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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bulbs are accelerating global warming : next is mercury contamination

The incandescent light bulb was downright amazing when it was invented in 1809 by Humphry Davy. Nope, it wasn't invented by Thomas Edison -- that's just another American history lie, much like the stories about Christopher Columbus "discovering" America and being some sort of upstanding hero. In truth, he and his men were butchers who committed numerous atrocities against the Native Americans (see The People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn). U.S. history is largely a collection of politically convenient lies, and the story of the invention of the light bulb by Thomas Edison is just one of many such distortions.

Unfortunately, very little has changed about the light bulb since the turn of the 20th century. The device still wastes 95 percent of the electricity it consumes. And thanks to a deliberate design by manufacturers to encourage repeat sales (i.e. they are deliberately engineered to burn out), light bulbs still burn out after about 1,000 hours, requiring consumers to toss them into the garbage and buy new ones. (It's true: Light bulbs were invented in 1991 that last 60,000 hours, but companies refuse to mass produce them, since repeat sales of light bulbs would plummet. The bulbs sold to consumers today are designed to self-destruct.)
Incandescent lights are a safety hazard (glass shards, anyone?) and an environmental hazard, since they produce massive carbon dioxide emissions from the coal power plants used to power these bulbs. They're incredibly cheap to purchase up front, but astonishingly expensive to use over time. A typical incandescent light bulb is ten times more expensive to operate than an LED light bulb. It also produces ten times as much carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming. Want to warm the climate? Turn on the lights!
So why, then, are so many people still using incandescent light bulbs? Primarily because they have no idea what it costs to actually operate them. The fact that these light bulbs are secretly slipping dollars out of your pocket every time they're used seems to go unnoticed by most consumers. All they see is the price tag at the store. And there, incandescent lights look really cheap.
The $500 incandescent light bulbBut what if the price of the light bulb at the store included the entire cost of the electricity needed to actually power the light bulb? If that incandescent light bulb actually lasted 50,000 hours like LED lights do, the cost of buying the bulb together with all the electricity needed to power it would be a whopping $500!. Would you pay $500 for a light bulb?
Of course, incandescent lights don't last 50,000 hours. They last only about 1,000. Which means you have to buy fifty bulbs, replace them fifty times and throw fifty burned out bulbs in the garbage, all while still paying nearly $500 in electricity anyway. In other words, paying for 50,000 worth of light from an incandescent light bulb actually costs MORE than $500!
That's no bargain. Not by a long shot. Especially when a $100 ten-watt LED light bulb can operate for 50,000 hours using only about $54 in electricity. (We're assuming 10 cents per kilowatt-hour for these calculations. Folks in California are paying a lot more than that, but in some states, it's less...)
Would you rather pay $500 for light, or $154? If you love overpaying for stuff, and destroying the environment, and piling more garbage onto landfill, then keep buying incandescent light bulbs! They will raise your electricity bills, fill your trash with shards of glass, use up natural resources and accelerate global warming faster than any other light source on the planet today.
Are Compact Fluorescent Lights the answer?But what about CFLs? Everybody's crazy about CFLs all of a sudden, it seems. People know that CFLs use only about 1/3rd the electricity of incandescent lights. Of course, they flicker and hum, and they take a long time to warm up, but they do save on electricity compared to the extremely inefficient incandescent light bulb. So what's not to like about CFLs?

Mercury, for one thing.
All fluorescent lights contain mercury, period. It's the dirty little secret of the CFL industry. This is mercury brought into your home, and if you break a fluorescent light in your home, you are releasing a powerful neurotoxic heavy metal in your home! Birth defects, neurodegenerative diseases, developmental disorders, dementia... these have all been linked to mercury exposure. It's not even debated in the scientific literature. Even doctors readily admit that mercury is extremely toxic to the human body. (Dentists, of course, remain in bewildering denial and continue to place mercury fillings into the mouths of children, seemingly oblivious to the neurotoxicity of this extremely dangerous heavy metal...)
There's enough mercury in a single fluorescent light bulb to contaminate 7,000 gallons of fresh water.
I cringe to think about how much water could be contaminated by the recent fluorescent light giveaway programs hosted by big box retailers like The Home Depot, which gave away an astonishing 1 million fluorescent lights containing approximately 3 million mg of mercury (that's a whopping 3 kilograms of mercury!). And on what day did they choose to distribute these toxic light bulbs all across the country? Earth Day, of course! (It would all be rolling-on-the-floor hilarious if not for all the deformed babies that will probably result from widespread mercury contamination of our environment...)
So why are people rushing out to buy mercury light bulbs and place them in their homes? Because no one told them about the mercury, that's why! Of the hundreds of consumers I've talked to about this issue, very few (less than 4%) were aware of the mercury in fluorescent light bulbs. Sure, it's printed in microscopic text on the packaging of CFLs, but nobody reads that.
So most consumers keep on buying mercury light bulbs and bringing them right into their homes and communities, oblivious to the extremely hazardous materials found inside each light. I launched because I wanted to provide an eco-friendly alternative to toxic CFLs and wasteful incandescent lights. My aim is to educate consumers about the advantages of LED lights and make them so popular that even Wal-Mart starts selling them, putting my own company out of business.
I will only consider a meaningful success when LED lights are sold at mass merchandisers and incandescent lights become a thing of the past. I hope The Home Depot stops giving away toxic fluorescent lights and starts selling LED lights instead.
Isn't it interesting how the U.S. government requires Energy Saver statistics to be printed on washing machines, dryers and other household appliances, but NOT on incandescent light bulbs (which are, by any measure, the least efficient household appliances of all)? I think we should start with mandated labeling that shows the lifetime cost of each bulb sold at retail so that consumers can start to see the different in the total cost of ownership right there at the point of purchase.
That would, for the first time, make consumers acutely aware of what it costs them to operate a light bulb, not to even mention the cost to the planet.

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