I’ve been meaning to post about this for a few days*. It has since made it to rather high visibility in the news, I’m pleased to see, generating a lot of interesting discussion. The Australians (another nation not part of the original Kyoto agreement, notably) have pushed ahead on the issue of trying to legislatively encourage (shall we say) the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs over the more wasteful traditional incandescent bulbs.
You’ll recall my posting about this idea not long ago, in the context of proposed California legislation (so yes, I used the same images in the same way). Now, I’ll admit that I was thinking of that as a test case, and when things are ironed out into a workable legislation there one would imagine the model being rolled out to the rest of the world to adopt in their own fashion. I did not expect an entire country to adopt it so soon and at such a rate (they propose to stop sales of incandescents by 2010!).
We had a lot of discussion in that earlier thread about the pros and cons of this. Commenter IrrationalPoint (IP), for example, seems convinced that this represents a serious access problem for people who respond less favourably to the new lights. Such legislation is therefore discriminatory. My response to that was in several parts. The first is that I was not convinced that the cited flicker problems were really problems that referred to the new bulbs. They don’t work like the old nasty fluorescents we remember from years back, or that are still to be found in a lot of public spaces. Their flicker rate is up at tens of KHz, not the 60 Hz of old. IP (and one or two others) then suggested that the issues were with the spectrum. My response there was that the spectrum is quite a bit different from a lot fo the old lights, and where some discomfort might arise with the new ones, this is possibly only a problem for some if direct lighting from the light bulb is used. (I personally find direct light from incandescents pretty disturbing in a lot of cases too.) Why not use the bulbs in conjunction with a simple filter or other decorative fixture that can modify the light to your tastes?
But I am keeping an open mind on this. Perhaps I’m just wrong, and the whole idea of banning incandescents is unworkable and insensitive, but I am not convinced that work cannot be done to make sure that it works well for all concerned.
One of the biggest problems with the discussion is that nobody could point to good data on these medical/disability issues for the new fluorescent bulbs, with regards autism and related problems. Most of what is brought up is anecdotal, which does not mean that it is wrong, but it would be helpful to the discussion – and more importantly, the legislators – if good data were pointed out (and the appropriate studies done if they have not been). My final point in response to those concerns was that they should be brought to the attention of the legislators if they have not already been, and an effort made to work with the legislators to help shape the proposals to make sure that the access issue, if there is one, is circumvented. Does anyone know if the Australians have considered these matters? I cannot imagine that there has not been discussion of it, and I’d love to know what cases were made on either side. I’ve seen no discussion of this in the press, which is interesting in itself (although I am not sure exactly what that signifies, to be honest).
Let’s read some of those comments on that earlier thread again so that we do not go over already well-trodden ground, and instead move the discussion forward, if there is anything to be said.
Since I find myself on this side of the Atlantic today, I’ll give you a link to a news story on this from the UK’s Independent, written by Cahal Milmo, from which I quote:
The enforced switch to new high-efficiency fluorescent bulbs will cut Australia’s carbon emissions by four million tons by 2012 and reduce domestic power bills by up to two-thirds, the Environment Minister, Bill Turnbull, claimed. Mr Turnbull, whose right-of-centre government is a recent convert to action on global warming, said: “It’s a little thing but it’s a massive change. If the whole world switches to these bulbs today we would reduce our consumption of electricity by an amount equal to five times Australia’s annual consumption of electricity.”