Friday, September 24, 2010

Shining Light on Impulsive Mandates

President Bush signed into law a bill that phases out the incandescent light bulb by 2014. Not only was this hasty, but it’s disturbing because of the environmental impact and issues of personal freedom.

Americans have been strongly encouraged to replace their incandescent bulbs with compact florescent light bulbs (CFLs). A common example to quantify the benefits of using CFLs is: If every American home replaced just one incandescent bulb with a CFL, in one year it would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes and it would be like taking more than 800,000 cars off the roads. It will also reduce your energy costs.

Sounds like a great idea. But like most seemingly simple solutions to complex problems, it requires deeper thought.

CFLs contain mercury. Mercury is a neurotoxin. Therefore, CFLs must be disposed of as hazardous waste. You could take them to the nearest hazardous waste drop off center. You could wait for a free hazardous waste drop off day.

Or, you could follow the advice of Joseph Rey: “If you’re the Marriott hotel disposing of a great number of bulbs, you have to do it so mercury doesn’t leak into landfills. But if you’re one person, you can just toss it out.”

Who is this guy? He’s director of education for the American Lighting Association. He gave this sage advice in an interview in the February 2008 issue of House Beautiful magazine.

According to the 2000 census, Eden Prairie has 21,026 households. If every household did as told in the above recommendation and used one CFL, but then also did as Joseph Rey said and just threw them away, there would be 21,026 CFLs ready to leach neurotoxins into landfills. Of course we wouldn’t all do that, but you know there will always be people who will dispose of hazardous waste improperly if they know they won’t get caught.

We should be concerned not only about the earth, but the environment in our very homes. Using CFLs could be especially worrisome if our families include infants, small children or pregnant women, who are most susceptible to the effects of mercury. Most important, we should have the choice to make these kinds of decisions for ourselves.

If you break an incandescent bulb, you sweep up the pieces and throw them away – safely.

However, the American Lighting Association has very specific guidelines for what to do if a CFL breaks in your home. They include: open windows, leave the room for at least 15 minutes, wear gloves while you scoop up fragments and powder, seal them in a plastic bag, and place that into another sealed plastic bag. Throw it in the trash if your state allows; otherwise, dispose of it as hazardous waste. If you must use a vacuum, put the used vacuum bag into two sealed bags. The next several times you vacuum the area, shut off your heating or air conditioning and open the windows for at least 15 minutes after you’re done vacuuming.

Wow, that’s a lot of precautions to take for something CFL proponents insist isn’t toxic, as evidenced in this often used example of how safe CFLs are: There are only 5 mg. of mercury per CFL compared to 500 mg. of mercury in a thermometer, so you’d have to break 100 CFLs to expose yourself to the same mercury as in one thermometer.

Well, OK, but how many people do you know who still use mercury thermometers, let alone walk around breaking them all the time? Following this scenario, Eden Prairie would have to throw away 210 thermometers to equal the mercury levels of one improperly disposed CFL per household. That seems unlikely.

There are other health issues to consider. Migraine sufferers around the world are uniting to protest governments mandating the use of CFLs. The British Association of Dermatologists has called for exemptions to these mandates to allow for those with skin conditions worsened by fluorescent light, such as some forms of lupus. Eastern medicine practitioners consider fluorescent light to be detrimental to humans because it emits frequencies they believe worsen or cause multiple health problems.

Should the government have the right to mandate use of something containing toxic materials whose health effects haven’t been fully studied and with no exemptions for people with health problems that could be exacerbated by the mandate? If the government so readily pulled the trigger on this mandate in the name of environmentalism, what’s next?

Could they ban lawns because of the water used to maintain them? How about air conditioning? Burning wood has been banned in Sacramento, and in southern California, building wood burning fireplaces in new homes is prohibited. These governmental intrusions are growing. For the government to invade the homes of its citizens by telling them how to live is the antithesis of what America stands for.

I know “going green” is a hot issue right now, but let’s slow down, think things through. Let’s not accept knee-jerk reactions to the fear mongering of environmental activists. The CFL mandate is just another example of getting carried away with something that looks really good … until you shine a bright light on it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Three Small Words: Remembering September 11

Nine years ago, I wrote this letter to the editor, which was published in the Eden Prairie News shortly after September 11, 2001:

On September 11, among the many lessons to be learned, I learned that three small words can be used to convey something fearful and despondent, while at the same time convey a message of reassurance and hope .

When my nine-year-old son came home from school that afternoon, he didn't seem to know much about what had happened. I sat him down and explained to him the terrible events of the day. He looked at me, his round blue eyes searching mine for reassurance. "Will we have a war, Mama?" he asked. "Yes, we will," I said, wanting to bite back my words, but at the same time knowing I was doing the right thing. I had to be honest with my son. Thanks to the evil of terrorism, my answer was true.

Later, my 13-year-old daughter quickly began to understand the gravity of the situation. In typical teenage fashion, avoiding my eyes and trying not to sound too serious, she asked, "Will America make it through this, Mom?"

I told her about the deprivation of the Great Depression, the civil war that pitted brother against brother, and two world wars that tested the strength of every American. "Yes, we will," I answered. I had to be honest with my daughter. Thanks to the indelible American spirit, my answer was true.

Three small words. "Yes, we will." They can mean so many things. That day they meant a promise of war and the promise of victory. Other days, they mean something else.

Life does go on, as it has, since September 11, 2001. We've started a war in Iraq. We've elected a new president who has barely spoken of keeping us safe. We've wondered who will be on this season of Dancing With the Stars. We've become obsessed with vampires. We've worried about Brad and Angelina's "status."

We've forgotten.

Before you say, "Oh no we haven't," I say to you, "Look around. The unity we found that day is lost. We are a country divided. We stand on opposite sides arguing about whether a Mosque should be built near the Ground Zero site. Do you think this argument would have even found a voice on September 12, 2001?"

As I pause to think about that, visions come to mind of people rising in the streets across America to ask the people who wish to build it to have some decency, some compassion. People jumped out of those buildings rather than be burned to death. Firefighters rushed into the buildings to save others while knowing they would lose their own lives. Even the Imam in charge of the project now questions the sensitivity of the proposed site because whether we like to admit it or not, the atrocities of that day were carried out by Muslim extremists in the name of Allah. It's just the truth.

Do you remember? Do you remember the photos on the front pages of your newspapers of people, your fellow Americans, on American soil, covered in ashes to the point of being unrecognizable as they stumbled through the streets of New York desperate for safety, shelter, a sip of water, a breath of air? In America? Our America?

I remember that night here in suburban Minneapolis. The sky was clear and dark and salted with a few stars. My neighbor and I were standing in her backyard talking when a military helicopter roared over her house. We knew the skies had been shut down and cleared of all traffic. The helicopter was flying low, and even though it was one of ours--there to keep us safe--for a moment we were terrified. We stopped talking and just sort of hung there in frozen time, as if our hearts had stopped from fear and needed to be jump started before we asked, "What the hell was that?"

Earlier that evening my church held a special service. I'll never forget the image of my daughter, dressed in black, hugging a fellow Sunday School friend on the steps outside. They stayed in each other's arms for a long time, her head resting on his shoulder. Then they held hands, as if not wanting to let go of one another for fear of losing the other before our next church service. I watched from the top of the stairs with tears rolling freely down my face as I realized my daughter's generation had just become a generation at war. They had become a generation in which the sanctity of the American bubble that had always protected them was shattered by airplanes filled with hate and bound for death. They changed that day--the children. Forever.

That night my children slept in bed with me. Their father couldn't sleep and stayed up all night. My daughter held my hand as she slept, something she hadn't done since she was very small. When she was little, she always wanted to hold my hand as she slept if she was scared. I lay awake and heard another plane fly over the house. I gripped my sleeping child's hand a little tighter.

As I write this on the eve of the ninth anniversary of this terrorist attack on America, I am saddened by how far apart we've come. The weight of this horrible atrocity seems to have slipped from our shoulders, and we've become the frivolous, politically-correct society we were before this ever happened.

Of course we can't be a society hobbled by the hatred lurking in the shadows waiting for an opportunity to kill us. But all I ask is that for tomorrow, please take a moment to remember. Really remember. Wherever you were in America, it hit you. It touched you.

It changed you.

Before this, you were safe. You are safe no more. You know it. You accept it. You scoff at it when you have to board a plane. It inconveniences you, but it does not effect you, not anymore.

I'm asking you, if only for one day, to let it effect you. Let in the fear of knowing you are never safe. Let in the knowledge that there are people on earth who hate you and what you stand for so much that they will kill you and your babies in the name of their cause without blinking an eye.

Then, see the issues of the day through those eyes. Do you see the Mosque at ground zero as a shield against further attacks? I think that's the reason some are for its construction at its proposed site. "If we build it here, they'll think we're nice and they won't hurt us," to put it in Kindergarten terms. Maybe that's why some are such violent proponents of this Mosque. More than that, I think some people are for it so they can appear "enlightened," in a world in which if you are against anything anyone does for any reason, and those people happen not to be white Christians, you are called a bigot.

Islam is such a complex thing that it's nearly impossible to deconstruct. I know Muslim people who have Minnesota accents stronger than mine. I have personally seen the good side and the dark side of Islam. So I am not one of those who condemns all who cover their heads and pray five times per day. I just don't want the extremists to blow things up.

I understand the pull toward political correctness that is threaded through our country. But without a healthy dose of fear, wariness and protectiveness, I believe that pull will become so strong we'll all be taken along for the ride whether we like it or not, consequences be damned.

So, will you say three small words for me? If I ask you, "Will you remember?" will you answer,

"Yes, we will."