Brian Graney

How many legislators does it take to screw in a lightbulb? No, that’s not the beginning of a bad joke, it is the name given to a piece of legislation being introduced by a California state assemblyman. The legislation calls for banning the sale and use of incandescent light bulbs in the state of California by the year 2012. That’s right, using the common light bulb would become a crime in California, all in the name of global warming. The argument is that tube-shaped fluorescent bulbs are more energy efficient and could significantly cut back on the amount of electricity used in the average California household. Wal-Mart stores are hoping to sell 100 million of these new fluorescent bulbs in 2007 nationally and Philips plans on ending their production of incandescent bulbs within the next few years. The California legislator who authored the legislation further argues that the technology exists to produce mass quantities of florescent bulbs at competitive prices that will also fit existing lamps and light fixtures.

The lighting industry vehemently disagrees with that assertion. General Electric claims fluorescent lighting is not ideal for every situation. Imagine being forced to use florescent tubes while reading a book in bed at night or going to a swanky, white tablecloth restaurant or bar where the only mood lighting offered is the sterile fluorescent lighting reminiscent of a hospital’s operating room. Current fluorescent technology also is not compatible with the popular dimmer switches used in homes and fluorescent bulbs can take a while to turn on, particularly in cold weather. The legislation will also carry enormous costs. For the everyday lightbulb consumer, fluorescent lights will be noticeably more expensive. The major lighting manufacturers will also hurt from decreased sales.

Energy companies are continuing their research into fluorescent lighting and hopefully will find solutions to the present drawbacks. But the everyday use of fluorescent bulbs should not be rushed for intangible benefits. The world would have been left in the dark if the government had banned the use of gas lanterns before Thomas Edison perfected the tungsten lightbulb. There is promising technology that is on the verge of being introduced to the market. Light-emitting diode (LED) is a silicon-based light that does not kill the mood lighting effect like standard fluorescents do. But this technology is not nearly ready for the American household.

The timing of this lightbulb legislation coincides with a United Nations report that estimates mankind has been a key contributor to global warming and that its effects will be felt on earth for centuries to come. While this report may be used to suggest this legislation is needed now more than ever, the report actually places the incandescent light bulb into proper perspective. Banning the common light bulb will have only minimal effects in curbing California’s energy consumption.

As Thomas Edison rolls over in his grave at this premature ban, the principle task should be finding a way to produce energy that does not rely on the burning of fossil fuels.