EurActiv - Letters to the Editor


Regarding ‘MEP goes on defensive over light bulb ban‘:

First of all: What is easily forgotten is that this is a ban on a safe, popular product. We are not talking about banning lead paint or fireworks here.

Around 9 out of every 10 lights purchased in every European country are of this kind, according to the European Commission’s own research. This is what people want to use.

Ordinary light bulbs and halogens have a unique light quality, different from other lights.

Please note that most incandescents, including halogens, are in the banning proposal, contrary to what it says in your article. Consult the December 8 Ecodesign technical report itself:

“All non-clear incandescents to be banned, only some lower wattage clear ones surviving.”

Old people have used light bulbs for years and are familiar and comfortable with their warm bright light quality.

The concerns about the mercury content of CFL lights are legitimate. Mercury released by power stations, as mentioned in your article, is not an excuse. The yarn keeps getting repeated that power stations give out more mercury by using light bulbs than what a fluorescent light contains, typically 4mg of mercury.

If that were true, perhaps there might be a desire to protest about it, rather than just to use it as an excuse to ban bulbs. As it happens, that is an old North American argument relating to untreated emissions.

Importantly, it also assumed that all power was coal-derived (it is about 1/3 in the UK, for example, 1/5 in Ireland, and of course substantially less in many countries).

Mercury released from coal power has for a long time been treatable by using wet scrubbers (chemical, not human, I hasten to add), and more recently with cheap injection and photochemical techniques too.

Coal gasification has existed for a long time as well (since the 1980s in California, at Cool Water).

Light bulbs are really cheap heat bulbs that ‘waste’ light: 95% of their energy is heat. The more right the opponents of light bulbs are, the more wrong they are! Research from the University of Toronto (2007) and elsewhere has shown that cheap light bulbs in ordinary use can be more economical than fluorescent ‘energy saving’ lights if room heating is welcome, because less ordinary heating is needed.

A half-covered light bulb near the ceiling may not seem like much. However, as sticking your hand well above a heater will show you, room heat rises towards the ceiling (convection) and spreads downwards from there. 20 100W bulbs can be compared to a 2kW heater.

Light bulbs – unlike cars – do not give out any gases. Banning them doesn’t solve anything.

The idea of constantly cutting down on electricity use means we could all go and live in caves to save zillions of euros and megatons of gas. Savings and emissions arguments can be wrong for many reasons, too many to take up here.

Instead, the problem of emissions itself should be dealt with. That needs money, but taxation provides money. Taxation can, for example, be imposed on electrical products according to their efficiency rating, like on cars, but with VAT changes so that ‘green’, A-rated products are cheaper than today.

Governments would still make money, since people still like inefficient products (they have big attractions, otherwise no-one would buy them). In a way it is like paying for deposits and recycling: you can use inefficient products, but have to pay for dealing with emissions.

It gives consumers freedom, governments make money in these bad economic times that they would not make with a ban, and the manufacture of ‘green’ products is stimulated on the market without clumsy bans or industry subsidies.

For example: 2 billion light bulbs are sold annually in the EU (lighting industry data 2007). While they are light-with-heat efficient (and could be rated as such), they are a finance minister’s dream: cheap and ubiquitous with a reasonable turnover. Even a large tax leaves them cheap: providing many billions of euros in coming years of easy money for European Governments in these bad economic times.

Real income, unlike what a ban gives to governments. And that’s just light bulbs.

As I point put on my website, there are many ways to deal with the emissions problem itself.

And why should households in virtually emission-free France or Sweden, or for that matter in largely emission-free Finland or Austria, have their product choices banned?

Why should the ever-increasing number of emission-free households have their choices banned?

There is going to be panic with a ban, extensive hoarding working against emission savings, cross-border and internet purchases, and a lot of bad feeling, not least when it’s seen to be so unnecessary.

Those interested can read a full account of electricity, light bulbs, savings and emissions on

Dr. Peter Thornes

Author :


  1. This is poor populist drivel. Lets deal with your points in order:

    1) The Commission proposal will continue to allow more efficient halogen light bulbs, which produce the same light quality as incandescent bulbs but are twice as efficient. This also helps those who suffer sensitivity to CFLs. In fact, people suffer health issues from all light sources (artificial and otherwise). The light source with the least reported negative health impacts, according to research, is LED bulbs. So, in fact, this measure is driving us towards the healthiest (and most efficient) technology: LED light.

    2) It is disingenuous to argue that incandescents are cheaper. They are grossly inefficiency meaning that they push up your electricity bill. The most efficient CFL and LED bulbs can save you up to twelve euro over a year on electricities bills (based on current average utilities costs).

    3) The extra power needed for incandescent bulbs leads to massive extra mercury emissions. Obviously there is mercury in CFLs (although 1/100th the amount in a thermometer) and this means they should be properly recycled and that is where we need to focus our energy – improving facilities and information. Moreover, most manufacturers have improved their product – those with the increasingly standard protective casing are extremely difficult to break.

    4) There is perhaps no more inefficient and wasteful way to heat a room than through a light bulb! The savings in utilities bills from an efficient bulb offset any marginal heat ‘benefit’ by multiples. In addition, incandescents are also used in air conditioned buildings, meaning they add to the cooling power needed – all-told: bulbs are not designed for heating.

    5) We need to do everything within our power to reduce emissions. According to the annual McKinsey analysis, phasing out inefficient light bulbs is the single cheapest of all measures that can be taken to reduce emissions. We should start by picking off the low-hanging fruit that can be instantly plucked. Phasing out inefficient bulbs is a no-brainer for emissions reduction policies.

    Estimates suggests this measure alone will save an average household 50 euro off its energy bill. Hardly something that voters or citizens would be opposed to in these economically austere times. Hopefully my MEP will not listen to non-sensical populist polemic like your article ‘Dr’ Thornes.

  2. And people wonder why the EU is unpopular? Some unelected bureaucrat decides, without a popular vote, without a debate, without 99% of people even knowing, to force people to light their homes differently, to make a decision affecting 250 million people WITHOUT ASKING.

    I read zeleneye’s anti-democratic rant; you don’t like “populism”, eh? Elitism more your thing? If you believe that people agree, ask them! But the fact that the plans are being introduced by stealth indicates that everyone knows that this is a plot against the electorate, who wouldn’t agree with it.

    The contempt and hate by a left-wing commissariat for ordinary people involved in such a decision is breathtaking. What we need, clearly, is a right-wing government to do something of the same kind to the left and its supporters. If the political left got some experience of having something rammed up their bottom without being given a voice, they might learn some respect for the electorate, for democracy, and for other people.

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