文章 Articles

Seeing the light

Legislators in California recently introduced bills to end the use of Thomas Edison’s iconic invention, the incandescent light bulb. Terry Tamminen hails the energy savers.
Article image

If you found a gold coin on the sidewalk, would you pick it up? Of course you would. Well what about US$3 billion worth of gold coins?

Saving energy is like finding money in the street, because it saves money and the environment in the process. A recent study showed that a 75 watt incandescent (tungsten) light bulb costs nearly US$10 per year to own and operate over the life of the bulb. By contrast, a compact fluorescent bulb that produces an equal amount of light, costs only US$3.50 per year. Taking those figures, the world’s largest retailer, Walmart, estimates that if each of their 100 million customers bought just one compact fluorescent bulb to replace an incandescent bulb in their home it would save those consumers over US$3 billion.

Of course “seeing the light” of energy conservation is not just about money, although that’s a logical place to start. Each of those energy-miser bulbs will also reduce the need to burn fuels to make electricity the equivalent of about 110 pounds of coal and reduce some 450 pounds of greenhouse gases. In California, the average home has 40 bulbs, so going beyond Walmart’s modest one-bulb-per-customer goal will deliver dramatic environmental and economic benefits.

That’s why legislators in California recently introduced bills to end the use of Thomas Edison’s iconic invention, the tungsten filament incandescent light bulb, within a few years. One of these bills carries a humorous title, but a very serious purpose. Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, a Democrat from Burbank, California, has introduced the "How Many Legislators Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb Act" that would ban incandescent light bulbs by 2012. The 80 million light bulbs sold in California each year may soon be helping us to solve global warming, reduce the need to build costly new power plants, and put billions back into consumers pockets. Not bad for a simple device that most of us take for granted.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman, a Democrat from San Rafael, California, introduced another measure that would phase out the incandescents by 2018, starting with state-run facilities.

These measures are not without controversy, of course. Environmentalists fear the mercury used in compact fluorescents will make its way into landfills and ultimately our food or water supply, much as that highly toxic substance has already polluted the environment from the burning of coal. Business leaders fear the ban, claiming that the initial cost of buying compact fluorescents will hurt the economy, despite the obvious long-term gains. And then there are those who simply feel we should not prescribe what technologies or products consumers may or may not use.

But enlightened public policy around our energy consumption has already been demonstrated in California, paying big dividends for decades. In the 1970s, Californians were faced with a growing economy and a shortage of electricity. The Arab oil embargo of 1973 had raised energy costs, making an even bigger impact on the economy. The Clean Air Act has passed Congress just a few years earlier and California arguably the home of smog was struggling to reduce air pollution from sources like power plants.

The California Energy Commission went to work, designing and enacting numerous appliance efficiency standards for everything from lighting to dish washers. The result? In the past 30 years, Americans on average have increased their electricity consumption by 50%, but the consumption of Californians has remained level, making us the most energy-efficient state in the nation. The federal government has now adopted many of California’s appliance and other energy standards, making them the law of the land for everyone. Consumers didn’t lose choice – there are still dozens of makes and models of refrigerators to choose from, for example but all of those choices are energy-efficient and save both money and the environment. Why not do the same with light bulbs?

Apparently the “tree hugging” residents of California are not alone in this strategy. Australia recently enacted a similar ban on incandescent bulbs and other states and countries are looking to follow suit. As millions of more energy efficient bulbs are produced, the cost will come down, making them even better bargains. Moreover, the scientists have just begun. Light emitting diodes (LEDs) and other technology may soon deliver yet another quantum improvement in energy efficiency for lighting, meaning we may soon be banning compact fluorescents for being too wasteful in the near future!


Terry Tamminen directs the Climate Program at the New America Foundation and is the former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency. His latest book is “Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of our Oil Addiction” (Island Press).

Homepage photo by Gerard Baron

Now more than ever…

chinadialogue is at the heart of the battle for truth on climate change and its challenges at this critical time.

Our readers are valued by us and now, for the first time, we are asking for your support to help maintain the rigorous, honest reporting and analysis on climate change that you value in a 'post-truth' era.

Support chinadialogue

发表评论 Post a comment

评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200.

评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

好样的!

很有趣的是我注意到古巴和委内瑞拉都已经推行了这类措施。不过,加利福尼亚、澳大利亚和其它地方,干得好!如果你所在的国家或州还没有作类似的事情的话,我建议你自己先开始做起来——马上!

Excellent Dude!

It's interesting to note that similar measures had already happened in Cuba and Venezuela. But well done California, Australia, and the rest. If your country or state hasn't done something similar I would advise doing this yourself - right now!

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

中国制造

大多数节能灯泡都是中国制造的。或许哪个中国朋友能告诉我们是否他们在中国普遍使用。既然中国有这么严重的能源问题,政府是不是已经禁止旧式灯泡的使用了呢?

made in China

most of these low energy lightbulbs are made in China. Maybe some Chinese friends can tell us if they are in general use. Given that China has such terrible energy problems. has the government banned the old fashioned light bulbs?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

白炽还是荧光

最近,我问了自己一个问题,人们明明知道荧光(节能)灯泡,也知道可以用它们来省下很多电费,为什么荧光灯泡还是没有得到主流消费者的广泛青睐呢?后来,我在纽约时代周刊上看到一篇文章,里面解释说尽管节能灯泡有很多优势,但主要问题在于它们发出的是荧光。的确,我们的眼睛,或者更广义来说,我们的感官,对白炽(或者说,物体的燃烧)的反应更佳,因为它让我们回忆起过去的由太阳给我们带来光和热的美好时光。于是,在消费者心里,荧光灯发出的光芒让他们不舒服,让他们觉得“不自然”。这是我们不能改变的。我们能期待的,是我们这个古老可爱的地球能继续繁衍下去,并且人们能够在沐浴了夜晚的荧光灯照耀后,享受到两倍多的阳光。
看报道

链接

罗曼

Incandescence VS Fluorescence

Recently, I asked myself the question why, if many people know about fluorescent (energy efficient) bulbs, and their ability to save a tremendous amount of money on the electricity bill, why are they still not widely adopted by the mainstream consumer?

Then, I ran into an article of the NY Times, explaining that notwhistanding the advantages of energy efficient bulbs, one major issue of those was their "fluorescence".

Indeed, our eyes, and our senses generally speaking, react better to what we call incandescence, or burning of an object, as it reminds us the process that our good old sun uses to provide us light and heat.

Thus, in the consumer's mind, the fluo bulbs emits a light that make them feel uncomfortable, that they don't find "natural".

This is something that we cannot change, what we can hope, is that our good old earth will prevail, and that people will enjoy the sun light twice more, after bathing in fluo halos at night.

link

Romain.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

白炽还是荧光 2

罗曼,不是这样的。灯光的颜色取决于具体灯泡的品牌。那篇纽约时报的文章有误,因为尽管有些荧光灯泡看上去很丑,但还有些荧光灯泡的光线质量和白炽灯泡相比却是不存在任何可辨差别的。

詹姆斯

Incandescence VS fluorescence 2

Romain
Not so.
The color of the light depends on the specific light-bulb brand. That NY-Times article was flawed because while some fluorescent light-bulbs look ugly, others are indistinguishable from incandescents in light quality.
-James