Meet the Super-Efficient LED Light Bulb the Tea Party Wants You to Hate

John Loo via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

This LED bulb gives off warm, incandescent-like light, lasts 30 years, and is super-efficient (10-watt instead of 60-watt). Parts will be manufactured in America, it will create American jobs, and will save Americans money. America! But the right is bashing it. Why?

This is how a meme is dressed up for the Tea Party:

1. A respectable news outlet like the Washington Post runs a story with a decidedly politicized headline (Government-subsidized green light bulb carries costly price tag) and skewed take on the subject matter: a $50 light bulb.

2. A distressingly erroneous claim is made in said article: That buying the efficient light bulb is more expensive than using inefficient incandescents. In an infographic, the piece claimed that over its lifetime, the LED bulb would cost 5$ more than regular bulbs.

3. Conservative-baiting statements are included (emphasis mine): "the expensive bulb won a $10 million government prize meant to foster energy-efficient affordability is one of the curiosities that arise as the country undergoes a massive, mandated turnover from traditional incandescent lamps to more energy-efficient ones," the Post piece reads. Seemingly exorbitant sums! Government programs! Mandates!

4. The Tea Party media took the bait. Conservative blogs and columns noisily took aim. Gateway Pundit best exemplifies the bunch, with a headline reading “It’s an Obama World… Gas Reaches $5 a Gallon & “Green” Light Bulbs Cost You $50 Each.”

Brace yourselves for the '$50 Lightbulb' meme to proliferate on Fox News, Tea Party forums, GOP politicians' speeches, and beyond.

But here's the thing. That graphic was made with the strange assumption that the going rate for electricity is $0.01 per kilowatt-hour. The national average is closer to $0.12. Brad Johnson pointed this out at Think Progress Green.

Obviously, when the correct math is used, the LED bulb is much, much cheaper, over the years. With electricity included, it will cost a consumer $83 over its 30 year lifespan. Over 30 years, it would cost $228 to replace all the incandescent bulbs and pay for the higher electricity consumption they incur.

These super efficient bulbs, in other words, save us over $140 each. But that doesn't matter now. The right has its talking point, and like rising gas prices and Solyndra before it, the facts are secondary to how well the new 'blunder' fits into an ideological narrative.

But still. That narrative is bizarre. It holds that investment in better, cleaner technologies is dumb. That efforts to nurture new American enterprises in forward-looking arenas is foolhardy. Johnson writes:

"One of the strangest phenomena of modern-day politics is the right-wing antagonism toward American clean-energy manufacturing, a consequence of the fossil-fuel industry’s stranglehold on our nation’s conservatives. The Washington Post shouldn’t be aiding and abetting this ugly trend."

It is an ugly trend. One that supposes Americans would rather spite the government than live in a world where technologies continue to improve. The relentless race to find new items to stuff into the 'Obama is a green socialist' narrative overpowers genuine technological breakthroughs. Talking heads would rather serve up Tea Party-friendly talking point bile than demonstrate that they are capable of conducting a rather simplistic cost-benefit analysis.

So get ready to hear a lot more about the $50 lightbulb, and how ridiculous it is that Obama wants us to put these in our homes. Get ready to hate the $50 lightbulb.

(Note: the Washington Post updated its erroneous infographic, but never issued a correction)

Tags: Electricity | Energy | Energy Efficiency

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