Light bulb 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ina Fassbender)
Big Brother has again invaded our private domain and last week drastically
limited the availability of traditional incandescent light bulbs. There was no
squawk – not even a murmur of dissent. Indeed hardly anyone knew of
Nevertheless, from this point onward, only incandescent bulbs of 60
watts and less will be retailed. This limits our choice – like it or not – to
compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), those squiggly, coiled bulbs initially hailed
by environmentalists as saving as much as 50 percent of energy consumption,
while lasting eight times longer. In truth, some CFLs malfunction far more
quickly than advertised and they remain expensive.
environmentally friendly qualities have become conventional wisdom to such an
extent that many governments worldwide rushed to phase out the pear-shaped sort
we’re accustomed to.
Not to be outdone in trendy Green ardor, our
government has now followed suit. Only it did so almost furtively.
was no public dialogue to speak of and clearly nobody saw fit to ask for the
public’s input. Big Brother knows better. This, despite the fact that such gross
government intrusion into what we consume is rare.
Most Israelis are
gradually converting at least part of their household to CFLs on their own
without decrees from above – which is as it should be.
If ever there was
a case for avoiding arbitrary coercion and letting market forces prevail, this
is it. Not everyone likes florescent lighting, even though the harsh, cold
illumination has been modified and varied. Still CFL’s don’t suit many
lamp-types (like certain hanging pendant fixtures or lampshades that fit over
Should government be allowed to overrule our personal likes or
dislikes? But the issue goes beyond our preferences.
For all the
propaganda and hype, CFLs pose massive health and environmental problems,
leading to second thoughts even among some environmental lobbyists.
emit noteworthy levels of electromagnetic radiation, including radio frequency
radiation and ultra-violet radiation that can trigger serious conditions – from
skin rashes to, theoretically, brain tumors. This isn’t scaremongering. Even
manufacturers warn that CFL bulbs need to be at least 50 cm. away from users.
They also damage paintings and textiles. Such drawbacks can be mitigated by
enclosing bulbs in custom glass cases, yet these are almost unavailable in
Israel. CFLs are, hence, unsuitable for bedside or desktop
There’s more. Each CFL contains small quantities of mercury
and other toxins. If a bulb breaks at home, its fragments are dangerous to bare
skin and need special handling and cleaning up. Even vacuum cleaners won’t do
because they might spread the contamination.
When tossed in the trash
CFLs can cause unimaginable havoc in garbage dumps and landfills – harm that far
offsets the benefits of energy saving. When mercury enters water sources,
biological processes change the chemical form to composites more noxious than
found in contaminated fish. Once in the food chain and subsequently in the body,
CFL-origin mercury can impair developing fetuses, and children’s and adult’s
Fashions notwithstanding, some intrusive governments
have slowly begun to take note of the CFLs’ dark underside. New Zealand, for
example, has backtracked from banning incandescent lights due to concerns about
safety and even the energy efficiency of the CFLs.
Doubts are also
appearing in Germany. Some Green NGOs, such as the World Wildlife Fund, have
dared to break with the political correctness that shielded CFLs from more
The pros and cons of CFLs are, of course, the subject
of heated debate, and for every argument, in either direction, there will be
passionate rebuttals. It is not our intention here to weigh in one way or the
other. Suffice it to emphasize that controversy exists.
In this situation
it’s not the place of a government to dictate to the citizenry what to
Already, plans are afoot to deprive us of plastic bags at
supermarkets. Soon certain foodstuffs or condiments may be denied us. Forcing us
to use CFLs is an interventionist precedent, guided by apparently good
Nonetheless, we all know where good intentions may
We can decide for ourselves. Let us do so.