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Some Environmental & Health Activists Are On A Mission To Reform … (Checks Notes) … LED Lighting?

As you can probably imagine, clean technology sites and the people who write for them get a lot of weird e-mails and DMs. The supposed inventors of perpetual motion machines (including some really odd ones that use lard) like to reach out from time to time. There are also the right-wing whack jobs who hate us because we’ll hurt oil company profits, the left-wing scatter brains who don’t think we’re committed enough to micromanaging people, and all other manner of interesting people to talk to. We get lots of links to websites that almost put TimeCube to shame, and have similar “belly button logic.”

So, it’s not hard to get that unconventional ideas that may have some merit could fall through the cracks amid the flood of crackpottery. And, that’s what we’re looking at today. Last year, a group of activists reached out to me to tell me about LED bulbs. Specifically, they wanted to tell me that their “non-uniform light” was a problem. The e-mail had a ton of links, but didn’t really summarize what the problem was, so I didn’t really look into it further.

This may sound kind of mean, but one e-mail with difficult to understand claims against a technology that has saved a lot of energy and money over the years doesn’t carry much weight. Given the widespread adoption of LED bulbs and the good that they’ve done, any claim really needs to be extraordinary and clear to even get attention.

But, they were persistent, and kept reaching out to CleanTechnica, and I eventually decided to give them a chance and see what they were talking about.

The Issues They Take With LED Lighting

I have to admit that their webpage, entitled “The LED Fraud” wasn’t named great. Calling a widespread technology a “fraud” just sounds like something a crackpot would say. But, I decided to dig deeper and see what they’re talking about.

One problem they identify is that LED light is hard to compare to light from other types of bulbs. Why? Because LED light comes from small, flat sources instead of going out sort of evenly in all directions, this leads to a lot more light coming at some angles than others. So, when you use light measurement methods that were designed for other types of lights, you end up massively undercounting the actual light that comes out of the LEDs.

The result is probably pretty obvious: it blinds people. The light ratings say it shouldn’t, but it doesn’t really work out that way in the real world.

Another issue they get into is the color of the light. LED lights can come in a variety of colors (including soft white, which is slightly yellow), but even when they do that, the group says that most of the energy is still in the blue. Many mobile devices and computers can be set to emit less blue light at night to help with sleep issues, so you could imagine that LED lights putting out blue light that’s hard for us to consciously notice could be problematic.

The last issue they get into is that of how the light works over time. You’ll notice that LED bulbs often blink and flash on camera, and that’s because they don’t really shine continuously like regular light bulbs. In some cases, they’ll look like they flicker from certain angles or moving a certain way, which can set off motion sickness, migraines, and even epilepsy in people. When the bulbs are going out, the flashing can become apparent to the naked eye.

A Claim Against Energy Efficiency

Another page, “Why Don’t LEDs Save Energy?” makes a claim that I think has less merit. The basic idea there is that LED lights can’t technically be called energy efficient because they use less energy, but don’t provide a comparable service to other types of light bulbs. If their other claims are true (and some may be), this is technically correct.

But, the widespread use of LED lighting in a variety of applications has led to nearly everyone getting the light they want at a fraction of the energy cost. So, I don’t think this technical argument, absent a stronger showing of harms, is going to really fly.

Do These Claims Have Merit, Though?

I’m not a scientist, but from what I could find, this is something that’s still being studied. This 2019 CNN article explains that the known problem of blue light (especially during the wrong times of day or night) is real, and some LEDs to aggravate it. Health-wise, the problem is still being studied, but it doesn’t look good for stronger, whiter LED lights like you’d find in automotive headlights right now.

So, while the website could probably use some improvement in how it communicates the concerns, there are some legitimate concerns that need to be addressed.

Concerns over light pollution are also very valid, but this isn’t really an issue that’s specific to LED bulbs as much as a Dark Sky issue. The cheap availability of light does probably lead to abuse of that light, which is something I’ve written about in the past.

What Do They Want?

This is where we see the organization ask for things that aren’t in the realm of the crackpot. There aren’t any calls to jail or execute the people behind the conspiracy, and nobody’s trying to blame the international bankers (code word for Jewish people in many cases). They are actually asking for something pretty reasonable.

Basically, they want the federal government to take a second look at LED lights, especially in cars. If they took a more careful look, they will probably find that LED lights are often a lot brighter than other light sources, and could be causing real safety risks.

My Take On This

I think the Soft Lights Foundation needs to get a PR person. They have some ideas that should be looked into further, but they aren’t presenting it in such a way that it looks legitimate. Throwing around words like “fraud” and “discriminatory” and making efficiency claims that most people would find incredible on the surface (we’ve all saved money on electric bills) makes it hard for people to want to engage further.

Featured image: A painting of Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds (1775).

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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