstEnergy Corp., its parent company, “is sending two energy-efficient light bulbs to all of its residential customers.” Oh, but there’s a catch:

    The utility will charge customers about 60 cents a month for three years in exchange for delivering the compact fluorescent bulbs to the door or mailbox. The average residential customer will pay $21.60 over three years for the two 23-watt CFLs, which are equivalent to 100-watt incandescent bulbs. Retailers sell the CFLs for about $9 a pair.Ellen Raines, a FirstEnergy spokeswoman, said the utility is permitted to recoup the cost of the bulbs, their delivery and the power that the customer would have used if they didn’t install the bulbs.This sweet deal for FirstEnergy was of course approved by the state Public Utilities Commission. It’s a win-win, saving energy while swelling company coffers. The only losers in the deal are the ratepaying public.

    Oh well, at least it’s not as if they’re forcing people to buy insurance or anything.…

  9. Didn’t Edison steal his ideas off of Tesla?

    1. I dunno about that. In fact, Edison didn’t want to use Tesla’s methods, and vice-versa. Tesla was a cool guy. He was a ‘work smarter’ type of guy, and ribbed Edison for being a ‘work harder’ type.

    2. Probably not. Edison was already an established inventor before Tesla came to America to work for him. He didn’t work for him for long however.

    3. Actually, Edison promised Tesla 100k (or maybe a mil) if he could get a certain generating system up and running. Tesla did it, then Edison said “You obviously don’t understand American humor” and didn’t pay him. Edison did that to a number of his employees, and all inventions were patented in Edison name, no matter who came up with them. It was part of their contract.

  10. Hazel Fenton, from East Sussex, is alive nine months after medics ruled she had only days to live, withdrew her antibiotics and denied her artificial feeding. The former school matron had been placed on a controversial care plan intended to ease the last days of dying patients. Doctors say Fenton is an example of patients who have been condemned to death on the Liverpool care pathway plan. They argue that while it is suitable for patients who do have only days to live, it is being used more widely in the NHS, denying treatment to elderly patients who are not dying. Fenton’s daughter, Christine Ball, who had been looking after her mother before she was admitted to the Conquest hospital in Hastings, East Sussex, on January 11, says she had to fight hospital staff for weeks before her mother was taken off the plan and given artificial feeding.Ball, 42, from Robertsbridge, East Sussex, said: “My mother was going to be left to starve and dehydrate to death. It really is a subterfuge for legalised euthanasia of the elderly on the NHS.”…..869646.ece

    1. Stamokap, why do you hate America?

  11. Didn’t Edison steal his ideas off of Tesla?

    Could be, he swiped a few ideas from people, and had the lawyers to back him up. He was also fanatic about direct current vs. alternating current, even after it was proven to him that to transmit power over any distance, AC was needed.

    1. It was precisely this fanatic devotion to DC which was the subject of his battles with Tesla (via Westinghouse’s use of Tesla’s development of AC). So I don’t think it’s that he stole any idea from Tesla as much as engaged in a long, ultimately futile, battle with a superior system the he hadn’t come up with.

      As to why he fought it (and why he himself hadn’t come up with it) the previous comment about Edison’s “work harder” philosophy versus Tesla’s “work smarter” sums it up nicely. Edison had a disdain for theory and mathematics and intellectuals, preferring a brute-force approach of hands-on experimentation. That approach was sufficient for understanding the relatively simple DC systems of Edison, but not so for gaining any real understanding of the significantly more mathematically complex (small pun intended) AC.

  12. Didn’t Edison steal his ideas off of Tesla?

    No. He profited from the ideas of his R&D team, that’s all,

    1. And publicly electrocuted dogs, cats, sheep, and an elephant.

      Michael Vick got prision time for doing stuff like that. Edison got a college and an institute named after him.

      1. Always with the negative waves…

      2. As grisly and repellent as the electrocution of the elephant was, in my opinion, the fact is that the elephant had already been marked for death for being dangerous to humans. It only remained how it would die, and Edison saw his opportunity…

  13. CFLs are the current greatest example of hairshirt environmentalism.

    The wikipedia page on Energy in the US is invaluable for our purposes:…..ted_States

    It suggests that 21% of the energy used in the United States is residential, and of that 12% is lighting. So, just to be clear, residential lighting is 2.5% of all energy usage in the US.

    CFLs are about 1/4 as energy-consuming as similar-brightness incandescents, so if all residential lighting were incandescent normally, and it were uniformly converted to CFLs, we’d be saving about 1.9% of our yearly total electricity.

    But, of course, it’s worse than that. Not all current residential use is incandescent, and people may well replace an incandescent bulb with a “brighter” CFL, to compensate for perceived loss of light quality/”warmth.” There aren’t hard numbers here that I’m aware of.

    But the big thing is, CFLs do have their uses, and people are going to convert to them in a lot of cases. The government forcing you to, I would just wildly guess, will only maybe double uptake (though it will do it a lot earlier). So we’re talking maybe roughly 0.5% to 1% of domestic energy saved, as part of this massive political effort that pushes a product which is in some ways inferior to the status quo (the cases where it’s not inferior are the cases where incandescents would likely already be phased out by natural market forces).

    (Non-residential lighting is overwhelmingly fluorescent anyhow, so pushing CFLs there won’t replace much in the way of incandescent bulbs).

    Meanwhile, residential heating and air conditioning represent something like four times the energy usage associated with lighting, and increasing insulation to a house does NOT result in an inferior experience to the resident. Gasoline for transportation (across both residential and commercial drivers) constitutes something like six times the residential lighting energy budget, and that’s not even counting the amount of energy spent refining that petroleum to begin with (which is about twice the residential lighting budget).

    In short, there are plenty of fields in which a sustained political effort of the sort that is resulting in the incandescent ban would obviously have produced much greater savings. So why are we being subjected to this sometimes-inferior product for dubious savings? The only conclusion that I can come to is that light bulbs are quite literally visible, and perhaps that the mild inconvenience of CFLs inferior light quality makes them more attractive to people who feel guilty about their environmental footprint.

  14. The idea is to kickstart the market for compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), which use less energy than conventional incandescents.

    This is actually not always true. During the winter months all excess energy going into a incandescent lights goes into heat energy which heats the home. If that home has a proper and running thermostat it is possible for incandescent bulbs to be more energy efficient then florescent lights.

  15. This is probably just the start – won’t be long I bet before Obama’s thug minions start forcing us to light our homes with lava lamps, black lit psychadelic druggie posters, and strobe lights.

    1. As long as its a Union Built lava lamp…

  16. Contraband lightbulbs.

    Sounds weird.

    1. About as weird as contraband toilets, which already are reality.

    2. Meter on my bet’s still runnin….

  17. Will they also ensure that CFLs don’t go out after 3-12 months? I don’t have any in my apartment that have lasted the full three years I’ve lived in it.

    My 3-ways in the living room lamps both died, one at 8 months, the other yesterday at about 14 months. At 11/piece, this is pretty steep.

    Bathroom lights set of 6 died at 4,5,8,12,16,19 months. I mark the plastic base with date of install and death. Some manufacturers have just sent replacements while one (Lights of America) said I should return to the retailer.

    Kitchen lights (r20) have done all right in a relative sense, in that none died after 24 months. They did start to fade and act weird on startup though.

    To hell with the CFL makers-I’ve flushed quite a bit of money down the toilet since 2002 continually replacing CFLs more often than I ever did incandescents.

  18. But think of all the polar bears you’re saving!

  19. To hell with the CFL makers-I’ve flushed quite a bit of money down the toilet since 2002 continually replacing CFLs more often than I ever did incandescents.

    I think the problem is that CFLs don’t like being turned on and off. Most residential lighting is for pretty short periods of time, so CFLs aren’t going to last long.

    1. They don’t. They’re fluorescents… they actually have a small ballast in them. They want to be turned on and left on for at least 15 minutes or so. Kind of tough for hallway and thru-way lights where the homeowner turns them on, walks through the hallway and turns them back off.

      1. Well just turn all the lights in your house on then and never turn them off. Problem solved! Earth saved!

    2. That’s what I thought and was told before, BUT my living room lights (the two three-way bulbs) usually spent no less than an hour on.

      The bathroom lights were also usually on for at least 15 minutes if not an hour or more. They did have some humidity to deal with, but even so-called “bathroom” CFLs failed in under two years.

      The only area that got use for small bursts were the two lights in my bedroom. The rest all spent between 15 minutes and 6 hours on.

      I’ve started keeping the packaging with the receipts so I can better account for and warranty return failed bulbs.

  20. 100 watt light bulbs will be the crack of 2020.

  21. Canada was one of the first countries to ban “energy inefficient” light bulbs. The real irony is that the “inefficient non light energy” that regular bulbs put out is HEAT. While light bulbs may be less efficient than a new furnace at generating heat, the energy output is still not a loss for huge spans of the year when the outdoor temperature is below room temperature. At the same time people light their homes they heat their homes.

    Even using their own logic, the ban doesn’t make sense.

  22. Screw the dim-bulb bureaucracy. Go off-grid with your own solar/wind/hydro and they can’t touch you for using incandescent lighting; you’re making your own electricity!

  23. See, what they’re not telling anyone is that that big fat plastic base on the new CFLs actually contains a micro camera, IR sensor and GPS locator. That way, the government can see what you’re doing and track you. Each CFL is linked to a secret control center run by a top secret division of the Department of Homeland Security. Their purpose is to watch your actions in your own home and make sure you’re not using old-fashioned light bulbs or leaving lights on. And if you do leave it on too long, they can turn them off remotely.

    Once they get everyone to convert to these new CFLs, they’ll be able to control when everyone’s lights are on and therefore control how much electricity we’re all using.

    The power companies already are doing this with smart thermostats.

    Excuse me, I need some more duct tape on my foil hat.

  24. One of my big gripes about CFLs is that they destroy artwork and fabric. They emit a lot of UV which causes many pigments to fade. I’ve heard companies are trying to solve this problem, but it is not yet safe use CFLs in rooms where you care about the decoration.

    They also do not have a smooth spectrum like incandescents or the sun. There was a lot of discussion upthread about black body radiators, but CFLs have a very spiky spectrum that makes some artwork look bad due to color constancy and metamerism problems (colors individually or as a whole looking different under different illuminants). See this page from GE about their CFLs.

    1. UV is readily absorbed by many materials. You actually have to pay extra for glass if you want something that transmits it well.

      Art studio types are going to LEDs for the spectrum however. But it probably doesn’t matter in most areas.

  25. Q: How many Jewish mothers does it take to replace a CFL?

    A: Oh, I’ll just sit here in the dark.

  26. I fail at threaded comments.

  27. The ban on light bulbs is not just wrong because CFLs have the disadvantages that are mentioned in the video,
    and not just wrong for freedom reasons,
    it’s even wrong with the energy and emission arguments used to defend it.

    It may sound good to “only allow efficient products”.
    Unfortunately, inefficient products may be popular for many other reasons, relating to
    performance, appearance, construction, as well as cost, and sometimes the overall savings onwards

    Put it this way with the light bulbs:

    Americans (like Europeans) choose to buy ordinary light bulbs around 8 to 9 times out of 10 (light industry data 2008).
    Banning what people want gives the supposed savings – no point in banning an impopular product = no “savings”!

    If new LED lights – or more efficient incandescents etc – are good,
    people will buy them – no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (little point).
    If they are not good, people will not buy them – no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (no point).
    The arrival of the transistor didn’t mean that more energy using radio tubes were banned? they were bought less anyway.

    The need to save energy?
    Advice is good and welcome, but bans are another matter…
    ordinary citizens -not politicians ? pay for energy, its production, and how they wish to use it.
    There is no energy shortage – on the contrary, more and more renewable sources are being developed –
    and if there was an energy shortage of the finite oil-coal-gas fuels,
    1 renewable energy becomes more attractive price-wise
    2 the fuel price rise would lead to more demand for efficient products ? no need to legislate for it.
    Any government worried about say oil use can simply tax it
    (and imported oil is not used in electricity generation).

    Supposed savings don’t hold up anyway,
    for many reasons: onwards
    = comparative brightness, lifespans, power factors, lifecycles, heat factor etc with referenced research

    About electricity bills:
    If electricity use does fall, the power companies have to put up prices to cover their overheads, maintenance costs, wage bills etc (using less fuel doesn’t compensate much in overall costs).
    As with other consumption, those who use less tend to pay more per unit used (and heavy users get discounts).

    Does a light bulb give out any gases?
    Power stations might not either:
    Why should emission-free households be denied the use of lighting they obviously want to use?
    Low emission households already dominate some regions, and will increase everywhere, since emissions will be reduced anyway through the planned use of coal/gas processing technology and/or energy substitution.

    Direct ways to deal with emissions (for all else they contain too, whatever about CO2),
    with a focus on transport and electricity:

    The Taxation alternative
    Taxation is just another unjustified way of targeting light bulbs – but might be a compromise solution:

    A ban on light bulbs is extraordinary, in being on a product safe to use.
    We are not talking about banning lead paint here.
    This is simply a ban to supposedly reduce electricity consumption.

    For those who favor bans, or who want to act quickly in targeting electricity consumption as well as production and distribution,
    taxation to reduce any such consumption would therefore make more sense, governments can use the income to reduce emissions (home insulation schemes, renewable projects etc) more than any remaining product use causes such problems.

    A few dollars tax that reduces the current sales (USA like the EU 2 billion sales per annum, UK 250-300 million pa)
    raises future billions, and would retain consumer choice.
    It could also be revenue neutral, lowering any sales tax on efficient products.
    When sufficent low emission electricity delivery is in place, the ban can be lifted

    But the real deal is simply to supply energy as needed with whatever emisssion criteria is needed,
    and let consumers use and pay for what they want, in their own homes.

    1. The arrival of the transistor didn’t mean that more energy using radio tubes were banned? they were bought less anyway.

      It’s never too late to ban something. Vacuum tubes should be banned immediately. Also, tube TVs and plasma TVs. And leaf blowers. That one is obvious.

      1. Yes, ban those remaining tubes. Then finally broadcast TV and radio will be gone and we can re-appropriate those wavelengths.

        (Yup, Those transmitters are still using tubes, because they’re still the best tool for the job, 40 years after the transistor won in every other use)

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  29. Stock up while you can. I watch the store flyers for sales and buy lots of the soon to be banned varieties of bulbs.

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