Will Brexit Finally Let Us See the Light?
A solid 30 percent of Leave voters want to see traditional light bulbs make a comeback. Why is anyone's guess.
(Illustration: Sam Taylor)
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light!" And lo there was light. And God saw the light, and he saw that it was good. But then the EU turned up, and everything went to shit.
The traditional incandescent light bulb is one of the best and worst things ever invented. It's the best because without it we'd have spent the 20th century stumbling around our houses with candles in our hands, dripping hot wax everywhere. Electric lighting transformed everything from when we eat to how we sleep. At the same time, incandescent light bulbs are almost comically shit. When you turn one on, 95 percent of the electricity you put into it gets wasted as heat. That's like putting a gallon of petrol into your car and then watching it drive for about three miles until it splutters to a stop pissing oil out of the exhaust pipe.
Traditional light bulbs are so hilariously bad at their jobs that you can literally just use them as heaters. You can use them to grow plants or keep chickens warm. If you put them in an office building, the air conditioning actually has to work harder to keep the heat down, wasting even more energy. One German entrepreneur even tried to rebrand the bulbs "Heatballs" to get around the EU ban.
Luckily, vastly superior LED lighting came along. This meant that first the UK and then the wider EU could move to phase out the terrible old light bulbs, and so a few years ago they were banned. Given how shit they are, you'd imagine that almost everyone would be glad to see the back of them.
But no. It turns out that there's an entire community of people who desperately want to resurrect shit things from the past. They're called "Daily Mail readers", and now that we're leaving the EU they've spotted a golden opportunity to add hundreds of pounds onto their electricity bills.
A recent YouGov survey found that a solid 30 percent of Leave voters want to see traditional light bulbs make a comeback. Only blue passports, killing criminals, buying food in ounces and beating the crap out of schoolchildren get the 52 percent more excited.
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That raises a question, though: why? Claims that LED lighting is dim or cold haven't been true for about a decade. They're bright, warm, cheaper to run and more flexible. The only downside is that they're slightly worse to recycle; but that's offset by the fact that you need about seven or eight short-lived traditional bulbs to replace one long-lasting LED. In short, the only reason people want them is that they've been told they can't have them. It's a sort of collective mass tantrum.
What would happen if they got their wish? It would be terrible for them, and it would be terrible for everyone else. It would be terrible for them because their electricity bills would skyrocket. Britain's households have been using less and less energy for decades now. We use a third less electricity than we did in the 1990s, largely thanks to better bulbs. Going back to traditional bulbs would cost a typical family the best part of a tenner a month.
Which is weird, when you think about it. The same people who hate watching their electricity bills get bigger scream bloody murder about the one piece of law that's done more than anything to keep their costs down. Go figure.
If the stupidity of the light bulb revolutionaries only ruined their own lives I'd be happy to let them get on with it, spending their days climbing on wobbly chairs to replace worn out bulbs so they can read the gigantic numbers appearing on their electricity bills. Unfortunately, it affects me and everybody else too.
All that excess power has to come from somewhere; and it's a hell of a lot of power. From the late-90s through to 2020, the total amount of electricity needed to light British homes each year will have fallen by more than 10 terawatt-hours. That's more than we get from the nuclear power station at Sizewell B. Across Europe the estimated saving from the ban is 40 terawatt-hours. That's nearly twice what the new nuclear power station at Hinckley Point C will provide.
In short, we have a historic opportunity to increase our electricity prices and spend billions of pounds building pointless new power stations that pollute our rivers and poor toxic gases into our skies.
That's the world that light bulb fanatics hope we'll be returning too now that we're free of our European überlords. Which would be unlikely, since it wasn't the EU who pushed the traditional light bulb ban on Britain – our government actually proposed it first.