Wednesday, September 2, 2009

is the way to save the world lies and gloom?

a thing of the past?
The first time I brought darkness to a house was when I tried to resurrect my Mum's ageing music centre. Putting the plug in with a flourish I turned on the switch and there followed immediately the loudest bang I had ever heard: in the ensuing darkness my Mum berated me as I jumped like an electrocuted flea and the dog, performing the only sensible act of his life, dived under the sofa.

Although I retain a talent for getting simple things wrong, I don't need to exercise this talent any longer in the realm of household illumination. Yesterday, it became illegal for shops to sell conventional light-bulbs, so that we are only able to buy the so-called energy-saving ones that are supposed to be saving the world.

The thing is, these bulbs shatter at the slightest touch and, when this happens, children and pregnant women have to be evacuated from the room because of the mercury and cadmium contents of the things.

The key is the supposed longevity of the things. The manufacturers are only starting to admit, now that it's illegal to sell the better products to householders, that while the bulbs may provide illumination for the length of time stated on the box, the degree of light it casts on matters declines after less than half its lifetime - in other words, they lied. This is no academic matter: a friend of ours is becoming decidedly glum in the gloom.

The thing is, it isn't illegal to sell real light-bulbs for industrial purposes. So what's to stop us buying ordinary bulbs through our work, or at industrial outlets?

This isn't a vexatious statement. If you get hold of an "energy-saving" lightbulb in itwhich would you choose?s box, the chances are that you won't find a statement of the country of origin. This is because they are often made in China, with the plastic components having been taken there by ship and returned by the same means, with China insisting that any pollution generated in their manufacture being added to the "carbon footprint" of the countries of origin and destination.

Personally, I'll be looking for real lightbulbs. I'm tired of switching on a light and waiting several seconds to get less illumination than would be provided by two candles. My Mum and her dog are gone, but if I were to maintain the living-room in perpetual twilight, I'm sure the cat would give me a particularly withering glance.


  1. Last year, on an energy-saving kick (believe 'twas when the gas prices shot up so), my husband replaced all the incandescent bulbs in our house with flourescent bulbs. The package said they were guaranteed to last 7 years. A couple of weeks ago, one of the new bulbs died. We are wondering how to collect on our guaranteed bulbs (we did save one of the packages), and how long before the rest of them go.

    Also, if 7-year bulbs only last 1 year, we'll be filling the landfills with mercury, I'm sure. (With a 23% rate of standard recycling in this city, how many folks do you suppose will dispose of their flourescent bulbs as hazardous waste?)

  2. Exactly! What energy-saving bulb manufacurers are saying in the UK (now that they've gotten rid of the opposition) is that they only last so long if you leave them on all the time as opposed to switching them on and off. To my mind, leaving bulbs on for hours isn't energy saving. And disposing of mercury and cadmium in landfill sites isn't so good for the environment.

    But what do I know? I'm only a voter...

  3. I bought the bulbs, to save energy. Then noticed the mercury. YIKES!
    The very idea that a mercury bulb is better because it may last a little longer is absurd. Frightening, and absurd.

  4. Perhaps not so absurd in the minds of eco-bulb activists - I'm reminded of Zero Population Growth's origonal aim in the late 60's to save the earth by releasing a virus that would kill only humans.

    You might be interested in this report in our local paper saying that when the things break, the mercury vapour can be absorbed by carpets and curtains, then released over time:

  5. I have a mixture of standard and energy-saving bulbs in my house, and I don't find the light quality that much different. But the addition of mercury seems to be a much greater environmental issue and a somewhat ironic outcome.

    I believe I read recently that some researchers at Cambridge University have been developing a LED/oLED? -based replacement for domestic light bulbs, with commercialisation expected within a few years. That sounds like a very exciting development, and presumably would obsolete both current forms of the technology, both of which are problematic.

  6. The LED-based bulbs will be interesting; but personally I don't find the old bulbs problematic. I realise many disagree on the basis of climate change: I belong to the school of thought that says it's by no means proven whether that change is anthropogenic.

  7. Am trying to answer your points re Tesco - my own blog keeps kicking me off!


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