the questionable business of banning a bulb

Hurray for Nunavut for being the first in Canada to ban the incandescent light bulb. Ontario, good for you too, but you could do more.

Hurray for Nunavut for being the first in Canada to ban the incandescent light bulb.

Ontario, good for you too, but you could do more.

Nova Scotia, hang in there, it’ll happen. Yukon…? Yukon, are you even paying attention?

Nunavut, Canada’s toddler territory at just eight years old, proved itself an environmental and civic leader when it announced last month its intention to ban the incandescent light bulb as a way to reduce energy consumption and lower the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

As this country’s new kid on the block, Nunavut has proved itself both brazen and smart by moving forward and doing the right thing, rather than waiting to see what the bigger, more populated southern provinces might be up to.

There is enough of that going on already in the North.

I don’t wonder at all how the Yukon will react to such a bold environmental initiative. It will do nothing.

And then one day, there will quite simply be no incandescent lights in the stores left to buy and Yukoners will once again be forced to follow.

In May, Nunavut plans to introduce legislation that will bring about a total ban in three years’ time. And by December, all government housing, public housing and government buildings will be required to use compact fluorescent bulbs instead of incandescent bulbs.

This week, Ontario said it would do the same, stealing Nunavut’s fire during the announcement by promoting itself as the first major jurisdiction in North America to ban the conventional incandescent.

“It’s the equivalent of taking 250,000 cars off the road,” boasted Ontario Environment Minister Laurel Broten.

Ontario’s phase-out will last until 2012.

In both the province and territory, it will be illegal for retailers to sell the bulbs but not for people to use them.

Nova Scotia is considering a similar measure.

But it was Australia that was first in the world to make the move.

In February, it committed to a mandatory phase-out of incandescent bulbs by 2010, noting it could cut 800,000 tonnes from Australia’s current emissions levels by 2012.

The light bulb is no small potato in the debate over global warming.

About 20 per cent of global electricity consumption is a direct result of lighting, and more than half of that is incandescent lighting.

Thomas Edison’s brilliant invention more than 100 years ago turned out to be a huge energy pig.

Of the total amount of electricity that flows into an incandescent bulb, only five per cent is required to produce light — the other 95 per cent of the energy is spent making heat.

The Ontario energy ministry estimates 87 million incandescent bulbs are being used in Ontario households and businesses — enough energy to power 600,000 homes.

The fluorescent lighting or CFLs that will replace the old bulb use up to 75 per cent less electricity.

To some, this kind of ban is draconian, the sign of a government abusing its power and micro-managing for the sake of morality.

After all, unlike asbestos, PCBs, lead, and some of the other toxic chemicals our governments have banned either conditionally or wholesale, incandescent light bulbs are not threatening our safety.

Maclean’s columnist Andrew Potter wrote a few weeks ago that the proper balance between morality and the market in Canada needs no fixing.

In the case of the old bulbs, let people use them and pay for the environmental damage they do by charging them a higher power bill.

“If I want to bask in the hothouse glow of incandescent bulbs — or if I choose to install compact fluorescents, but spend the savings on a central air conditioner that I use to keep the house at 15-degrees Celsius in the middle of summer — so what?

“If a government believes it is entitled to micromanage the preferences of its citizens with respect to electricity consumption, there is no reason to stop at light bulbs.

“Why not ban sales of 72-inch plasma screen televisions, or outlaw central air conditioning? Why not legislate limits on the number of hours a day I can spend surfing the internet, or playing video games?”

And yet, Canada did ban aerosol and Freon for no other reason than to help close a hole in the ozone layer, and not because it was burning us alive, although it the Earth is getting slowly roasted.

I do, however, harbour some weird feelings about the bulb ban.

Canada will not ban the cancerous cigarette. It has not banned booze, which has killed, maimed and destroyed too many minds.

It allows strip bars and pornography.

It continues to allow the sale of dozens, if not hundreds, of chemicals foodstuffs flagged by scientists as extremely harmful to our health.

And yet, the territories and provinces are going to banish a light bulb.

Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.