Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Spare Me

Save Us From the Planet-Savers
© 2010 Ross Williams

In an effort to reduce the amount of electricity we use in the US, we’ve embarked upon a crusade of truly benighted self-deception. We’re going to be unable to use anything but CFL bulbs starting in 3 years. 2014. That’s the drop-dead date for those incandescents. Hundred watt incandescents die in 2012, seventy-fives in 2013, all the rest in 2014.

Because we use too much electricity to light them; that’s the pretense. Electricity that is made [largely] by burning coal and oil and natural gas. The thought of using nuclear energy doesn’t seem to have crossed our minds – still. Reflexive dogmatism loses its edge when the ogre is reduced to a kitten spitting and hissing in the corner.

Those who would save us from ourselves need the predominance of hydrocarbon-based US energy supplies every bit as much, if not more, than Big Oil does, just because the messiahs need something to save us from. If we built nuclear power plants and weaned ourselves from the inarguably largest portion of our hydrocarbon needs such that we wouldn’t have to import more than a fraction of our oil, why, the Enviro-Knights would be left with no dragons to slay, no windmills to tilt, and no reluctantly distressed damsels to save. All that chivalry and no one to court.

And then where would they be? They’d have to dig out their old “Save the Trees” pamphlets which call wood fired home-heating a grossly inefficient, polluting, and forest-stripping self-indulgence rather than the “natural”, “eco-friendly” and “appropriately technological” Gaia piety it was reclassified as in the mid 1990s. Ecological piety is closely linked to Noble Savage mythology; the world’s savages still burn every scrap of wood they can find. It’s called survival. Saving trees becomes killing natives. Oops.

Remember in the 70s when the push was for “clean-burning” gasoline because soot and grime was a problem? Well, we’ve got it. “Clean-burning” means the energy-packed hydrocarbon chains in gasoline [coal, natural gas, et al] are completely broken, thus releasing more of their energy – which is to say “fuel efficiency” – and water vapor, nitrous oxides and carbon dioxide, all of which are made by plants and other ecological things, are generated. Fuel efficiency is confined predominantly to The West; the savages still nobly spit out tons of soot. Oops, again.

So now, of course, CO2 has been reclassified as a “pollutant”. Yet go virtually anywhere else on the planet that has automobiles and industry and even their small towns are choked with dirty, sooty air – they look like large American cities – while their large cities look like the sixth circle of Dante’s Inferno. Yet it’s America, with fuel efficient “clean energy”, which is still the big polluter. Clean is the new dirty. Iron Eyes Cody is tracking carbon footprints today. And he’s only looking for them where the air is relatively clean.

So, no, we need to maintain our coal, oil and gas power plants so our Environmental Know-Betters will have a totem to dance around as they invent new and more exciting ways to tell us all what to do. The new edict: compact fluorescent lighting.

Their benefits are:
1. They use less electricity for comparable light generated – called lumens.

We are told they also last longer – 10 times, 20 times, lifetimes – but this is not necessarily accurate. What CFL-boosters meant to say is that CFL bulbs can last 10 times longer ... if they are used properly. Which is to say: properly for fluorescent lights.

...which is to say: Leave them on all the time.

Fluorescent lights hate being turned on and off. It causes their mechanical ballasts – the thing that actually makes the fluorescent gas in the bulb glow – to wear out. If you use your fluorescents like you use your incandescents, they might last twice as long. If you use your fluorescents the way fluorescents are supposed to be used to make them last longer, you won’t be saving energy.

A 60W incandescent uses 60 watts. A 13W CFL uses 13 watts to generate the same number of lumens. Turn one of each on and leave them on until they die, the CFL will last 10 times longer. Put one of each in a two-bulb overhead light and use that light the way you typically use the light – on, off, on, off, on, off, on, off – the CFL will die about the same time next year as the incandescent does, maybe outliving it by a few months. And at 20 times the cost? how can that not be a bargain?

If you turn the CFL on and leave it on while you turn the incandescent on and off as you normally do, your CFL will outlast the incandescent by years, but swallow five times the total energy – by providing light when you don’t want it or need it. Eliminating unwanted and unneeded light is the reason for light switches.

Oh, but incandescents create heat as well as light, we are told, which is a further inefficiency, and that is in fact true. But sometimes this is a good thing. We have chickens, and a 100W bulb in their chicken house in the winter does two things:

1. Deters certain predators who resort to raiding chicken houses while their normal meals hibernate, thus helping to keep the chickens alive
2. Keeps their chicken house warm, thus helping to keep the chickens alive.

What did my chickens do – my free range chickens, no less – that they are on the hit-list of our Eco-Warriors right below Big Oil and incandescent light bulbs? Or are chickens “acceptable collateral damage” in the war to save our planet?

Apparently the rest of my farm – and everyone else’s too – is on their hit-list as well. Incandescent light bulbs are also used in build-it-yerself freeze-proof livestock water buckets. Build a square box out of the scrap lumber that’s always found around a farm, put the bucket into the box, install a light socket below the bottom of the bucket, and screw in a 100W bulb. One forty-five cent bulb will last all winter and create enough heat to keep the water from freezing so that the horses, sheep, goats, cattle, and chickens can drink. If livestock don’t drink water, they’ll resort to scratching up ice and eating snow – which lowers their core temperature and can cause hypothermia [and death] in severe weather conditions.

Of course, those of us with livestock can always buy a product called a heated bucket – a regular old bucket with a heating coil built into the bottom, and a 6-foot cord which uses twice the electricity of a 100W bulb and costs four times the price of a regular bucket and 60 times the price of a 100W incandescent and scrap lumber. Heated buckets last two years, maybe three, before the heating coils break or the bucket cracks. Yet another bargain!

I won’t even mention the heat lamp I use each spring to keep the new chicks warm enough that they don’t die before joining the flock.

But these aren’t the only benefits to CFLs. In no particular order, here is a partial list of what else CFLs will do for us:

1. Trigger migraines in a portion of the population
2. Trigger seizures in another portion of the population
3. Make food look washed-out and unappetizing
4. Make your reflection in a mirror look washed-out and grotesque
5. Take significantly more money out of your pocket to light your home with iffy [at best] utility savings
6. Render every small-wattage light fixture obsolete – they don’t make CFLs to fit night lights, or the 20-light chandeliers, or other decorative applications – thus costing even more money to replace perfectly good fixtures
And ... last but not least ...
7. Create a brand new environmental catastrophe due to mercury leaching into ground and surface water supplies from landfills where CFL bulbs are cast when they stop working.

...CFLs, like all other fluorescent light bulbs, contain mercury which escapes when the glass breaks. Mercury poisoning is a growing problem, leading to food recalls, permanent injury, incapacitation and illness. What a great thing!

All this to reduce our electrical usage – which probably won’t happen ...
And reduce total consumer cost – which definitely won’t happen ...
As a means to reduce our carbon emissions and “save the planet”.

Mankind’s carbon emissions are 3% of the total carbon emitted annually on the planet – the planet and non-human life itself generates 97%. We are being nagged and hectored to reduce our carbon emissions by up to 20% - to 2.4% of the total. If we don’t [we are told], the planet’s temperature will increase by up to 2 degrees Celsius in a century. ...of which the planet and non-human life is 97% responsible. Which means that for the endangered livestock, the migraines, the seizures, the loss of appetite and blotchy appearance in the changing rooms, the compulsory consumerism and mercury poisoning, the planet’s temperature a hundred years from now will only increase – due to the insulating properties of CO2 in concentration – by a mere 1.98 degrees. And that will save us.

Maybe. ...and this caveat isn’t even my own interjected by overwhelming cynicism. It is their caveat. They, themselves, say “maybe”. The difference between our doom and our redemption doesn’t even exceed the margin of error. It can barely even be measured.

We are being saved – as if once wasn’t enough – back to the dark ages. But this time we’ll be lit, CFLs aglow, in the jaundiced pallor of any Soviet style tenement.


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