Light bulb debate should be about, well, quality of light

Compact fluorescent bulbs don't all offer the same quality of light as incandescent bulbs.


The Great Light Bulb Debate of 2011 (carried over from 2007) has been framed as a classic liberal vs. conservative battle, yet the sides for and against banning the incandescent light bulb don't necessarily follow party lines.

The ban of incandescent light bulbs was part of the 2007 Energy Bill signed by President George W. Bush, a Republican. It outlaws the sale of traditional 100 watt bulbs starting in 2012 and then phases out lower watt bulbs in subsequent years. As the ban on bulbs approaches, Congress has taken up the issue again.

The side being pitched as the liberal viewpoint is in favor of banning standard incandescent light bulbs for the energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. The thinking is that although the compact fluorescent bulbs are more expensive than incandescents, the amount saved on electricity will more than cover those costs -- plus they last longer. Ultimately, they argue, this is good for the environment, as less electricity will have to be generated.

The conservative point of view is built on opposition to government overregulation. This side contends that consumers are smart enough to decide for themselves whether it makes sense for them to switch from incandescent to fluorescent bulbs.

But we -- literally -- see this debate differently. The incandescent vs. fluorescent is all about being able to see. And this might explain why the debate and voting in Congress does not necessarily follow party lines.

Frankly, the light given off by fluorescents causes vision problems, even headaches, for some people. In other cases it's not necessarily a health concern, they just believe they can see a lot better with incandescent lights.

It's about the quality of lighting.

Banning incandescent light bulbs seems premature, as their replacement does not necessarily have an affordable, equal substitute.

Another problem with fluorescents is that they contain mercury. When these bulbs break, they release mercury vapors that might be, depending on the bulbs, at dangerous levels.

In a way, this move would be like the government banning vehicles with gasoline engines in favor of all-electric vehicles. Sure, electric cars have improved and many are very, very good. Yet, they still don't perform anywhere near those fueled with gasoline.

So as the day grows closer when the ban on bulbs is set to begin, people are actually stockpiling incandescent bulbs.

"Every time I go to Home Depot and Lowe's, I'll just grab a box of incandescent bulbs and throw them in the cabinet for future use," Alisha Tomlinson told her hometown newspaper, the Charlotte Observer.

Yes, the government is on the right track in wanting the nation to make the shift toward energy efficient lighting.

And perhaps there will be a day when folks won't have valid concerns about the quality of light.

That day is not here.


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