Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I am particularly excited about today’s post. For those of you wondering how to get people to read your posts, one of the best methods is to write a post defending a right wing political figure for which the left hates with irrational vitriol. I suggest Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Dick Cheney, or Karl Rove. Today, I’m posting on Michelle Bachman and I can’t wait to check my analytics tonight. My last post on Bachman regarding one-world currency is my most read post to date. Today, we are going to talk about Bachman and CFLs.
Like one-world currency, I came across the hate-speech from the left regarding Bachman’s proposed “Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act” by accident. I have been considering CFL bulbs for a while. I’m a capitalist (or maybe I’m a cheap-skate?) and I can’t pass up easy savings. However, I had heard that CFLs contain mercury and being the pathological klutz that I am, I decided to see what my actual health risks would be if I were to break a CFL.
The EPA was able to allay many of my fears. I don’t need a HAZMAT team to come in and clean up if one breaks. Here are the instructions for cleaning up a CFL according to the State of MN.
Treehugger.com was able to give me some added benefits too! Even with mercury in CFLs, the overall mercury in the atmosphere will actually decrease due to the reduction in the use of coal energy. Mercury is in coal, so when it is burned, mercury is released into the atmosphere. Have I sold you yet? Sounds great and reasonable, right? I must admit, it does sound good. That’s usually what happens when the smart people are running things. You know…the people that use math and models to determine what’s best for the masses?
I wish I could say, “That’s all folks.” However, I’m a math and model guy too. I know the problems with using math to make my decisions. I wasn’t fully convinced and wanted a little more information. Luckily, I’m not just a math guy; I’m a common sense guy too. That’s why I only have an undergrad in economics!
Now before I go further, I’m not saying that people should boycott or avoid buying CFLs. On the contrary, I believe that many people should. However, in the interest of pushing CFLs to save the planet, many agencies, bloggers, and magazines have downplayed the amount of mercury in CFL light bulbs. That’s a big mistake and a dangerous one too. The simple fact is even a little mercury is very dangerous (That's what National Geographic told me even as they said it's not dangerous). Mercury is a neurotoxin that is very harmful for people of all ages, but especially pregnant women and little children. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use them, but it does mean that careful consideration is needed before using them.
Look at the cleaning instructions. What if you didn’t know there was mercury in the CFL bulb? Would you have followed those instructions? What if someone didn’t take the time to research how to cleanup a broken CFL? I believe the risks are low in the house, CFLs should be used, but CFLs are still dangerous for someone that is ignorant to the risks.
The largest concern for CFLs is not in homes, but in the environment. As I pointed out above, the math people have decided that mercury will decrease in the environment, by forcing people to manufacture and buy products that will introduce mercury into the environment. See what happens when you put a little too much stock in the math people? You wind up saying something that sounds silly.
I found the following stat in Popular Mechanics:
“In 2006, coal-fired power plants produced 1,971 billion kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity, emitting 50.7 tons of mercury into the air—the equivalent amount of mercury contained in more than 9 billion CFLs”
What’s the problem? Well, first of all CFLs will not end the use of coal power plants. Though CFLs are about 75-80% more efficient than incandescent light bulbs, light bulbs are a very small portion of your overall energy use. According to Energy Star, light bulbs are about 20% of your energy bill. With an estimated 77% increase in efficiency, you would save about 15% on your power usage. However, the 50.7 tons of mercury in the atmosphere/year for the whole world is much smaller at 15% of the number. Look at the equivalent mercury in CFLs according to the stat, 9 billion. It turns out the US alone uses about 2 billion bulbs a year. Let’s do the math like the math people :)
If the world switches to CFLs
- Energy production in power plants would reduce by about 15%/year
- That the equivalent mercury savings in the atmosphere is equal to 1.35 billion CFL bulbs
- The US bought 2 billion bulbs alone last year
“Come on C Gen, but the bulbs don’t emit mercury like power plants and not all the bulbs are going to break.” To that I say, “Great argument guy on the left that I bring out to debunk in my posts!” However, my argument above was mostly intended to put into perspective the total amount of mercury people will be handling. There is also a big difference between the mercury from coal plants and the mercury in CFLS. CFLs concentrate the amount of mercury while coal power plants automatically disburse and defuse the mercury. If you read the CFL cleaning instructions, you are supposed to open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes? That’s so that the evaporated mercury has time to defuse to a safe level. Well, coal plants are naturally defusing mercury into the atmosphere. I’m not saying that’s wonderful. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do something about it. However, let’s evaluate the risks and the differences. You need to properly dispose of CFL bulbs to get a benefit from the reduction of mercury released by coal power plants. For me, the closest place is 35 miles away and in a city that I don’t like to go. Common sense asks, “How many people know or would take the time to dispose of the bulbs properly?” Since CFLs concentrate the mercury and waste disposal goes to specific areas, aka your landfill, then we could be causing serious issues for communities and the environments around landfills. It’s a real danger and something to consider carefully.
Now Bachman has proposed that people should have a choice to buy CFLs because of the mercury content of the bulbs. This makes a lot of sense to me. By forcing people to use CFL bulbs, you will guarantee that people will be ignorant of the dangers of using and disposing these bulbs. Only people who are going to dispose of the bulbs properly and are well aware of the risks of breaking a bulb should be buying them. If you think Bachman is an ignorant loon, then you should agree with her bill. Why? Do you want to force ignorant loons to handle hazardous material? Besides, wouldn’t an easier, better solution to closing coal power plants be building nuclear power plants? Or is it that you can fear radiation poisoning (zero cases last year), but you’re a crackpot if you have concerns over mercury poisoning?