Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Let There Be CFL

I've just watched Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.

Disturbing. Infuriating. Shame-inducing. It makes me want to reject my species.

What can one do?

Individually, not a whole lot. But if we all bought CFL lightbulbs, it might start something.

I had vaguely heard something about them on NPR and so bought them today on a whim.

Then I got home and felt stupid--I had paid $7.58 for a three-pack of CFLs with a brightness equivalent to 60 watts--when a four-pack of regular 60-watt bulbs cost 77 cents. Didn't seem smart.

But now, feeling more informed and less greedy, it seems to have been a good investment. Why? Watch Gore's film and, for more specific CFL information, read How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change the World? One. And You're Looking At It.


Stephanie said...

I think that your CFL bulbs will last a lot longer though, right?

Elizabeth said...

Yes--although not long enough to make up for cost. The regular bulbs last 1000 hrs; the CFL last 8,000 hours. But the unit cost of the regular bulb (19 cents) multiplied by 8 ($1.54) is still lower than the unit costs of the CFLs ($2.52). What makes the CFL bulb woirth the extra cost is the energy savings--the FastCompany article I link to notes that CFLs use 75-80% less electricity and that "if every one of 110 million American households bought just one [CFL]bulb, took it home, and screwed it in the place of an ordinary 60-watt bulb, the energy saved would be enough to power a city of 1.5 million people. One bulb swapped out, enough electricity saved to power all the homes in Delaware and Rhode Island. In terms of oil not burned, or greenhouse gases not exhausted into the atmosphere, one bulb is equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads." So it is worth it in the long run!

Jess said...

This article is fascinating - the novelty of WalMart throwing its weight around for good purposes.

However, the implications for GE are still pretty disturbing - they're shutting down a factory in St. Louis that manufactures incandescants, in favor of manufacturing more CFLs in China - "To make each spiral, a Chinese worker wearing gloves takes a tube of glass, holds it over an open flame, then wraps the heat-softened tube around a metal form."

Wouldn't it behoove WalMart to help GE establish these jobs in this country?

Stephanie said...

Wal-Mart seems only to respond to extreme financial pressure, no?

Elizabeth said...

No, I don't think it would behoove Wal-Mart to help GE establish these jobs in this country. What would be its incentive to do so if China can make them cheaper? We will still buy light bulbs, and most of us will buy Chinese light bulbs if they are cheaper than American light bulbs.

It seems to me that this is a battle that US industry and its workers cannot win--the globalized economy is not going to go away. I think we have to come to grips with the fact that we are not the most efficient producers of some goods and that we have to find a different niche in the global marketplace.

I am originally from the “rust-belt” and have many family members working for the declining auto-industry. I have great anxiety about what our industrial workers will do; but I also think that Chinese people deserve employment and a chance at greater development. If they are globally competitive, it seems that they have as much right to employment and product as we do.

I do think it is amazing when open market capitalism /globalization pushes an industry into a more sustainable path. The book The Wal-Mart Effect mentions other examples of this—e.g., how Wal-Mart has reduced packaging on some products (remember when deodorant came in boxes?) so that they can reduce cost and fit more product on shelves—and they save thousands of trees and produce much less landfill in the process!

Sue said...

I got some at costco today! We got a good deal on them too because of a manufacturer's rebate.
So I'll start plugging in and see how they work. :)

At the children's museum today they had a display where the kids could hit a switch and turn two light bulbs on at the same was a normal bulb and the other a CFL. Then there was a sign next to it that said how many days ago the bulbs had been changed. The normal light bulb had been changed 14 days ago, and the CFL hadn't been changed in over 400 days!!!

Elizabeth said...

Hey there, Sue--that's VERY cool. Matt seemed resistent to the idea of CFL beucase he didn't like the light quality, but I have mine in my bed-side reading lamps, and the quality seems fine to me. ???

Anonymous said...

One wonders about the ramifications of the original statements of the impact 110 million households changing one small thing would have on the energy load....

Perhaps more standards as to energy efficiency for homes, even existing structures (such as the auto industry has) would change things faster, and more radically?

Elizabeth said...

Absolutely right, anonymous.

However, using CFLs is a small step I can take now. It is personal and immediate.

Lobbying to upgrade home efficiency standards is a longer term process (with, I grant you, greater yields).

In my more optimisitc moods, I believe that small steps lead to larger steps. Raising the awareness of mainstream America by getting them to think about their own energy consumption may lead to them thinking of higher impact issues...?

The whole "110 million households" thing is propaganda, but for me it is propaganda with the right message.