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Shedding light on the Light Bulb Law

Last Saturday the New York Times ran a story titled, “Give Up Familiar Light Bulb? Not Without Fight, Some Say.” The Times reported that many conservatives in congress—Minnesota’s own Michelle Bachmann among them—are trying to repeal a bill setting efficiency standards on light bulbs. The bill requires 100-watt bulbs to be 25 percent more efficient by 2012, and it was passed by George Bush and both houses of congress in 2007.

Opponents of this bill say that more efficient light bulbs, like the spiral compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), are more expensive, are bad for the environment because they contain mercury, and flicker annoyingly. Any minimum amount of research here will reveal that CFLs are much less expensive over time due to their energy savings and long life, the amount of mercury is less than the amount needed to produce a traditional light bulb and CFLs can be properly recycled, and the light quality on new CFLs is nearly identical to incandescent bulbs.

Let’s face it. Yes, if this bill isn’t overturned, the government will require us to use more efficient light bulbs. Yes, you won’t be able to go to Menards and pick up a pack of 100 Watt-ers anymore. But let’s be real—is being required to switch light bulbs really that bad when it will save us money, be better for the environment, and help reduce our addiction to energy? I want my government to protect my freedoms, but I also want it to take a bold stand for what’s right for our nation’s sustainability, even if it means my lights are spiral, my toilet uses less water, or my car gets more miles to the gallon.

Our government is not able to do anything without our consent. When bills like the light bulb bill come up, we always have a chance to examine whether or not our basic freedoms are being taken away. Just because we allow the government to set restrictions on light bulb efficiency doesn’t mean we also allow it to restrict our freedom of speech, our freedom of assembly, or any other basic freedom promised us.  The beauty of freedom isn’t the ability for us to do whatever we want. Rather, it is the ability for us to put restrictions on ourselves that protect us and allow us to live full lives.

Already, the government regulates—with our consent—many services and products that daily impact our lives. We set high standards on the quality of education, on food and drugs, on security for transportation, on building and property codes, and on anti-discrimination policies, to name a few. And the same conservatives demanding that the government shouldn’t regulate our light bulb efficiency standards are pushing for other government regulations: the ability of government workers to form unions, the right to abortion and contraceptives, and the right to marriage. Is regulating the quality of our light bulbs really as risky as regulating our rights in these other areas?

Dear people of my generation, let’s make a promise right now. Let’s promise that when we’re the ones in power and making decisions, we spend our time and resources on the issues that actually matter. Better yet, let’s do what we can right now with our voices. We are blessed with the freedom to voice our opinion, whether that be in the form of contacting a senator or just teaching your friends and family about an issue you care about. Let’s not complain about petty things like spiral light bulbs.

Instead, let’s complain about our nation’s education rankings of 14th place in reading literacy, 17th place in science, and 25th place in mathematics when comparing 15-year-olds around the world. Let’s complain about the World Health Organization’s ranking of America as number 37 for best healthcare system. Let’s complain about the human rights violations and intolerance occurring every day in our country and around the world.

And let’s be thankful that we live in a country that grants us the freedom to place limits on ourselves.

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