A Dimming Plan For Lighting Efficiency

7:39 minutes

an old, glowing lightbulb hanging against a darkly colorful background
The Trump administration announced that it would be rolling back energy efficiency requirements for traditionally-shaped lightbulbs. The requirements would have taken place next year. Credit: Shutterstock

This week, the Trump administration announced that it would be rolling back energy efficiency requirements for light bulbs that were set to take effect in 2020. The rules would have increased efficiency requirements for the traditional ‘light bulb’ shaped bulbs, and phased out the incandescent and halogen bulbs used in special applications such as candle-shaped lights, bathroom vanities, and recessed lighting. Those requirements, originally set up during the Bush administration and finalized under President Obama, were aimed at moving the country further away from energy-inefficient incandescent lights and towards more efficient options like LED lights.    

Science journalist and author Annalee Newitz joins Ira to talk about the light bulb rule shift and other stories from the week in science, including DNA research into the origins of the Indus Valley civilization, a study of how efficiently languages can transmit information, and investigating the link between testosterone and empathy.

Further Reading:

Segment Guests

Annalee Newitz

Annalee Newitz is a science journalist and author based in San Francisco, California. They are author of Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age andThe Future of Another Timeline, and co-host of the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct.

Segment Transcript

IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. Later in the hour, we’ll be talking about Indigenous peoples and science.

But first, this week, as many of the Democratic presidential candidates talked about their climate policies and the need for energy conservation, in a seven-hour marathon on CNN, the Trump administration announced that it would be rolling back energy efficiency requirements for standard old light bulbs. Those requirements originally set up during the Bush administration were aimed at pushing the country away from energy inefficient incandescent lights and towards better options like LED lights. Joining me now to talk about Trump’s push to renew a 180-year-old technology plus other short subjects in science is science journalist and author, Annalee Newitz– joins us from San Francisco. Welcome back.

ANNALEE NEWITZ: Hey, thanks for having me.

IRA FLATOW: Nice to have you. So what do these new rules say? What are the big effects on consumers here?

ANNALEE NEWITZ: So these are rules that were set to go into effect in January of next year. And what they would have done is extend the energy efficiency requirements from not just the kind of typical pear-shaped incandescent bulbs that we think of as screwing into our light sockets but also all kinds of other bulbs that are used in industrial applications, kind of funny-shaped bulbs that are used in chandeliers that are sort of candle-shaped. So basically, it would have swept all other light bulbs that are not standard sized into these already existing energy efficiency requirements. And what the Trump administration has said is that it just didn’t make economic sense to do that right now.

IRA FLATOW: Hm, so is this going to go through, this undoing of that law?

ANNALEE NEWITZ: So there’s already been a lot of pushback. There are consumer groups such as the Appliance Standards Awareness Project which have said that this is probably going to cost consumers as much as $100 a year because we will be able to buy these more energy inefficient light bulbs. And also, there are states like California that are setting their own standards.

And there are a lot of groups that are going to sue, because one interpretation of the laws around this is that you can’t actually. The government cannot roll back energy standards. So that may be a big point of contention in the courts.

IRA FLATOW: I don’t know. I can’t really see people saying, oh, great, incandescents are back.

ANNALEE NEWITZ: Yeah, and these are standards that are intended to help us stay abreast of recent technological developments in light bulbs. Once we have better, more efficient light bulbs, the idea is to push the marketplace toward them.

IRA FLATOW: I don’t see a Wi-Fi chip in an incandescent bulb anytime soon.

ANNALEE NEWITZ: You don’t want your smart incandescent bulb?


IRA FLATOW: OK, let’s move on to other news. I know you’re an archeology geek. And there’s some big news this week about the Indus Valley civilization. Tell us about that.

ANNALEE NEWITZ: That’s right. So let me set the scene for you. About 4,500 years ago, this incredibly sophisticated civilization rises up in the Indus Valley, which is this beautiful, lush, long area river valley kind of at the northwestern border between India and the southern border of Pakistan today.

And it has at least a dozen big cities for the time. I mean, they’re not Mumbai, but they’re big for the era. And they have a sophisticated writing system, which we haven’t yet deciphered. They have trade between cities. They’re trading with Mesopotamia.

And most important to me, they have a sophisticated plumbing system and public fountains. So this is a very, very advanced civilization. They have plumbing centuries before the Romans and their alleged fancy plumbing.

But what happens is, about 1,000 years after the civilization rises, suddenly, people just leave. All these beautiful cities are abandoned. And we think that now probably what happened was there was climate change.

Rainfall patterns changed. It just became more difficult to farm. The rivers changed course.

So the mystery has been, when those people left, where did they go? Where did this urban diaspora take all of those people? And now, thanks to an intrepid group of scientists, we have sequenced the DNA from one skeleton from one of the biggest cities in the Indus Valley civilization. So are you ready for the solution to this mystery?

IRA FLATOW: I have my drum roll app here ready to sound. Go ahead.

ANNALEE NEWITZ: So what they found is– first, they got 61 skeletons, took little pieces of each one, and powdered the bone and tested each of those 61 samples. One of them turned up positive for DNA. And the DNA matches closely with the DNA that’s common in people who live in South Asia today.

So modern day people in India are related to this one person from the Indus Valley civilization. So what that suggests is that people from the Indus Valley, when times got hard– the climate changed– a lot of them journeyed south. And they brought their culture with them. Because what we see at the Indus Valley are kind of the beginnings of Vedic culture, which eventually gets popularized as Hinduism and Buddhism all across South Asia and Southeast Asia.

So this is kind of the birthplace of all of these important cultural movements and ideas. And now we have at least one hint of where they all went. So it’s a pretty cool week for me as an archeology geek.

IRA FLATOW: Don’t you find it interesting? They had to have 66 skeletons. They only found it in one skeleton, that link.

ANNALEE NEWITZ: Yeah, so this is part of the tragedy of people who are excavating in the Indus Valley, because the climate conditions there vacillate between extremely dry and very wet. And it’s just terrible for DNA preservation. And it’s also actually terrible for all kinds of preservation. A lot of these cities are highly eroded. And so that’s added to the mystery of this civilization, because there’s just a lot of it that’s gone because of climate.

IRA FLATOW: Mhm. Let me jump to my last story here. And this is a story about testosterone and empathy. That’s a real interesting connection there. Tell us about it.

ANNALEE NEWITZ: Yeah, so there’s been a kind of long-standing idea that people with elevated levels of testosterone just aren’t capable of experiencing human empathy as well as other people. And partly, this was based on just the kind of usual pseudoscience, and part of it was based on a study of a very small number of people, just a little over a dozen people, that suggested that people with elevated testosterone couldn’t read other people’s emotions. And so a group of scientists said, hey, why don’t we actually do a real scientific study of this?

So they took about 650 people, all men, and tested to see if, when they had a testosterone patch on, how they scored on common tests of human empathy. So they had a group that didn’t have elevated testosterone levels, and they had a group that did have this testosterone patch. And what they found was there was no difference between the two groups. So what that means is if you’re a person who has elevated testosterone, it is not going to interfere with your ability to love other people and perceive their emotions.

IRA FLATOW: Oh, good to know. Good to know that.


IRA FLATOW: Thank you for that. Annalee Newitz, science reporter and author based in San Francisco, have a good weekend.

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