Light Bulb Lunacy


In another of its crazy attempts to `save the planet' and prove itself to be stuffed full of environmentally-conscious bureaucrats and politicians, the EU has decided to ban the sale of traditional incandescent light bulbs - the ones which have the tungsten filaments which dangle uselessly when the bulb has blown (or been dropped). Banning our old-fashioned light bulbs will, they seem to think, help stamp out global warming and save the planet.

We will be forced to replace our old-fashioned light bulbs with new compact fluorescent bulbs (known as CFLs to the average acronym-happy eurocrat). These, they claim, use only a fifth of the energy needed by the shortly-to-be-made-illegal bulbs.

There are, inevitably, a few problems.

First, according to the UK's own Government the immediate cost of this latest absurdity is likely to be around £3 billion. (At a time when we need every spare billion we can find.)

Second, the lighting produced by the new bulbs will be so dim that most people won't be able to read by them. Angela Merkel, the German politician who put forward the proposal that we should all use these new bulbs has admitted that because the `energy-saving' bulbs she uses in her flat take some time to warm up she often has `a bit of a problem' when she is looking for something she has `dropped on the carpet'. The result will be lots more people falling over and breaking limbs and lots more people suffering from headaches. The consequence will be that many people will simply buy more lamps and use two or three bulbs where they previously used one bulb.

Third, the new bulbs must be kept switched on for far longer if they are to run efficiently. That means using up more energy.

Fourth, the new bulbs are much heavier than old-fashioned bulbs. This means that they will take more energy to transport. Lorries carrying them around the EU will use up more petrol.

Fifth, the new bulbs are much uglier than the old ones. They are also larger. They won't fit into all light fittings. So vast numbers of perfectly good light fittings will probably have to be thrown away.

Sixth, the new bulbs cost up to 20 times as much as the old bulbs. Vastly overpaid eurocrats probably won't care. Ordinary people will notice a huge rise in the cost of their bulbs bill.

Seventh, the CFL lightbulbs produce a much harsher, less relaxing light. Moreover, they often don't produce a nice, steady light (like an incandescent bulb) but flicker. They flicker at 50 times a second. If you try to read with one of the new bulbs there is a chance that your head will start to swim. Will the new bulbs trigger fits? I have no idea but I wouldn't bet against it. They will, at least, cause `discomfort'. It seems pretty certain that the new EU-approved bulbs will cause migraines and dizziness.

Eighth, because they flicker the new bulbs can make fast moving machine parts look stationary. How many limbs will be lost as a result of this? Your guess is as good as mine, and since I'm a qualified doctor my guess is probably better than any guess made by an EU eurocrat.

Ninth, normal CFLs cannot be used with dimmer switches or electronically triggered security lights. Dimmer switches and electronically triggered security lights will have to be thrown away - wasting vast amounts of energy.

Tenth, the EU-approved bulbs cannot be used in ovens, freezers or microwave ovens because they don't work if the temperature is too low or too high. So, no more bulbs in ovens, freezers or microwave ovens.

Eleventh, the new allegedly low energy bulbs take ten times as much energy to manufacture as the old bulbs. You, unlike the eurocrats, may consider this rather significant.

Twelfth, according to the British Government, less than half of all the light fittings currently installed in British homes will take CFLs. So 24 million homeowners will, between them, have to throw out hundreds of millions of light fittings. The redundant light fittings will, of course, have to be replaced with new light fittings. The old light fittings will have to be thrown away. A new waste mountain will be created.

Thirteenth, CFLs need more ventilation than standard bulbs and so cannot be used in any enclosed light fitting.

Fourteenth, the EU-approved light bulbs use toxic materials including mercury vapour. This is a bit of a problem because the EU has banned products containing mercury vapour from landfill sites. Used CFLs will, therefore, have to be collected and disposed of separately. Experts advise that you telephone your local sanitation or refuse department if you wish to dispose of a used CFL bulb. The British Government has admitted that the bulbs contain mercury which is a deadly poison and has warned: `If a low-energy bulb is smashed, the room needs to be vacated for at least 15 minutes. A vacuum cleaner should not be used to clear up the debris, and care taken not to inhale the dust. Use rubber gloves, and put the broken bulb into a sealed plastic bag, which should be taken to the local council for disposal. Unbroken used bulbs can be taken back to the retailer if the owner is a member of the Distributor Takeback Scheme. Otherwise, many local waste disposal sites now have the facilities to safely collect and dispose of old bulbs. But, this advice is not printed on the packaging.' You will, of course, probably have to drive to the disposal site (which will take up fuel and energy as well as time). You will have to do this every time a bulb is broken. There will almost certainly be a disposal charge because getting rid of dangerous light bulbs without being able to bury them will be quite a problem. The EU will doubtless look into this problem at some time in the future. (The eurocrats recognise that mercury can be nasty stuff. They want to ban barometers which contain mercury.)

Fifteenth, the more CFLs are turned on and off the shorter their life will be. To work at their best CFLs must be kept on pretty well continuously. This means that if you are going to get the best out of your new EU-approved light bulb you will have to get used to sleeping with the light on. (If you don't keep your CFLs turned on permanently your very expensive light bulbs will need replacing very often and the energy they use will be pretty much the same as the energy used by an incandescent light bulb.)

Sixteenth, the new light bulbs which the EU is forcing us to use will aggravate a variety of health problems. Patients with lupus, an auto-immune disease, will suffer from many symptoms, including pain. Patients with light sensitive disorders will suffer more. The new bulbs could trigger eczema-like skin reactions and could produce skin reactions that lead to cancer.

Seventeenth, light bulbs which satisfy the EU's requirements are expensive. The EU imposes a 66% tariff on low-energy lightbulbs imported from China, Pakistan, the Philippines and Vietnam, partly, the Financial Times has reported, because of lobbying by Osram, the bulb manufacturer owned by Siemens.

Eighteenth, some CFLs need breaking in for about 100 hours before their brightness level stabilises. So, every time you install a new bulb you may have to put up with potentially serious health problems (headaches, tripping over) for 100 hours or so.

Nineteenth, CFL bulbs may interfere with the remote control for your television or other equipment - and may cause static noises on your radio or cordless telephone. One expert advises that if this happens you should switch off the light. Another has found that a cardboard tube fashioned from an old lavatory roll centre and glued onto the relevant, sensitive part of the television will minimise or eradicate the problem. (I do not recommend that you try this at home. Electrical appliances get hot. Bits of cardboard tend to be flammable.)

Twentieth, CFLs will burn out faster if turned on and off a lot. So the bulbs will last longer if they are left switched on when no one is in the room. This wastes energy but reduces your expenditure on bulbs.

The EU prefers to ignore this extraordinarily damning list of drawbacks and to consider its new legislation a really good idea. The British Government, loyal and stupid as ever, plans to have all traditional bulbs replaced by the new, more dangerous ones this year (2011). Other countries will doubtless take a rather more leisurely approach to this particular legislation.

Of course, people will find ways to get round the EU's new nonsense. When I visited a local store to buy a couple of old-fashioned bulbs the other day the assistant told me that they'd run out. `People have heard of this daft new EU law,' he told me with a shrug of indifference. `Bulbs don't go off so a lot of my customers are stock-piling the old ones that are due to be banned. I don't suppose anyone will ever know unless the EU gets round to sending inspectors round to people’s homes.' He thought for a moment. `Come to think of it,' he added, `it wouldn't surprise me if they did do that.' He shrugged again.

Copyright Vernon Coleman 2011
Adapted from OFPIS by Vernon Coleman
OFPIS is available through the shop on this site.

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