Jun 11, 2024

Ruth Bass: New lights light up our lives and help the planet

RICHMOND — Humans are big on light. We string them at Christmas, plant solar lights along our driveways, have lights on timers to make it seem like we’re home when we’re not. We feel safer with light than with darkness.

It’s natural. One of the most quoted parts of the Old Testament, familiar to Jews and Christians, is: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, and it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.”

And when people travel to places like Iceland, a major stop for thousands of Americans, one of the goals is to see the sky light up and shimmer in changing colors for the aurora borealis. In winter in those northern countries, from Iceland to Finland, the sun’s early exit is disconcerting; in summer, dozing off for the night is hard because the sun is still up.

My sister bought a little house she called her sun shack, miles away in eastern Oregon because she grew tired of the sometimes persistent gloom in rainy Portland. And quite recently in New England, we groused daily about wildfires in Quebec sending us gray smoke that muffled our natural light.

Perhaps our need for light inspired scientists to concentrate on a way to extend our days with electric lightbulbs. And so we bought GE and Sylvania in 25, 40 and 60 watts, or the 50 to 100 to 200 on a lamp, or the ability to dim. Those were incandescent bulbs. With few exceptions, they left us last week.

The gradual move to the new LED lights has made me a bulb dummy. The labels are unfamiliar, and it’s hard to figure out whether the LED bulb in your hand will replace the one you’ve just thrown in the wastebasket or be too bright. My solution is to head for Baldwin’s Hardware in West Stockbridge, bulb in hand, and ask the experts there to give me something equivalent. It works every time — and they also dispose of the dead bulb.

It won’t take long for the remaining incandescent bulbs to be the dinosaur in the room. Americans have already replaced many of them with LEDs. The process involves three presidents, starting in 2007 with George W. Bush signing a law that set new efficiency standards for lightbulbs. A few years later, conservatives tried to extinguish that measure on the basis that the government shouldn’t tell you or me which bulb to buy. That effort failed, but along came the Trump administration, which stalled the second phase of the regulations, which would have lowered energy use. That, The New York Times reports, was just one of 100 environment-related rules that were rolled back under the former president’s watch. The Biden administration, however, has set up new efficiency standards, sounding the death knell for incandescent lighting.

Lightbulbs now must produce 45 lumens per watt, much more brightness per watt than the incandescent bulbs. And that, says one energy economist, “is like replacing a car that gets 25 miles to the gallon with one that gets 130 mpg.” LEDS are a big deal, even if the story isn’t dinner, workplace or bar conversation; they use less power and help lower the country’s emission of greenhouse gases, which are warming our planet and causing the climate changes that many parts of the country are all too aware of, from damaging floods to soaring temperatures.

I don’t always like LEDs. But on the bright side, they last 25 to 50 times longer than their old counterparts. Fewer chances to fall off a ladder with those ceiling fixtures, fewer trips to the hardware store.

Ruth Bass is an award-winning journalist. Her website is The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.