Thursday, February 01, 2007

California lights and the Law (of Unintended Consequences)

So the California legislature is contemplating doing away with incandescent lighting and replacing it with more energy-efficient fluorescent lighting. I recall the company for which I worked did exactly the same thing, replacing the old-fashioned bulbs with screw-in fluorescent at a heavy investment cost, expecting to save the investment in electric bills reflecting lower usage. (I never paid a lot of attention since the gas bill was so high and so much of our lighting was already fluorescent. I suppose they knew what they were doing.)

But this is something I had not known about...

...Fluorescent lighting (yeah, even often the new stuff) can result in total shutdown in autistic people, trigger migraines, and all kinds of other nasty things.

I took a sign language class under fluorescent lighting in California. It was a night class. My mother drove a brown minivan at the time. When I came out of the classroom, I was so confused that I tried to open the door of and get into a white station wagon that someone entirely unlike my mother was driving. I in fact tried repeatedly and did not notice until someone pointed out that this was not my mother’s car. Moreover, I could not see the signs people were doing, and I could not coordinate my hands to sign. I got confused, disoriented, and nearly immobile.

These days, if I spend too long under fluorescent lights, as a bonus I also get a really nasty migraine along with plenty of vomiting and such. A friend of mine used to get seizures from them (she was not naturally epileptic but was on a medication that lowered the seizure threshold). (I even have a letter from my doctor insisting on incandescent lighting, on my official documents page.)

As usual, I report, you decide.
Go read Amanda's post and take whatever action you choose, even if it is nothing more than passing the word. And if you live in California or know someone who does, passing the word might be a really good idea.

Long ago I was a music education major at Florida State University. I remember a music theory class in which there was one of the few students at the time who had what we call "perfect pitch" or absolute pitch. (That is the gift of knowing the pitch of a musical tone by hearing it, without the construct of any other tonal reference. Nearly all of us have "relative pitch" and can tell if music is in tune relatively, but a few people can discern when a note is sharp or flat just by hearing it.) She said the lights in the room hummed a flat, off-pitch "A" and she found it to be distracting if she let herself notice it. Of course she had learned to selectively "tune it out" in the same way that background noise is normally tuned out by most people all the time. But I can understand that what Amanda points out can be a serious challenge for those whose sensory pathways are challenged by autism.

Likewise, my father had such poor hearing that he was officially deaf by my age. Fortunately he was able to have surgery in one ear to correct his hearing to about eighty percent. He reported that when he was coming home from the hospital it was raining and the sound of rain hitting the car about drove him crazy. Later, when he got used to "tuning out" the new background noise he made the adjustment, but that took some time. The restoration of his hearing in one ear was a modern medical miracle. He was able to hear sounds that he had not heard for thirty years, like dogs barking in the yard, or the chimes of a grandfather clock in another part of the house.

But not everyone, as Amanda points out, is able to make adjustments such as that. As she point out, there can be other, possible better ways to save energy. She mentions LED lighting as an example. I would add that building designs that take advantage of natural light would also be an an alternative. From reading about artists and designers like Frank Lloyd Wright, I'm sure that creative architects would love to embrace such a challenge.

Unlike most comment threads, the readers at Amanda's blog come across as an intelligent and reasonable lot. That thread is worth reading. This ain't the lunatic fringe, folks. Do yourself a favor and open your head to another viewpoint.

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