While the Left was making fun of Michelle Bachman and the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act...

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?

10 comments

innominatus said...

Nice work. Often there are policies that sound good at a superficial level, and aren't shown to be stupid unless one really digs into it. By that, I guess I'm trying to say that there are usually several degrees of separation between a policy item and its unintended consequences, and a lot of people can't connect that many dots. In this case, you've poked some signigicant holes in CFL dogma without having to do a convoluted "this leads to that, which leads to this, which could lead to that, which would be bad" kind of argument.

September 2, 2009 at 5:40 PM

He's back!

Here's the typical scathing liberal response to your post -

Michelle Bachman is a wacko and dangerous, how could you possibly like anything about her????

And yes, they would skip over your entire post about CFLs and narrow straight down to the foaming at the mouth of her. I know, my piece on Bachmann and "Is the Liberal Left Tolerant?" got record hits. Remember, that was where Nameless Cynic showed up. Also, did you see the debate going on re: my Czar post? Wow!

Anyway on to CFL bulbs. The science and the debate behind this particular issue reminds me of nuclear energy. Despite it's massive positives and the fact that many countries rely on it for energy, the left castigates it at every corner. Politics before science is what comes to my mind........

September 2, 2009 at 6:25 PM
Joie said...

well put, I couldn't have stated it better!

September 2, 2009 at 9:11 PM

@ Innominatus - Thanks! Nothing a little common sense couldn't do.

@ LCR - thanks. I hope I can be around a little more often. Life got busy quick. My wife's going back to work, schools starting and I'm trying to finish remodeling the house.

I'll be sure to check out your post on the Czars. I've long been meaning to do one myself.

I'm not totally sure politics over science as much as book smart over street smart (there may be politics over science). I was a bit irreverent to the GW crowd in this post, because they are always trying to calculate a carbon foot print of this or that. It's like people that are busy counting calories. Meanwhile, anyone with common sense will tell you, eat healthy and exercise and you will lose weight.

It doesn't take too much thinking to conclude that introducing a large number of easily breakable light bulbs containing hazardous material can be dangerous.

@ Joie - Thanks for stopping by and your comments :)

September 2, 2009 at 9:32 PM
Andrew33 said...
This comment has been removed by the author. September 3, 2009 at 3:31 AM
Andrew33 said...

Those bulbs damage my eyes. I have very good vision but my pupils don't closeproperly in bright light, especially those flourescent garbgage. They give me migraines,too.

Hey C-Gen I did a little post on Tropical Storm Erika which could be bad not only for here in Florida but could impact our entire trip to DC. You know a bit about weather and climate. So would you like to join me in some amateur storm tracking for a weekend post on KOOKS? You showed you have a good grasp of basic atmospheric science on our climate change collaboration and I try to branch out and do different less politically charged work on the weekend. You can see my initial post on the subject in the "help me push" post on our blog.I thought since I have been away for a while and we collaborate well maybe you'd like to give it a try too. I'll give you the basics and the sites to look at and then it's all guess work. It kindof reminds me of playing poker with a storm track. knowing a little history and tendencies will help but that would help you in learning about climate in the process.

September 3, 2009 at 3:46 AM
TAO said...

Lets see, we complain when government passes laws that we interpret as "limiting" our freedoms but then we see nothing odd when someone proposes a law to 'give' us a freedom.

Either way the government is thinking they are way too important for my tastes and obviously much more important to my life and my freedoms than they really are...

Oh I know the whole lovefest with Bachmann is nothing to do with her brillance but rather that she annoys the left...

Politics ala' "na na na boo boo"

Personally I buy whatever lightbulb is on sale and I quit recycling when the local folks left me a note that they would no longer pick up my recyclables if I did not wash the cans, bottles, and plastics...

I don't wash garbage: charge me an extra fee to recycle, which then creates another income stream for the company that provides the service and then demand that I wash garbage...

Ah, the freedom to be as annoying as I want to be....maybe Bachmann can draft a law to protect that right too...

September 3, 2009 at 8:56 AM
The Law said...

The thing I don't understand about right winger philosophy, is that there seems to be a need to be on the right of every issue despite no matter what it is.

The freedom to choose a technology that is inefficient because you're American and you can do whatever you want? I'm sorry, I have negative 15 million interest in carefully disposing garbage. I suspect, in a few years time (how often to condescent bulbs go out anyways) you won't care either. All it takes is for someone who doesn't clean the bulb properly for there to be a problem. The likelyhood of that, yeah you're right, maybe about .000000000000000001%. But why take that chance when you could buy this kind of lightbulb
This 13 Watt LED Lightbulb emits as much light as a 100 Watt bulb and carries NONE of the risk. And it's better for the environment. I'm sorry man, defending Bachman is a waste of time because she is the most ignorant politician in Washington and defies logic for the sake of defying logic. At least Palin defies logic with passion! lol

September 3, 2009 at 3:55 PM

@ Andrew - sounds good. I'll look at the information you mentioned tomorrow.

@ Tao - Great point on the recycling. The pickup guy was complaining the other day that I over filled the box.

@ tL - I was going to bring up LEDs as an additional argument. I wouldn't mind a incondescent ban once LEDs are in mass production. Have you used the LEDs you pointed out? I think they look great.

"The thing I don't understand about right winger philosophy, is that there seems to be a need to be on the right of every issue despite no matter what it is."

This doesn't compute with me personally, maybe others. LEDs make sense, forcing CFLs doesn't make sense. I'm all about ideas that make sense.

September 3, 2009 at 9:52 PM
Andrew33 said...

The storm that was going to be tracked has weakened for now. If it becomes a threat again I will let you know.

I just wanted to tell you you did a great job with NYP. He is all game and when he decides he can't beat you he says he won't talk to you anymore as he did me.

September 4, 2009 at 12:30 PM

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