Thursday, April 26, 2007

How many years does it take a change a light bulb?

Laaton ke bhoot baaton se nahi mante.
(Donkeys wont be persuaded with words [qualitative translation])
-Hindi proverb

A committee in the California legislature passed a measure this week which mandates that incandescent light bulbs are to be phased out and replaced by compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) as an energy-saving measure, given the fact that the latter are far more efficient.

In a society where one-carSUV-per-person is the norm and most buildings are centrally heated and cooled throughout the year regardless of outside temperatures, how can one not sneer at this as a case of misplaced priorities? What adds insult to the injury is this: the proposed legislation gives manufacturers and users more than four years to make the change and it is not until 2012 that this change will be complete. How long does it take for a state to change its light bulbs? Seriously, if this is how long it takes for this society to change its light bulbs, those who dream of cutting global carbon emissions by 2020 should slap themselves awake.

Sadly, the snail's pace on energy-saving and environmental prudence is not restricted to light bulbs. Last month, President Bush met the CEOs of GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler, to discuss flexible fuel vehicles which can run on petrol as well as alternatives like E-85 (ethanol based). Ethanol is the poster child of Bush's newly-found passion for energy independence, but is increasingly being criticized as being the wrong way to go, for various reasons. The auto-makers promised that 50% of their vehicles manufactured by 2012 would be flex fuel (hey, whats with 2012?) and urged Bush to ensure that production of bio-fuels is bumped up in return. What the auto-makers obstinately refused to talk about is fuel efficiency standards and the president would make them either. Unfortunately, there is little criticism of this attitude, nearly none in the popular media.

I respect American resolve and their ability to get things done fast when they want them, which makes this reluctance for action stand out like a sore thumb. Where is the political will and popular resolve now that it desperately needed? Lee Iacocca put it quite well:
It seems to me we need something like the Manhattan Project. We need some urgency saying, 'Here's what we should be doing. We've got to get off fossil fuels'.
Others have a more pessimistic view of the state of affairs:
The U.S. is desperately dependent on the availability of cheap, plentiful oil and natural gas, and addicted to economic growth. Once oil and gas become expensive (as they already have) and in ever-shorter supply (a matter of one or two years at most), economic growth will stop, and the U.S. economy will collapse.
I do not agree with the latter. America is capable of much more, but given the powerful interests vested in its profligate energy ways, this society is going to need a hard kick to the balls to make a run for it. If some natural or geophysical disaster were to throttle the US' oil supply abruptly, then, take my word for it, all cars will be running 80 mpg (33 kmpl) in a matter of months, and none of the car-makers would be whining and begging for more time. Oh, and light bulbs would be replaced in a matter of minutes.

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