Troubleshooting
Blinded by Green Mania

Light emitting diode (or LED) lightbulbs are considered by many environmentalists to be the only choice for a responsible citizen of the earth. They’re highly efficient, they have long lifespans, and unlike their immediate predecessors—compact fluorescent bulbs—they don’t contain toxic mercury. But a recent study in the journal Neuroscience raises some serious concerns about the effects these in-fashion lightbulbs might be having on our eyes. From the paper’s abstract:

[T]he emission spectrum of [LEDs] is enriched in blue radiations, known to be potentially dangerous to the retina. Recent studies showed that light exposure contributes to the onset of early stages of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). […]

The data suggest that the blue component of the white-LED may cause retinal toxicity at occupational domestic illuminance and not only in extreme experimental conditions, as previously reported.

“Retinal toxicity” doesn’t sound pleasant, but we should point out that it was most pronounced in the eyes of albino rats, and that it took “acute exposure” to produce these worrisome results. As with almost any new study, this research likely isn’t as bad as its clinical language may sound. This is a subject that warrants further scrutiny, even though there might not be enough evidence yet to support a decision to trash all of one’s LED bulbs.

That said, there’s a deeper point to be made here: even on relatively simple questions of thinking about policy options to achieve green goals, we often see greens making serious and destructive mistakes. The reason isn’t that greens are bad people, but that the real world of climate policy is much trickier than most people think or understand. The impulse to rush out there and “save the planet” doesn’t always lead to positive results, and oftentimes solutions can create as many new problems as they solve.

As the pace of technological change accelerates, we’re going to see more examples of this sort of “two steps forward, one step back” phenomenon, but it’s especially problematic when these new fixes are being backed by eco-mania. Remember, friendly fire is as deadly as the other kind.

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