Ban the Bulb

I’ve been read­ing about light bulbs. 90% of the ener­gy that goes to a light­bulb gets lost in heat. Accord­ing to Amory Lovins, the aver­age US home runs 30 light­bulbs five hours a day, and if all Amer­i­can homes replaced just 3 of the­se bulbs with long-last­ing bulbs, Amer­i­cans could save elec­tric­i­ty equiv­a­lent to the out­put of 11 fos­sil-fuel-fired pow­er plants. In turn they would elim­i­nate about 23 mil­lion ton­nes of CO2 emis­sions per year — and save about $1,800,000,000.

I’ve been play­ing with a graph­ic con­cept to try and make the link between a sim­ple act like chang­ing your light bulb and the impacts of cli­mate change. This rough doesn’t quite achieve what I’m look­ing for, but the idea is to extend the joke across a range of impacts.

How many dead polar bears does it take to change a light bulb?
Ban the Bulb! 

18 thoughts on “Ban the Bulb”

  1. More about the decep­tive argu­ments behind ban­ning light bulbs,
    with a ref­er­enced run­down of why the argu­ments don’t hold
    on “Free­dom Light Bulb” blog

  2. (con­tin­ued)

    Even at peak times (cen­ter­ing around 5–7 pm tem­per­ate zones),
    lim­it­ed coal use and emis­sions are caused rel­a­tive to any elec­tric­i­ty used.
    Peak times brings on quick­er respond­ing elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion, such as gas or hydro pow­ered tur­bines, because of heat­ing, cook­ing stoves and ket­tles com­ing on (rather than any light­ing).
    There­fore at such times, the light bulbs pro­por­tion­al­ly use sources with much less emis­sions than from coal.

    So the idea that even (gen­er­ous­ly, as ref­er­ence linked to US Dept of Ener­gy stats etc, on below web­site) the 1–2% of over­all grid elec­tric­i­ty saved from ban­ning the incan­des­cents trans­lates into 1–2% less of any fuel burned, does not hold.
    It may seem tongue-in-cheek to sug­gest that no coal sav­ings at all apply:
    But in a con­text of just 30–35% effi­cient plants over­com­ing 6–8% grid trans­mis­sion loss­es (USA, UK and else­where) it is in prac­tice true.

    But of course, it is much more fun (and prof­itable) to indoc­tri­nate kids to switch bulbs to save the plan­et!

    As it hap­pens, CO2 and oth­er gas emis­sions may increase by switch­ing away from incan­des­cent light bulbs,
    espe­cial­ly in cool­er cli­mates, as shown by Cana­di­an, Finnish etc research, inde­pen­dent­ly of one anoth­er, as linked via the below web­site.
    That is, when the elec­tric light bulb heat from a low car­bon emis­sion (like nuclear, hydro, solar, wind) pow­er plant source,
    is replaced by CO2 emit­ting heat fuel (like coal, gas, oil).

  3. Sav­ing emis­sions (what­ev­er about CO2!) is a good idea.

    But light bulb bans don’t achieve it.

    Coal is by far the main fos­sil fuel envi­ron­men­tal con­cern with elec­tric­i­ty use,
    with around twice the CO2 emis­sions of either nat­u­ral gas or oil in equiv­a­lent elec­tric­i­ty gen­er­a­tion.

    Light bulbs don’t burn coal, and they don’t release CO2 gas.
    Pow­er plants might — and they might not.
    And if they do, then coal and its emis­sions can be treat­ed in var­i­ous ways.

    Effec­tive­ly the same coal gets burned regard­less of whether your light bulb is on or off:
    Rel­e­vant domes­tic light­ing is most­ly used from 5pm onwards.
    Coal plants are on all the time at basi­cal­ly the same out­put lev­el.
    Slow and cheap.
    They can’t real­ly be turned down at night, as it takes too long to pow­er up in the morn­ing, and to some extent this is true of oth­er base load­ing pow­er, like nuclear ener­gy.
    Hence much fuel burned that noone uses. Hence cheap elec­tric­i­ty at night. Hence the light­ing caus­ing no ener­gy use and no CO2 or mer­cury emis­sions, that would not have occured any­way.


  4. If you haven’t replaced all your incan­des­cent bulbs with Com­pact Flu­o­res­cents… [YOU SPELLED IT LIKEFLOUR,’ GENIUS!]… you’re con­tribut­ing to Glob­al Warm­ing(,) and dri­ving Polar Bears toward extinc­tion. Ban the Bulb!”

    If you were a shrink, and I quot­ed your­self to YOU, I’d be diag­nosed with DEMENTIA!

    Now, it’s time to quote ME:

    ‘Save mon­ey’: let fat, black, angry Com­mie-Libs invade your home and throw away brand-new incan­des­cents.”

    Live safer: keep mer­cury-filled flu­o­res­cents in your children’s home.”

    Com­mie-Libs are EXACTLY like flu­o­res­cents: twist­ed, expen­sive, easy to replace, not too bright, and full of ‘legal’ tox­ins.”

    Scare off a Lefty: ask HIM ques­tions, TOO.”

    When they take any free­dom U have Left, give ‘em a Right hook!” 

    GOD’S truth is VERY incon­ve­nient. Sor­ry, Al.” 

    Al’s a church-goin’, good, ol’ boy, right? At least, on TV. So why doesn’t he care what GOD has to say about ‘glob­al warm­ing’?”

    Dear Envi­ron­men­tal­ists, Your cool gad­gets are made from OIL!” 



    ‘Win’ a debate with a Chris­tian: change the sub­ject, throw a hissy-fit, cut him off, invoke The Pow­er of The F-Word, and quick­ly leave the room. He’ll be shak­ing in his Amer­i­can-made boots.”

    Smart Cars & speed bumps slow you down… for about 2 sec­onds.”

    A truck hit a Smart Car: no one could find it.” 

    A Smart Car had a wreck: it became it’s own bumper stick­er.”

    A Smart Car got totaled: Pro­gres­sive called it, ‘bundling’.”

    A Smart Car got totaled: the insur­ance com­pa­ny replaced it with Hot Wheels.” 

    A Smart Car got totaled: some­one leaned on it.” 

    A Smart Car got totaled: the insur­ance com­pa­ny sent anoth­er one by UPS.”

    A Smart Car got totaled: LEGOs were fly­ing every­where!”

    A Smart Car had a ‘fend­er ben­der’. (Actu­al­ly, the whole car IS a fend­er.)”

    A ‘fend­er ben­der’ to YOU and ME is a TOTAL LOSS to a Smart Car!” 

    A Smart Car stole my park­ing spot: I threw it in my trunk.” 

    Smart Cars don’t save oil: plas­tic COMES from oil.” 

    Elec­tric cars: mak­ing pow­er plants use even MORE oil.” 

    The Anti-Oil Cam­paign is pow­ered by OIL.”

  5. Hey! Quick ques­tion that’s com­plete­ly off top­ic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friend­ly? My web­site looks weird when view­ing from my iphone4. I’m try­ing to find a the­me or plug­in that might be able to cor­rect this issue. If you have any rec­om­men­da­tions, please share. With thanks!

  6. Hey Kritján,

    Mer­cury in the bulbs is, agreed, an issue. But if your ener­gy comes from coal, for exam­ple, the mer­cury con­tent of the coal burnt over the life­time of a con­ven­tion­al bulb far exceeds the mer­cury in a CFL. Per­son­al­ly, I like the way LED tech­nol­o­gy is look­ing as a long term solu­tion, but the cost is way out beyond CFLs at the moment. 

    CFLs are not per­fect. But there comes a point when the per­fect is the ene­my of the good, and when it comes to CO2 emis­sions, which today are the sin­gle most dan­ger­ous pol­lu­tant on the plan­et, CFLs are def­i­nite­ly bet­ter than incan­des­cent bulbs.


  7. This is bull­shit as pen and teller would say
    the ECO bulb is not envi­ro­ment frind­ly pro­duct it has mer­cury and oth­er chem­i­cal that are haz­ardous to the envi­romen. it takes 12x the same engery to make com­pact flu­ru­cent bulb then the old incan­des­cent bulb.
    it just a mar­ket­ing scam to sell more com­pact flu­ru­cent bulb.

  8. Your a moron. 

    Polar bear pop­u­la­tions are steady. There is no link between melt­ing ice caps and declin­ing polar bear pop­u­la­tions. Have you ever asked your­self how polar bears sur­vived the thou­sands of years when earth was much warmer than it is right now, because they did, and polar bears did not go extinct with­out sea ice. Stop using this BS pro­pa­gan­da.

  9. Ha! I’m a mar­ket­ing guy’s night­mare. The use of the polar bear by Coca-Cola didn’t stick in my brain as a brand­ing image — guess I’ve been too dis­tract­ed late­ly with all this “bloke coke” non­sense 🙂

  10. Inter­est­ing, and right in many places (don’t debate the sci­ence, e.g.) but wrong about the pow­er of polar bears to con­vey the mes­sage. We’ve polled on this (has he?) and the extinc­tion of polar bears is a “wake up” point for peo­ple who think of cli­mate change as a harm­less change in the weath­er. They’re posi­tioned to be the canaries in the coal mine of cli­mate change, and there’s a mas­sive seg­ment of the pub­lic, not real­ly envi­ron­men­tal­ists, who do care about them dying out. Con­cern about the well being of “Charis­mat­ic MegaFau­na” such as whales, harp seals, and pan­das have been dri­ving a wide swath of the pub­lic to envi­ron­men­tal action for decades, and there’s no sign of that slop­ing off. There’s big sym­bol­ic val­ue, and big psy­cho­log­i­cal pow­er, in the­se emblem­at­ic species. There’s an anthro­po­mor­phic effect: peo­ple see them­selves in the­se beasts, they see their kids in polar bear cubs, they sense that where they go, we go.

    There’s a con­flict of inter­est here. Ogilvy and Math­er sell Coke. Coke uses cute lit­tle cud­dly polar bears as adver­tis­ing. Coke doesn’t want to see polar bears politi­cized.

    Just because I’m para­noid doesn’t mean I’m not right. 😉


  11. It’s true though. Most peo­ple are very sur­prised when they hear how much ener­gy can be saved through such small, pri­vate efforts.

    Ener­gy sav­ing light­bulbs, fill­ing the ket­tle with just the right amount of water, wash­ing the dish­es by hand, stop using the stand­by func­tion on elec­tron­ic items .….etc.

    It makes com­bat­ing cli­mate change seem less daunt­ing and mas­sive­ly over­whelm­ing, when you break it down to such small, easy to accom­plish lev­els.

    Peo­ple think they can’t make a dif­fer­ence because it’s all down to gov­ern­ments and con­ven­tions and grap­pling with mono­lithic oil com­pa­nies, which is beyond them as indi­vid­u­als.

    Small things like this show that’s not the case.

  12. I real­ly like the graph­ic, Bri­an! I have a cou­ple of thoughts about it, but I’m not a mar­ket­ing expert 😉 I’ll leave that to the pros.

    All the folks I know in the US do their best to con­serve ener­gy and use long-last­ing bulbs, but obvi­ous­ly the graph­ic would be preach­ing to the choir if I showed it to them. If you can edu­cate the unin­formed and con­vert the skep­ti­cal, you’ve won a great bat­tle.

    I don’t have the sur­veys onhand (I can dig around for them lat­er), but thanks to sky­rock­et­ing gas prices, many Amer­i­cans are becom­ing more ener­gy-con­scious in gen­er­al, which is quite encour­ag­ing. The big chal­lenge is to get peo­ple to con­nect “hm, my elec­tric bill is real­ly damned high” with “hm, my ener­gy might be com­ing from a petro­le­um source”. How do we get peo­ple to fig­ure that out?

    Man, it’s so many con­nec­tions to make. Bulbs to fos­sil fuels to glob­al warm­ing… I guess it’s one step at a time.

    That’s the end of my navel-gaz­ing, tan­gen­tial-think­ing com­ment. Sor­ry ’bout the spam!

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