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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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  • LarryD

    Ah yes, lets grossly overdose the test animals with artificial sweetener. Because all systems respond linearly, and extrapolation is always reliable. :s

    (:s) means, yes, I am being sarcastic.

  • Disappeared4x

    Compact fluorescents are terrible for reading, and LED bulbs seem to be the next solution. NOT. Having recently bought a home with some retro Edison bulbs, am convinced those exposed filaments WILL burn an image in the retina. Easier to find Edison bulbs than frosted white incandescents!

    • LarryD

      Look for frosted white halogen bulbs, they are incandescents, just with a halogen gas in the bulb, which reduces sputter from the filament.

      • Disappeared4x

        Thanks! Do these halogen bulbs emit as much heat as older models of halogen? That is why I have not tried the new halogen bulbs.

  • Fat_Man

    I have been switching to Sylvania (Osram) LED bulbs. I think they are terrific, less heat, less electricity, much longer life. My photographs and camera use indoors show them to be yellowish, not blue.

    • Matt B

      Thanks for the tip. I have tried multiple brands of LED bulbs, even lower “temperature” models which are supposed to favor the red end of the spectrum, but they still don’t come close to the warmth of a good old incandescent (especially when dimmed).

      The blue LED was the big breakthrough that enabled the broad application of LED’s in general, but I don’t understand why blue light has to be so dominant in LED bulbs.

      If the blue component can be reduced, I expect we’ll see “low toxicity” bulbs in the lighting aisle soon. 🙂

      • Eric Calabros

        LED generates a very narrow band of light. (google “amber led spectrum”. Yes, that kind of sharp peak). so they use a strong blue, filtered by phosphor, to cover wider bandwidth, to make “natural looking” light (since people got an obsession to replicate daylight for night time). The thing is the more they keep the blue at minimum possible, the less efficient that bulbs will be. The difference can be significant as 2x! Current high CRI LEDs (which has zero IR/UV/HighBlue emission) rate only 65lumen per watt while pretty white cool ones are in 120-150 ranges.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Anyone who has lately driven up on police car lights on roadside at night knows that they are now TOO bright and are more likely to cause an accident than prevent one. I can only assume this is because of LEDs in the newer light bars.

    • CapitalHawk

      Yes. I have noticed this same phenomenon in tail lights. Newer cars with LED tail lights are *blinding* when the driver hits the brake, especially when you are close to them at a stop sign or light.

  • Frank Natoli

    The reason isn’t that greens are bad people
    Really? And how does the author define “bad people”? How about a people who insist on establishing their religion of man made global warming upon all of us, strangling carbon fuel production, so that only a few years ago, fuel oil was hitting $4/gallon and those of us in the Northeast nowhere near a natural gas line had to wear winter clothes in their own homes in the winter?
    That’s “bad people” in my dictionary.

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