01/14/2012 21:55

Forcing us to use CFLs is an interventionist precedent, guided by apparently good intentions.
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Big Brother has again invaded our private domain and last week drastically limited the availability of traditional incandescent light bulbs. There was no squawk – not even a murmur of dissent. Indeed hardly anyone knew of it.

Nevertheless, from this point onward, only incandescent bulbs of 60 watts and less will be retailed. This limits our choice – like it or not – to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), those squiggly, coiled bulbs initially hailed by environmentalists as saving as much as 50 percent of energy consumption, while lasting eight times longer. In truth, some CFLs malfunction far more quickly than advertised and they remain expensive.

The CFLs’ environmentally friendly qualities have become conventional wisdom to such an extent that many governments worldwide rushed to phase out the pear-shaped sort we’re accustomed to.

Not to be outdone in trendy Green ardor, our government has now followed suit. Only it did so almost furtively.

There was no public dialogue to speak of and clearly nobody saw fit to ask for the public’s input. Big Brother knows better. This, despite the fact that such gross government intrusion into what we consume is rare.

Most Israelis are gradually converting at least part of their household to CFLs on their own without decrees from above – which is as it should be.

If ever there was a case for avoiding arbitrary coercion and letting market forces prevail, this is it. Not everyone likes florescent lighting, even though the harsh, cold illumination has been modified and varied. Still CFL’s don’t suit many lamp-types (like certain hanging pendant fixtures or lampshades that fit over the bulb).

Should government be allowed to overrule our personal likes or dislikes? But the issue goes beyond our preferences.

For all the propaganda and hype, CFLs pose massive health and environmental problems, leading to second thoughts even among some environmental lobbyists.

CFLs emit noteworthy levels of electromagnetic radiation, including radio frequency radiation and ultra-violet radiation that can trigger serious conditions – from skin rashes to, theoretically, brain tumors. This isn’t scaremongering. Even manufacturers warn that CFL bulbs need to be at least 50 cm. away from users. They also damage paintings and textiles. Such drawbacks can be mitigated by enclosing bulbs in custom glass cases, yet these are almost unavailable in Israel. CFLs are, hence, unsuitable for bedside or desktop illumination.

There’s more. Each CFL contains small quantities of mercury and other toxins. If a bulb breaks at home, its fragments are dangerous to bare skin and need special handling and cleaning up. Even vacuum cleaners won’t do because they might spread the contamination.

When tossed in the trash CFLs can cause unimaginable havoc in garbage dumps and landfills – harm that far offsets the benefits of energy saving. When mercury enters water sources, biological processes change the chemical form to composites more noxious than found in contaminated fish. Once in the food chain and subsequently in the body, CFL-origin mercury can impair developing fetuses, and children’s and adult’s nervous systems.

Fashions notwithstanding, some intrusive governments have slowly begun to take note of the CFLs’ dark underside. New Zealand, for example, has backtracked from banning incandescent lights due to concerns about safety and even the energy efficiency of the CFLs.

Doubts are also appearing in Germany. Some Green NGOs, such as the World Wildlife Fund, have dared to break with the political correctness that shielded CFLs from more critical appraisal.

The pros and cons of CFLs are, of course, the subject of heated debate, and for every argument, in either direction, there will be passionate rebuttals. It is not our intention here to weigh in one way or the other. Suffice it to emphasize that controversy exists.

In this situation it’s not the place of a government to dictate to the citizenry what to consume.

Already, plans are afoot to deprive us of plastic bags at supermarkets. Soon certain foodstuffs or condiments may be denied us. Forcing us to use CFLs is an interventionist precedent, guided by apparently good intentions.

Nonetheless, we all know where good intentions may lead.

We can decide for ourselves. Let us do so.