Twirly Light Globes and Hummers

In Australia, incandescent light globes are to be illegal from 2010 and it is already impossible to buy them in the shops. The compact fluorescent globes that are to replace them have been on the market for years but have not been popular. They certainly consume less energy to produce the same amount of light, but they have always been much more expensive, they don’t produce the amount of light that is claimed on the package, they don’t last as long as is claimed – often less time than an incandescent globe – and the light is an unpleasant cold pale shade.

This forced move to compact fluorescent globes was an initiative of the Liberal government in 2007. The claim was that this would help the planet by reducing national electricity consumption and thus reducing the burning of carbon-based fuel.

Actually it has been pointed out by economists, and is plain for all to see, that the effect will be to divert the consumption of electricity to new uses, like bigger televisions and more electric gadgets generally. Since the price of electricity is not to rise, the consumption of it will not drop but continue to grow.

So the amount of carbon dioxide produced by electricity generation will not be reduced by this forced move to compact fluorescents. In addition, the globes, when exhausted, will present a problem of toxic waste disposal due to the mercury they contain.

These unpopular and unsatisfactory products might have taken their place among the dinosaurs of technological history. Rapidly developing and more efficient LEDs, available in a range of colours, are the lighting of the future. But instead, the makers of compact fluorescents will reap a windfall from a public coerced into buying their products, and the world will be burdened with more toxic waste.

This story is an example of two things; how relatively minor measures are introduced to distract the public from anything substantial that might significantly contribute to slowing global warming; and how people who don’t care about global warming or don’t accept that it is happening, nevertheless see an opportunity to cash in on public concern.

So, what about the hummers? It is obvious that you don’t need three tonnes of powerful machinery to move one person about. This crazy system evolved in the United States as a response to the cheap abundant fossil oil available in that country for a period in the twentieth century. It is not a system that has to be maintained for all time, no matter what the cost. It should be clear to everyone that a system of motor transport for individuals would work just as well, probably better, if the cars had only a fraction of the size and power that they do now. Obviously vehicles that have to carry heavy freight or large numbers of people need size and power to do so, but the fact is that the system we have now, is mainly one person in each car. This is where there is a lot of room to cut consumption. The system would be safer and cheaper and would produce less carbon dioxide and have less environmental impact generally. Also, alternative means of propelling the vehicles would become more viable.

But this is never mentioned. A curtain of silence has been drawn around this major issue and the potentially major effect of addressing it and doing something about it.

The world is clinging to the hummers. Unless we liberate ourselves from this obsession with big single-occupant cars and become obsessed instead with logic and practicality, the fight against global warming will fail, and we won’t be prepared for the inevitable depletion of fossil oil reserves and the economic disruption this will cause.

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3 Responses to Twirly Light Globes and Hummers

  1. aussie

    “Actually it has been pointed out by economists, and is plain for all to see, that the effect will be to divert the consumption of electricity to new uses, like bigger televisions and more electric gadgets generally. Since the price of electricity is not to rise, the consumption of it will not drop but continue to grow.”

    Your article seems to indicate that people buying fluorescent bulbs directly results in them buying more televisions and electric gadgets. I do not believe this to be the case. Although people in general are buying much more of the electronics, it can not be directly related to the light bulbs they use. I believe this will help slow energy consumption, compared to consumption rates had everyone been using incandescent bulbs. Your thoughts on this?

  2. Charles

    Thank you for comment. I did not mean to say that the purchase of compact fluorescent bulbs directly results in people buying more electric gadgets. The point is that, if the price of electricity does not rise, then anything that reduces the power bill in one area by providing a similar service with less electricity, will make more room for consuming electricity in other ways. There is no downward pressure on electricity consumption. The only way to reduce electricity consumption is by raising the price.

    About 50 years ago, old-fashioned radios, record players and TVs running on hot electronic tubes or ‘valves’ were being phased out and replaced with transistorised (‘solid-state’) devices where nearly all the electricity consumed went into the production of sound rather than much being lost to heat. At the time there was a noticeable surge in the purchase of electrical home products. There were other factors at work then of course.

  3. aussie

    I do see your point, and agree that prices must be raised, but only if they can provide a sustainable alternative. I would agree with a system that taxes old coal generating systems to subsidize new green alternatives. But that would of course have a lot of different competition arguments…

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