How I learned to stop worrying and change my lightbulbs
On September 1st, the EU phaseout of the sale and manufacture of the traditional incandescent lightbulb was completed, sparking a bout of nostalgia in this Irish Green's heart...
The other day, I read about a change about light bulbs that left me with a certain amount of pride.
On September 1, the last stage of the EU wide ban on the traditional incandescent light bulb came into force, with consumers from Lisbon to Helsinki now obliged to buy low energy CFL bulbs instead of the 40 and 25 watt traditional bulbs.
The process was begun in 2009 by the EU, and the 60 and 100 watt bulbs were phased out. By 2016 even halogen bulbs will go the way of the dodo. The move is predicted to save a mindboggling 39 terawatts of energy in the EU between now and 2020.
As an Irish Green, I felt a special connection with this real Green achievement. As the junior member of a coalition, we started to eliminate the wasteful old bulbs soon after entering government in 2007. The announcement of the plan was met with much resistance and argument, as does any decisive move in Irish politics these days. Perhaps its a quirk of our character, or our single transferable vote electoral system, but in Ireland it often seems that you are punished more for action than for inaction. Nonetheless, Environment Minister and Green Party leader John Gormley pushed ahead along with fellow Green Minister for Energy, Eamon Ryan.
Resistance was quick in coming, and strident in tone. The Daily Mail, increasingly the voice for climate change deniers, xenophobes and an assortment of other right wingers, set the tone with articles about 'eco-fascism' and all sorts of crazy stories about the health effects and mercury from the new bulbs. What they didn't cover was that Ireland was the biggest user per capita of electricity for lighting in the whole EU. That the measure would result in a saving of 700,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, and that it would save Irish consumers €185 million per year in lower energy and bulb purchases once it was in place. These energy savings would have gone some way to making a reality of Ireland's EU and Kyoto Treaty commitments to cut emissions and increase efficiency.
Nonetheless, the resistance was considerable, and it soon became clear that many people were happy to use any of our various policy initiatives to attack the Greens. The opposition Labour Party spokesperson on Energy even stated that the move could increase Irish people's heating bills, as they lost all that waste heat from the traditional bulbs, a statement so ridiculous that it actually helped to turn the tide in our favour. But as with most things in politics, the noise from those opposed was drowning out the quiet acceptance of a win-win idea from the majority of the population.
The EU itself became involved in the matter, when it seemed the ECJ might rule that the ban was an unfair market intrusion. In the end, however, the EU decided on a different course – they would instead implement the ban on an EU wide level, following the Irish approach of gradual announced phaseouts.
For us, this was a real point of pride – there is a prevalent attitude in Ireland that we are somehow more poorly governed than other European countries, yet like we did with the public smoking ban, many people felt that Ireland was leading the way instead of following. This week, that process came to an end, and for me, far removed now from that tumultuous time in government, and far from home, it was a nice reminder of some of the things that we managed to achieve.