The observation about domes was Stewart Brand’s (“The Whole Earth Catalogue”) summation of the failed “back-to-nature” movement by the late 60’s hippies. The conclusion about compact fluorescent bulbs is reported today by The New York Times.
SAN FRANCISCO — It sounds like such a simple thing to do: buy some new light bulbs, screw them in, save the planet.
But a lot of people these days are finding the new compact fluorescent bulbs anything but simple. Consumers who are trying them say they sometimes fail to work, or wear out early. At best, people discover that using the bulbs requires learning a long list of dos and don’ts.
Take the case of Karen Zuercher and her husband, in San Francisco. Inspired by watching the movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” they decided to swap out nearly every incandescent bulb in their home for energy-saving compact fluorescents. Instead of having a satisfying green moment, however, they wound up coping with a mess.
“Here’s my sad collection of bulbs that didn’t work,” Ms. Zuercher said the other day as she pulled a cardboard box containing defunct bulbs from her laundry shelf.
One of the 16 Feit Electric bulbs the Zuerchers bought at Costco did not work at all, they said, and three others died within hours. The bulbs were supposed to burn for 10,000 hours, meaning they should have lasted for years in normal use. “It’s irritating,” Ms. Zuercher said.
Irritation seems to be rising as more consumers try compact fluorescent bulbs, which now occupy 11 percent of the nation’s eligible sockets, with 330 million bulbs sold every year. Consumers are posting vociferous complaints on the Internet after trying the bulbs and finding them lacking.
Experts say the quality problems are compounded by poor package instructions. Using the bulbs incorrectly, like screwing low-end bulbs into fixtures where heat is prone to build up, can greatly shorten their lives. [like your recessed lighting and overheads – ed]
Some experts who study the issue blame the government for the quality problems, saying an intensive federal push to lower the price essentially backfired by encouraging manufacturers to use cheap components.
“In the pursuit of the holy grail, we stepped on the consumer,” said Michael Siminovitch, director of a lighting center at the University of California, Davis.
Compact fluorescents once cost as much as $30 apiece. Now they go for as little as $1 — still more than regular bulbs, but each compact fluorescent is supposed to last 10 times longer, save as much as $5.40 a bulb each year in electricity, and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide from burning coal in power plants.
Consumers are supposed to be able to protect themselves by buying bulbs certified under the government’s Energy Star program. But experts and some environmental groups complain that Energy Star standards are weak, permitting low-quality bulbs with too high a level of mercury, a toxic metal contained in all compact fluorescents.
“The standard essentially establishes a floor, which sorts out the junk, with the expectation that the rest is good,” Mr. Siminovitch said. “It’s not.”
The government, which will begin enforcing tighter specifications this year, [Congress has banned incandescent light bulbs, beginning in 2010 – ed] says it must seek a balance between quality and affordability to achieve its goal of getting millions of additional consumers to install the bulbs.
“Something that is perfect but not affordable wouldn’t serve the broad interests,” said Peter Banwell, the Energy Department’s manager of product marketing for Energy Star.
Here’s a hint for the idiot politicians who have banned them: there is already a product that is perfect and affordable and has worked successfully for over 100 years – it’s the incandescent bulbs. Voters may not revolt over paying high taxes, although I hope they will. When they have to deal with these Congressionally mandated bulbs, find that they’re junk and then discover that they can no longer buy incandescents, we may finally see the anger at Washington I’ve been dreaming of for years.
UPDATE: Don’t forget “Celebrate Civilization Hour” tonight at 8:30 PM! Turn on all your incandescent bulbs!