Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | September 9, 2010

The Stupidity of Politics: Green Fables, Jobs, and the Incandescent Bulb

Hot Air’s headlines linked a Washington Post piece today on the closing of the last US manufacturing plant for the humble incandescent light bulb.  The article’s focus is on the “irony” of US engineers having come up with the compact-fluorescent lightbulb (CFL), as well as the way to manufacture it efficiently, but the actual manufacturing jobs – which are labor-intensive – having migrated overseas.

Of course, only if you’re a Washington Post writer does it seem ironic to you that manufacturers move their plants to where taxes are lower and all employer costs cheaper.  But the article has other unintended ironies – or, at least, fatuous and utterly unexamined statements.  The most important one occurs in paragraph 6, near the beginning, and it comes in for critical scrutiny not at all.  In fact, it’s expressed in vague, impressionistic terms that ought to get a journalist horsewhipped by a serious editor.  Here’s what WaPo tells us about the US decision to force the phase-out of the incandescent bulb:

The resulting savings in energy and greenhouse-gas emissions are expected to be immense.

Savor that for a moment.  These 14 words are the sum total of the justification offered in the WaPo narrative for all the economic perturbation the story then proceeds to describe.  The climax of the tale is a bunch of Americans losing their manufacturing jobs, as a whole industry is reorganized and transformed.  But WaPo’s writers examine everything about this story except the original reasoning for the political decision.

We are left to wonder what exactly “immense” means, savings-wise.  One almost begins to suspect, given the fleeting nature of the allusion to it, that we’re not supposed to wonder.  But wonder we must, if our minds are unruly:  when it comes to immensity, there’s no hint of a definition or supporting documentation.

Fortunately, there is always the online web search.  Here’s what I unearthed:

1. The common figure used to predict carbon-emission savings, if every household in America switches from incandescent bulbs to CFLs, is 90 billion pounds per year.  This is a narrow, first-order assessment: it doesn’t take into account the life-cycle differences there may be in the carbon footprints of incandescent bulbs versus CFLs, in terms of what it takes to manufacture or dispose of them.  It considers the reduction in carbon emissions incident to household lighting use.  This estimate does not consider savings from businesses and public installations converting to CFLs, which would presumably increase the number by as much as 100%.  We’ll look only at the household number, however.  For ease of comparison, we can convert it to 45 million tons of carbon per year.

2.  The total amount of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere is, on average, about 720 billion tons.

3.  Humans now contribute 6-7 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere per year.

4.  As the spirited reader discussion at the link above highlights, numbers for “carbon” are smaller than numbers for the compound “carbon dioxide.”  It must also be pointed out that there is a difference between the American (short) ton of 2000 pounds and the metric ton (or tonne) of 2204 pounds, or 1000 kilos.  I have taken “ton” at face value and assumed it to mean the American short ton wherever I found it, while assuming tonne means metric ton.  But if you want to convert everything to metric tons, please do.  Meanwhile, those who prefer to deal in tons of the compound (CO2) can multiply the carbon numbers by a factor of 3.66.  Doing that does produce figures that are even more immense.

6.  Given the immensity of the numbers involved, it’s unlikely that picking one standard over another will seriously misrepresent the climax that readers know we’re building toward here.  The mathematically-inclined have already noted that 45 million is, frankly, way smaller than either 720 billion or 6 billion.  We could convert these figures to metric tons or multiply them by 3.66, and the relationship would remain the same.

It turns out that reducing America’s carbon emissions by 45 million tons per year amounts to a reduction of 0.75% from the lower global emissions figure of 6 billion tons.  It’s a reduction of 0.64% from 7 billion tons.  And it represents 0.006% of the total carbon routinely present in the atmosphere.

7.  “Immense” is a relative characterization.  45 million is a big number, and is especially impressive when it’s written out with a lot of zeros:  45,000,000.  90 billon – or 90,000,000,000 – is even more impressive; but of course, it describes the same weight as 45 million if you change the unit of measurement.  Immense, however, in this case means “fart in a thunderstorm.”  Double the 45 million to 90 million, to include emission savings for industry and public installations, and you have a slightly bigger fart in a thunderstorm.

So, for the sake of a fart in a thunderstorm, the bulb-makers of Winchester, Virginia are this month joining the other Americans who have lost their bulb-making jobs.  The free market never produces this kind of result.  It takes politics to do this to people.  The lesson in politics is beautifully simple:  take a questionable premise; steep it in demagoguery and make unthinking adherence to it a litmus test; assert it repeatedly – preferably using impressive but unparsable adjectives – as established fact; and then, when you’ve killed people’s jobs by acting urgently on your unexamined premise, send Washington Post reporters to write a solicitous puff piece on how sad and ironic it is for them.

Cross-posted at Hot Air.


  1. Good counter/story , presenting facts that were not used in the WaPo piece.
    The trouble with reason is, you can not use it to convince the insane.

    BTW, wonder why the WaPo piece did’nt comment about the workers who sacrificed their jobs to save the planet…you know, the common good and all that jazz…

  2. Welcome, sharpshorts. I fear you may be pretty close when it comes to the insanity of the MSM. I suspect the authors didn’t make the explicit connection of workers sacrificing their jobs for the greater good, however, because they know in their guts that one won’t sell.

  3. Excellent analysis of the current “wisdom.” Perhaps a subsequent piece might take into account the greater toxicity and danger posed by the new fangled contraptions, and the idiocy of trying to use them in places where you periodically need only a few seconds of illumination.

    They are actually pitching “green jobs” as part of the stimulus. This is a fable. Almost all green energy proposals are viable only with heavy government subsidies, which are paid for by strangling industries with economically productive jobs.

  4. This is one of the reasons that I’ve boycotted the WaPo. It was my hometown newspaper growing up. I got tired of them portraying biased opinions as objective news. Same treatment now for NYT, LATimes and Boston Globe (my current “hometown paper”). It’ll be a good day to see these “journalist’s” jobs turn to vapor when these papers go belly up. Maybe the unemployed journalists can then go overseas to reclaim their “outsourced” jobs? Preferably in Burma or some such place.

  5. […] from: The Stupidity of Politics: Green Fables, Jobs, and the … This entry was posted in Green Politics and tagged Auto Green, environment policy, fables, […]

  6. Why are conservatives so against clean air and water?

  7. The lighting industry has pushed for this kind of legislation because they make far more money with compact flourescents. Funny how selective liberal outrage about corporate ripoffs can be.

    Compact flourescents are expensive and will save money only when they are used a lot. Many lights in an average home will not burn for longer than a few minutes every day. Some will be used for mere seconds every week. When it comes to savings, there is a lot of room for cooking the numbers. Fact is, many lamps will not pay for themselves through energy savings.

    I was visiting Slovenia a couple of weeks ago. They are part of the EU. People earn very little, but incadescents costing mere cents have been replaced with “energy saving lamps” costing exactly what they cost in the rest of the EU, about 8 to 10 Euros. This is not just stupid, it´s cruel. And of course they´re made in China. I checked.

    The irony is that some of the longest-burning lamps in a household are (incandescent) halogen lamps used in furniture, over kitchen counters, in shop windows and in reading lights. They are not being replaced because they are small and you can´t fit anything else in these fixtures. Also, their light is pleasant. But they are only slightly more efficient than regular incadescents.

  8. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Donnie Roberts, Sophia R. Matheson. Sophia R. Matheson said: The Stupidity of Politics: Green Fables, Jobs, and the …: The Stupidity of Politics: Green Fables, Jobs, and the… […]

  9. Hey HD just put new green bulbs on sale, $30 each. I wonder what they use in Kenya? Oh wait, Kenya and Indonesia doesn’t have electricity, so I guess they burn wood. Sort of blows the whole carbon insanity thing, doesn’t it.

    Did you know rain washes carbon dioxide from the air? Yes it does, and it becomes a sequestered solid.

  10. […] of the Church of Mother Gaia.  As for how “immense” the savings will allegedly be, The Optimistic Conservative does great analyzing.  Teaser: he uses the expression “fart in a thunderstorm” to […]

  11. Remember this in November people! We have to vote these fools out!

    Common Cents

  12. You (and the WaPo) left out the immense CO2 saving that will result from all those former workers staying home instead of commuting to their shut down workplaces. If the greens can completely destroy the economies of western nations the savings in commuting CO2 will be more than immense, perhaps even humongous.

    • Making people poorer, more dependent and controllable is the whole point of the exercise. I´m sure there are honest environmentalists and environmental protection is a good cause – but it is not the cause of many greens and even fewer green politicians. They see a man living freely and happily, making independent choices and it rankles. They look at the people around them and the questions pop up: Can they do that? Why do they need that? Where are they going at this time of day? Why aren´t they as thoughtful and enlightened as I am? Are they not aware of their sinfulness? The conclusion is inevitable. Freedom is wasted on these shallow creatures. They must be MADE to understand. That´s why they hate cars even though cars have become extremely clean: because cars make us free. If electric cars ever get as practical and powerful as conventional cars, they´ll hate them too.

    • Good point, Sully. Anything we can do to make 45 million tons even MORE IMMENSE.

  13. Welcome, Tom Aikins and Steve. My apologies that your comments spammed out. This should only happen once; you’re “approved” now and any further comments will post automatically.

  14. “Why are conservatives so against clean air and water?”

    Tom Aikens – I’ll assume you’re being serious here. You spout a typical shallow accusation from the Left. Conservatives are against clean air and water? That is, of course, ridiculous. What conservatives are against is a vast and hideously expensive govt run program that curtails our liberties in the name of “saving the planet” when, in our estimation, there is no such environmental threat whatsoever.

    Conservatives are not supportive of gratuitous pollution like dumping of chemical waste in the local river, but we object to the relentless govt regulations on “pollution” that seem to be less about the environment and more about liberal social engineering.

    If you want to address the issue more seriously, it would be better to say something substantial rather than to make a shallow or disingenuous accusation.

    • Exactly, Ritchie Emmons. Everyone but liberals understands the concept of dimishing returns. Also, costs and benefits. What is true of building infrastructure is true of all environmental measures: The first billion is probably money well spent. The thousandth billion? Definitely not. Which makes this law the green equivalent of the Bridge to Nowhere.

      Green zealots and liberal nanny-state advocates share one characteristic: it´s never enough. You can´t legislate enough, you can´t spend enough. In fact, your goals are designed so they can never be fulfilled. All revolutionaries do that. But as Alexander Bickel said “to be a revolutionary in a society like ours, is to be a totalitarian, or not to know what one is doing.”

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