Sunday, July 10, 2011

Nanny Steven Chu: “We Are Taking Away a Choice that Lets You Waste Your Own Money!”

Steven Chu was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. That he developed methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light does not mean he understands economics, consumer choice, or politics. A Nobel Prize does not even guarantee common sense. Often it guarantees the opposite.

In a Friday conference call with reporters, Chu argued against a House bill that would repeal a 2007 federal law outlawing incandescent bulbs. Many Americans object to being told that must buy the fluorescent, halogen, and LED bulbs starting in January of 2012 as dictated by federal law.

Chu argued the more-efficient bulbs mandated by Congress save consumers money over the bulb’s life even though the up-front price is higher. Chu defended Congress’s right to dictate what kind of light bulb Americans buy because:

“We are taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money."

There are many things that cost more up front and “pay for themselves” in terms of longer life or lower operating costs. Think of insulation which costs a bundle but lowers utility bills, or electric cars that costs $10,000 more but save on gas. So far, we have allowed the people themselves to decide:  More money now, but less later? Or: Less money now and more later? That is my or your decision.

The choice of light bulb is a classic problem of economic choice over time. Consumers, who place a high value on money now, do not buy insulation, electric cars, or fluorescent lights. We have different time preferences. People who pass on insulation, electric cars and fluorescent light bulbs are by no means wasting their money. They are making choices that are perfectly rational for them.

This basic point of economics escapes Nobel laureate Chu.

Which light bulb is better for you is not an easy calculation. The compact fluorescent costs about six times more and contains hazardous mercury, but lasts six times longer and saves energy. There are also matters of taste and aesthetics. Some will find the new light bulb shape ugly. Others will not like the light it emits, but there will no longer be any choice. Just like we lost Freon in 1995, we will lose Edison’s light bulb in 2012.

Chu says the state should make the choice of light bulbs for you, but why should he stop there? Why not insulation or which car to buy?

Welcome to the Nanny state.

PS I cite below the EPA's recommednations for cleaning up a broken mercury bulb:

This page presents only the most important steps to reduce exposure to mercury vapor from a broken bulb.  View the detailed recommendations.

Before cleanup 

  • Have people and pets leave the room.
  • Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment. 
  • Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, if you have one.
  • Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb: 
    • stiff paper or cardboard;
    • sticky tape;
    • damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces); and
    • a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag.

During cleanup

  • Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.
  • Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.

After cleanup

  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
  • If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours.


  1. I have a CFL in my closet and I hate it. I'ts very dim when first turned on an get's to full brightness in about 5 minutes, but I'm done with the closet by then. Maybe the solution is to leave the light on all the time :)

  2. The CFL bulbs are a fire hazard as well as all the other wrong things about them.. watch the home electric fires sweep across the country if this goes forward.

  3. Chu is an A-hole elitist who doesn't give a darn about the problems he creates for people and bureaucrats (who have to clean up after him).

    He has a staff to deal with all these dirty issues while he can galivant around the world telling people how they should live. This guy doesn't even need to wipe his arse; like French kings, he employs someone to do that for him.

  4. We should not overlook the fact that Freon was banned based on junk science and erroneous chemistry financed by DuPont because their patent was up and Freon was getting cheaper and cheaper, allowing refrigeration around the world in poor countries, saving and improving many lives.

    DuPont saw the chance to push unconfirmed chemistry regarding ozone depletion and have Freon banned, knowing all along that they had a more expensive replacement standing by and under their patent. They then cashed in for big profits.

    We now know that Freon was not a problem and instead nitrogen molecules (80% of the air) and solar radiation is the culprit.

    So, just like the Freon ban, CFLs are pushed in the name of being green when, in fact, they are far from green. Since when is widespread mercury pollution Green?

    I love incandescent light bulbs mainly for their instant on, quality light ability. CFLs might be useful for a bedside light, but to light basement steps instantly they are a must.

    Incandescent light bulbs are not only environmentally friendly, being easily disposed of without polluting, but the electricity they use has no downside (CO2 is plant food which does not warm the climate).

    The goal is to save electricity but electricity is only bad when it is produced from solar or wind. These two energy sources are the least Green energy sources, sucking up inordinate amounts of real estate, requiring hordes of infrastructure, requiring tons of exotic and toxic elements and materials, requiring constant maintenance (even at sea), and very limited life spans and disposal problems. Besides being a low quality energy source, wanton distribution problems from their widespread locations, and randomly fluctuating energy outputs which destabilize the energy grid, I have trouble finding their downside.

  5. Regarding the freon ban, "freons" that were banned (primarily R12 and R22) were chlorine containing compounds that were replaced with fluorine compounds (primarily R410A and R134).

    Although it was a significant cost the replacement refigerants are have similar properties and are at least acceptable substitutes.

    Now there is a move afoot to ban the replacement (in europe) to ban the HFC's based on global warming impact! To replace these compounds the primary candidates are C02 (which is very inefficient), Ammonia (which is toxic and corrosive), and light hydrocarbons (which are flammable).

    No end to the idiocy apparently.

  6. CFL stands for compact fluorescent lamp. It is also called compact fluorescent light, energy-saving light, and compact fluorescent tube.
    It is a fluorescent lamp designed to replace an incandescent lamp. some types fit into light fixtures formerly used for incandescent lamps. It radiate a light spectrum that is different from that of incandescent lamps.

  7. We should only use green type of lighting if we are going to be restricted.Energy efficient and safe for the environment!!!

  8. I've been reading a lot of issues about CFLs and the danger it may bring. I don't know if I already need to change my bulbs at home. All of my bulbs are CFLs. My contractor who took his Online Electrical Courses said that LED is much better to use.

  9. RE Freon, DuPont... "plus ca change":
    Light bulb manufacturers sought and welcomed this ban
    Why welcome being told what you can or can't make? :-)

    Manufacturers already cooperated on low lifespan
    Phoebus Cartel
    Now they cooperate on high price (banning cheap alternatives)

    This is all claimed to "promote innovation":
    CFLs and LEDs were invented in the presence - not the absence- of
    cheap incandescent competition.
    More - not less- competition is what spurs development, also of desirable energy efficient products. that people have always invented,
    as that is a positive product quality (although not the only advantage
    a product can have for a user)
    Vacuum tubes were not banned to allow for transistors to dominate the
    market, since transistors were generally more desirable. Nevertheless,
    the tubes retain advantages in special applications - as would be the
    case with "old" incandescents, if say new LEDs are bought more simply because they are good enough.
    Plenty of other "expensive to buy but cheap in the long run" products
    are bought - look at Energizer batteries (bunny ads), washing up
    liquids etc.
    Those makers don't run crying to the regulators, looking for bans on cheap "wasteful" alternatives.

    All about the Deception behind the Ban:
    (it is effectively a ban on ordinary incandescents, including touted Halogens, because of the EISA 45 lumen per W end regulation)
    Freedom Light Bulb compiled list.

  10. competition is what spurs development