The Wishful Thinking of Greenie Dreams

The social engineering spin of the green mindset dictates that we should buy ‘green' cars, divert food crops to fuel them, restrict air travel and ban plasma TVs and, of course, traditional light-bulbs. So let's take a closer look at the current green-led switchover: the dimly-lit realities behind ‘green' light bulbs.

Back to the ‘dark ages'

In the US, Representative Jane Harman (D-Calif.) introduced legislation aimed at setting a target date of 2012 to ban the sale of traditional incandescent light-bulbs, switching America over to low-energy alternatives. After all, low-energy "compact fluorescent bulbs" (CFLs) use just one-fifth of the energy of traditional light-bulbs? So it's a no-brainer, right?  Harman is taking her lead from the European Union which is currently phasing out the sale of incandescent light-bulbs - even though there is a raft of hidden economic, energy and environmental factors with which neither the EU nor Harman seem cognizant. Harman maintains that implementing such a ban would be, "an important first step toward making every household, business and public building in America more energy-efficient."

CFL low-energy light bulbs are significantly more expensive to produce, and between 3 and 10 times as much to buy, as the standard tungsten-filament bulbs Harman wants scrapped. That is,
if they work at all.  In addition, CFLs need much more ventilation (top and bottom). A review of what such a switchover means for England in the wake of the EU ban revealed that up to 50 percent of existing fittings would need changing - at an estimated cost of around $6 billion. And that's just the beginning. Low-energy light bulbs do not give off a steady stream of light - they flicker fifty times a second, which can be expected to contribute to health and safety problems, with associated financial costs, down the line.

Worst of all, low-energy bulbs are made using toxic materials. Chief among them is mercury, a substance that, ironically, the EU banned from its own landfill sites. For the EU nations, special recycling arrangements will have to be made to dispose of CFLs, incurring a further cost. With between three and five milligrams of mercury in each CFL, and an estimated 150 million CFLs sold in the United States in 2006, that's a whole lot of non-recycled light-bulbs that could end up in garbage dumps and landfills. Mercury can affect the nervous system, damage the kidney and liver and, in sufficient quantity, can kill. No wonder scientists and environmentalists are worried. Light-bulb manufacturers, however, hold a very different view.

Philips Lighting, the world's largest producers of light bulbs, joined with environmental lobbies in support of Harman's call for a ban. Why so magnanimous about the enforced change? Well, as legislation will apply across the board to all light-bulb manufacturers, none will lose market share by the switch; and, given the expense of the new bulbs, light bulb manufacturers can expect windfall profits wherever bans are enforced.

In Europe the ban was enacted centrally without consultation with member nations. Thus the EU has chosen to pursue the same dictatorial path chosen by Cuba's Fidel Castro (in an attempt to ease the strain on the island's hard-pressed electricity grid) a few years ago. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez's "vote-winning" Marxist move saw him distributing millions of energy-saving bulbs free of charge.  The day before Harman lodged her legislative proposal, Representative Don Manzullo (R-Ill.) and Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) held a joint news conference calling for more efficient lighting options in America. They declared: "The last thing we want to do is force legislation down people's throats."

But with such a massively dominant House majority today, it is hard to see how the Democrat socialism of the Obama White House will be able resist pursuing the same dictatorial path that now sees misled and uninformed Europeans, rushing to stockpile cheap and bright incandescent bulbs, as bans are about to take effect.  

How green is my Prius?

The short answer is: nowhere near as green as Leonardo diCaprio and the eco-glitterati were led to believe when they bought it. Powered by two engines - a standard 76hp, 1.5-litre petrol engine and a battery engine (an immediate extra cost) the Toyota Synergy System sounds like the answer to an eco-dream. Well it was under the pre-2008 EPA regime of standard tests (including running the car at 8 mph) that allowed makers to make unrealistic claims for its mileage. When the EPA introduced a more realistic standard of testing in 2008 the average mileage dropped to 45 mpg, around the same as a normal car.

But building a hybrid like the Prius causes far more environmental damage than producing a normal car.

All of this was put into perspective by a 2006 report ‘Dust to Dust' Automotive Energy Cost Study from CNW research. As the report points out, the Prius requires almost 50 percent more energy to build and drive than even the SUV Hummer and other non-hybrids. The battery contains nickel, one of the worst polluting metals when smelted. The batteries are  shipped to Europe, then to Asia and Japan, then back to America before finally being fitted in the car.  Are you getting the truer picture on the raft of hidden economic and environmental costs that make this one of the most expensive of specialist cars which mostly only eco-zealots can afford?

Then there's the problem of actually running them on biofuels. The scandal of diverting vital food and other crops like corn, the key ingredient for ethanol, and palm oil, the key ingredient for biodiesel, and the destruction of the rainforests that has led to, has been well-documented. Rainforests have been logged to make way for new plantations, a process which has caused thick smog that covers part of South-east Asia. Peat swamps have been drained to expand plantations and, as the peat dries, tons of carbon dioxide is released into the environment.

None of this is meant to suggest we will not make further helpful advances in greener technologies.  But it should alert us to the fact that the PR spin currently associated with greener living is often far from the whole economic and environmental story. More seriously still, it is all too often the world's poorest communities, not the pious Prius-driving elites, who ultimately pay the highest price for the West's short-sighted ‘green' moral choices.

"If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?" It's a line by Lewis Carroll. But you might be forgiven for believing it is taken from the latest World of Green Energy Solutions handbook.

Peter C Glover is European Associate Editor with Energy Tribune.
The social engineering spin of the green mindset dictates that we should buy ‘green' cars, divert food crops to fuel them, restrict air travel and ban plasma TVs and, of course, traditional light-bulbs. So let's take a closer look at the current green-led switchover: the dimly-lit realities behind ‘green' light bulbs.

Back to the ‘dark ages'

In the US, Representative Jane Harman (D-Calif.) introduced legislation aimed at setting a target date of 2012 to ban the sale of traditional incandescent light-bulbs, switching America over to low-energy alternatives. After all, low-energy "compact fluorescent bulbs" (CFLs) use just one-fifth of the energy of traditional light-bulbs? So it's a no-brainer, right?  Harman is taking her lead from the European Union which is currently phasing out the sale of incandescent light-bulbs - even though there is a raft of hidden economic, energy and environmental factors with which neither the EU nor Harman seem cognizant. Harman maintains that implementing such a ban would be, "an important first step toward making every household, business and public building in America more energy-efficient."

CFL low-energy light bulbs are significantly more expensive to produce, and between 3 and 10 times as much to buy, as the standard tungsten-filament bulbs Harman wants scrapped. That is,
if they work at all.  In addition, CFLs need much more ventilation (top and bottom). A review of what such a switchover means for England in the wake of the EU ban revealed that up to 50 percent of existing fittings would need changing - at an estimated cost of around $6 billion. And that's just the beginning. Low-energy light bulbs do not give off a steady stream of light - they flicker fifty times a second, which can be expected to contribute to health and safety problems, with associated financial costs, down the line.

Worst of all, low-energy bulbs are made using toxic materials. Chief among them is mercury, a substance that, ironically, the EU banned from its own landfill sites. For the EU nations, special recycling arrangements will have to be made to dispose of CFLs, incurring a further cost. With between three and five milligrams of mercury in each CFL, and an estimated 150 million CFLs sold in the United States in 2006, that's a whole lot of non-recycled light-bulbs that could end up in garbage dumps and landfills. Mercury can affect the nervous system, damage the kidney and liver and, in sufficient quantity, can kill. No wonder scientists and environmentalists are worried. Light-bulb manufacturers, however, hold a very different view.

Philips Lighting, the world's largest producers of light bulbs, joined with environmental lobbies in support of Harman's call for a ban. Why so magnanimous about the enforced change? Well, as legislation will apply across the board to all light-bulb manufacturers, none will lose market share by the switch; and, given the expense of the new bulbs, light bulb manufacturers can expect windfall profits wherever bans are enforced.

In Europe the ban was enacted centrally without consultation with member nations. Thus the EU has chosen to pursue the same dictatorial path chosen by Cuba's Fidel Castro (in an attempt to ease the strain on the island's hard-pressed electricity grid) a few years ago. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez's "vote-winning" Marxist move saw him distributing millions of energy-saving bulbs free of charge.  The day before Harman lodged her legislative proposal, Representative Don Manzullo (R-Ill.) and Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) held a joint news conference calling for more efficient lighting options in America. They declared: "The last thing we want to do is force legislation down people's throats."

But with such a massively dominant House majority today, it is hard to see how the Democrat socialism of the Obama White House will be able resist pursuing the same dictatorial path that now sees misled and uninformed Europeans, rushing to stockpile cheap and bright incandescent bulbs, as bans are about to take effect.  

How green is my Prius?

The short answer is: nowhere near as green as Leonardo diCaprio and the eco-glitterati were led to believe when they bought it. Powered by two engines - a standard 76hp, 1.5-litre petrol engine and a battery engine (an immediate extra cost) the Toyota Synergy System sounds like the answer to an eco-dream. Well it was under the pre-2008 EPA regime of standard tests (including running the car at 8 mph) that allowed makers to make unrealistic claims for its mileage. When the EPA introduced a more realistic standard of testing in 2008 the average mileage dropped to 45 mpg, around the same as a normal car.

But building a hybrid like the Prius causes far more environmental damage than producing a normal car.

All of this was put into perspective by a 2006 report ‘Dust to Dust' Automotive Energy Cost Study from CNW research. As the report points out, the Prius requires almost 50 percent more energy to build and drive than even the SUV Hummer and other non-hybrids. The battery contains nickel, one of the worst polluting metals when smelted. The batteries are  shipped to Europe, then to Asia and Japan, then back to America before finally being fitted in the car.  Are you getting the truer picture on the raft of hidden economic and environmental costs that make this one of the most expensive of specialist cars which mostly only eco-zealots can afford?

Then there's the problem of actually running them on biofuels. The scandal of diverting vital food and other crops like corn, the key ingredient for ethanol, and palm oil, the key ingredient for biodiesel, and the destruction of the rainforests that has led to, has been well-documented. Rainforests have been logged to make way for new plantations, a process which has caused thick smog that covers part of South-east Asia. Peat swamps have been drained to expand plantations and, as the peat dries, tons of carbon dioxide is released into the environment.

None of this is meant to suggest we will not make further helpful advances in greener technologies.  But it should alert us to the fact that the PR spin currently associated with greener living is often far from the whole economic and environmental story. More seriously still, it is all too often the world's poorest communities, not the pious Prius-driving elites, who ultimately pay the highest price for the West's short-sighted ‘green' moral choices.

"If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?" It's a line by Lewis Carroll. But you might be forgiven for believing it is taken from the latest World of Green Energy Solutions handbook.

Peter C Glover is European Associate Editor with Energy Tribune.