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CAPITOL LETTERS (Ep. 2): “Enlightenment” and “Environment”

CAPITOL LETTERS (Ep. 2): “Enlightenment” and “Environment” Europe vs. Edison

The Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C. are, par excellence, propitious places for memory. Universal, and also personal. Walking through the National Museum of American History, I made the acquaintance, in sculptural form, of a certain Mr. Thomas Alva Edison, and was reminded of what I had written about him a decade ago, when the EU was starting up its eco-crusade against its beloved baby, the incandescent lightbulb. I said back then: “Mr. Edison, a lightbulb went on in our good European heads and made us turn off your bloody wasteful invention, once and forever!” Mr. Edison is a grown-up, no doubt, and he knows how to cash in this historical punch. In his time, the brilliant guy is said to have “first” invented the lightbulb only after other gentlemen did the same before, but none had flashed the exquisite ideas to “fill in” a brighter-burning filament, to immerse it in a “more void” vacuum, while having a “more enduring” electrical resistance. Having gorged himself on patents and being the 4th most well-protected “luminary” in the history of technology, he became known for eagle-eyeing others’ ideas, while draping his own in government paperwork, for none could be allowed to think up similar ideas to him and independently of him. He then played God, despite being a free-thinking atheist, and libeled the alternative current of rival George Westinghouse by cunningly associating it with the electric chair, in whose creation Edison had had a hand in.

Lambasted from left and from right, by the “eco”, the “emo” and other sensitive “egos”, Mr. Edison met his match. Not in his native America, but in Europe. Starting with the 1st of September 2012, the EU Member States committed to no longer produce or import lightbulbs with tungsten/wolfram incandescent filaments. These lightbulbs have the unfortunate trait of wasting 95% of the energy they are fed with, and such an affront cannot be tolerated by the European Commission, who wrote down in some Agenda of her own that we must become models for humanity by 2020 complying with the “20-20-20” new “golden ratio. That is: a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions, 20% growth in renewables’ share of the energy mix, and 20% energy savings. Such a slender figure cannot be achieved by guzzling down kilowatt-hours without stop through the “luminous bulbs” of Edison’s likes. The Commission gave a moral thrashing to the inventor of an object which merely sated a raw desire for light, but was insensible to the needs of Mother Earth, with its local pollutions and global warming, and getting more so under the ministrations of the producers of the energy the lightbulbs so greedily wolfed down. In the meantime, the EU’s Green Pact also came along.

There was also a financial slap given to Mr. Edison. Not to his person, but through patsies known as EU citizens (as consumers and/or competitors in lightbulb production). The EU citizens got shafted because the Brussels “Executive” spared them no attention when ramming through the Directive like a hot knife through butter, with nary a stirring from the EU’s atrophied democratic bodies. The consumers must also swallow the costs of the “economic bulbs”, the CFL and LED “cold light” bulbs, whose cost savings emanate through a logic accessible only to bureaucrats, not to the commoners. Competitors without a firm paddle also started to sink, left in the dark by the “wise guys” of industrial and trade policy lobbying (such as Philips and Osram, names whispered in the dark recesses of these lobbies) because the new regulations require substantial investment to adopt eco-fabrication principles, while some had, by some phenomenal coincidence, been already prepared industrially and ready to internalize the greater price margins of “clean profit”, which are quite greater for the new economic lightbulbs. Yet again, another dazzlingly bright moment for Europe!

Since the world of politics has its own “selective practices” (by comparison with the social-economic laws or the laws of natural philosophy and science), here again we may discuss the correct calculation of the efficiency of the new lighting instruments. Individual efficiency is more likely invalidated, since the replacement of classic bulbs was not a result of free choice, but by decree. The collective angle is also vague, but it does not seem to have been serviced: there are opinions regarding the supposed toxic waste (mercury) which is costly to neutralize. Beyond the “biological intoxications”, the way in which this “great leap forward” took place is a very useful lesson in how bureaucracy and progress march in lockstep on the basis of the money of the silent majority of the taxpayers-consumers. The revolution of the bureaucrats in Brussels has some more things on its to-do list: detergents that wash our laundry in cold water; vacuum cleaners that suck the dust in a chilly manner; tea/coffee making machines to coolingly warm our nasty and tasty drinks. And so forth. Thank Heaven, there is a hope with the cold fusion! Europe is speeding towards a little intellectual “ice age”, where cold thinking will not allow bad decision-making, and lacking long-term ecological vision, like that of one Mr. Edison. 

(July 11, 2022 – Washington, D.C.)

Photo source: author’s snapshot at the National Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.



CAPITOL LETTERS is a series of articles occasioned by the author’s presence in Washington, D.C. as Romanian Cultural Institute Fellow, studying industrial revolutions’ imprint on the cultural sector.
The opinions hereby expressed by the author remain his exclusive responsibility and do not engage, in any manner or measure, the organizations to which he is affiliated or with which he collaborates.




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