Monday, August 31, 2009

Europe Says Goodbye to the Bulb

Starting tomorrow the European Union will start phasing out incandescent light bulbs in favor of compact florescent lights (CFLs). The bad news is that the United States will launch its own ban on the bulb in January of 2014 in another case of replacing a reliable old technology with an inferior modern one.

We're all familiar with florescent lights - they hang above our office cubicles, doctor's offices and bus station waiting rooms. Unfortunately CFLs will soon bathe our homes in the same harsh light as our offices, waiting rooms and bus stations, apparently whether we want them to or not. Migraine sufferers complain that CFLs also trigger their headaches, though the lighting industry disputes this. But perhaps what's worst about the CFL is what's inside of them - namely mercury. So if you drop a CFL in your house, you've got your own hazardous waste spill to clean up.

Seriously, the EPA even has a webpage of instructions on how to clean up a CFL, that includes: evacuating the room for 15 minutes, disposing of the broken bulb in a sealed container, disposing of any rags/cloths you use to clean up the broken bulb in another sealed container, and if you get any broken glass dust from the bulb on your clothes, you should probably throw them out as well (honestly). A study by Maine's Dept. of Environmental Protection even found that if a CFL breaks on your carpet, the carpet can still release mercury vapors months later (so maybe throwing the rug out isn't a bad idea either).

By now you're probably asking, there must be a reason why we're being compelled to use CFLs? We're told they'll save energy, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The Earth Policy Institute even claims that if all incandescent light bulbs in the USA were replaced with CFLs, we could shut down 80 coal-fired power plants - which is roughly the number of coal-fired power plants that China will open this year alone. And therein lies my biggest problem with CFLs - we could replace all of our light bulbs, we could even walk around our houses in the dark for that matter, but the energy and related greenhouse gas savings for the global environment are meaningless so long as China keeps opening coal-fired power plants at the rate of one or two a week, which is China's policy into the forseeable future. CFLs only provide our politicians a way to make it look like they're 'doing something for the environment' when really they're not and for big business to make another quick buck by pretending to be 'green'.
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