In my endeavor to learn more about environmental education, I’ve been reviewing lots of different topics that impact how we as individuals can conserve energy and precious resources. My goal is to help facilitate people’s (present company included) transition to more holistic living when it comes to how we think about energy and resource use in this world.
Sometimes, we need more motivation to act, but problem-focused discussion can leave plenty folks feeling depleted. So, many columns and how-to’s pinpoint the easy ways to go green.
Inevitably posted in the top 10 actions is “changing your light bulbs”. That’s because, reportedly, lighting can suck up about one-third of the energy consumption in the US, or about 15% of the average household bill. And with incandescent bulbs, about 90% of the energy used is “wasted” as heat…
The solution of recent popular notoriety is CFL’s, compact florescent lights. Now, one could swallow the pill and pray, or do some serious investigating. My search has found plenty reason to put some speed bumps on the CFL highway. While their energy and resource consumption seem to be truly more efficient than incandescents, CFL’s pose other under-studied health threats to workers and, possibly, some users.
Do CFL’s really use less energy than incandescent bulbs? The answer I found was yes, even through the recycling process–mandatory for CFL use to be remotely sustainable–CFL’s appear to be the more “energy” efficient of the bulb types. So that’s not necessarily my issue.
Regardless, my main concern is still the mercury involved in bulb production. Because CFL’s contain mercury in a gas form (inside the bulb tubing), they can be leaked into the environment if a bulb breaks. It may also stand a chance of getting leaked into you…
Or the workers who make them. This is where my concerns arise. Demand in “developed” nations is all too often marred with the debilitation of workers in transitional economies, like China. In the case of CFL’s, there’s been word of worker and water poisoning stemming from CFL production to feed the EU market which has officially banned incandescent bulbs.
ASIDE: Okay, now if you look deeply into the Times publishing company that I referred to with the worker poisoning story, you’ll find as I have that this is owned by the News Corp, aka, Fox News, aka Murdoch. Is this not just a bizarre circumstance in which conservative press pushers have actually condoned a warning implemented by the Chinese government? strange Times.
Well, I know by gut instinct that if mercury is involved in the production, it’s going to affect at least some workers in some capacity. I’ve never before stopped to think about who’s putting LCD screen or battery pieces together… so much to think about! But one question I can ask myself is, do I need to add more to the waste stream? Recycling electronics is another topic for exploration.
Additionally, CFL’s, among plenty of other electronics, emit “Dirty Electricity” or “electrosmog“. Anyone heard of this? This is some really geeky information here. Dirty electricity and UV (i.e. radiation) is emitted from florescent lights, and these inputs appear to cause symptomatic flare-ups in asthmatics, diabetics, and Multiple Sclerosis sufferers. My mom and my younger brother are diagnosed with MS. I’m not recommending CFL’s to them anytime soon. I think I’d try something like a “dirty energy filter” instead, which are supposed to block high energy wavelengths from cfl’s and electronics. Such technology could be useful for neurological and immunological disorders or other allergies.
Does that mean consuming more mercury for our lighting is just something we have to put up with?
I don’t think so. There are LED lights that deliver energy and light without mercury, and they have longer lifetimes than CFLs. They are quite pricey compared to CFLs and they don’t carry the same brightness levels either. However, the technology seems to be improving, so keep an eye out for them.
And until LEDs are an option for you, try finding ways to retool your energy sources. Like switching into a renewable energy program. Their may be one in your area. In NY, one must contact their current service provider, and ask for their renewable energy plan option. There’s also 1BOG, a very interesting collective buying model that could bring solar energy to your neighborhood.
With a change like this, and lowering your energy consumption in general by unplugging outlets or using specially designed power strips, you may just be able to wait out the lighbulb debate.
Either way we should recycle all bulbs when their time has come, RIP.
Speaking of RIP, oil lamps have been used in Eastern Orthodox churches as votives. You can use low grade olive oil–renewable, non-toxic–or another renewable, cheap vegetable oil indigenous to your region, to burn a wick in any glass jar and make them for your home! Classy and vintage.
Or maybe this brother Evans Wadongo, working things out in Kenya with his invention of solar powered LED lanterns, will light up a trend…