There has been much talk about alternative energy sources again lately, and a lot less talk about reduction of energy consumption. The development of bio fuels is one such topic – the panacea of the new world?? Errrrm but I thought biofuels actually used more calories in production than they released when used?
I have a problem with this search for "new" energy sources. We all accept that oil is fast running out and some people seem to believe that this is a situation which must be avoided at all cost.
Ah! there’s one of those dangerous phrases "At all cost" . This gives BIG business the incentive to amplify their profits even more, it gives governments the opportunity to tax us even further and it gives scientists the perception that they can rape and pillage in order to deliver Utopia.
But if we accept oil is running out, and who doesn’t? and we are also saying that we are not prepared to let the big corporations have an open cheque book to resolve the problem for us, then what are we to do?
Now that’s a better phrase, What are we to do? WE to do? Not what are you to do, or what are they to do, no, what are we to do?
One of the problems with the modern world is that many of us nowadays, are refusing to take responsibility for our actions. We see this in court cases where there is always someone ELSE to blame, we see it in parenting where there is a move to allow children so much freedom that the freedom of the rest of society is jeopardised, we see it in child protection legislation that tends to forget that the majority of children have parents looking after them and that the rest of our society doesn’t need to be protected to that extent. Maybe the first thing we should start to do is to take back some of the responsibility for our actions.
OK. So how exactly is taking back responsibility for our actions going to help the global oil crisis.
Maybe instead of thinking about oil, we should think about energy – after all, they’re virtually the same aren’t they?
Now Al Gore famously called on the Americans to change 5 light bulbs. "If every household in America switched five regular light bulbs for five fluorescent bulbs, it would be the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the highways for a full year".
Now this is a gardening blog and I have an issue with the hijacking of the word bulb to describe a lamp but hey....
Anyway, that is what he claimed, and it’s probably true.
Ah, you noticed the probably, well, I have a caveat. If we're trying to save energy, it’s no use throwing away perfectly good light bulbs and replacing them with new, so Ian says "when a lamp fails replace it with a low energy version". Now, sadly for AL, he rather foolishly suggested that everyone should change to compact fluorescent energy efficient lamps. Now don’t get me wrong, changing to compact fluorescent will make the sort of energy savings Al talked about.
But, is it good enough to just talk about energy, or do we need to think about pollution as well?. If we start down the pollution road we quickly find an interesting situation. After all, don’t we all now know that fluorescent tubes – you know the 4ft or 8ft long things in offices – sometimes referred to as neons, don’t we all know that they are now considered hazardous waste because of pollutants contained within them.
Now it’s important that you know these tubes are fluorescent tubes because then you’ll see the flaw in Al telling everyone to change to – oh yes - compact fluorescent tubes – so like, compact makes that much difference!
I need to explain, very briefly how all this works before I go on. I apologise to the lighting engineers amongst you who can skip this whole paragraph.
An ordinary light bulb – the incandescent lamp, was invented by Edison in 1880 – well ok not actually invented.
The first electric light was an electric arc (still used today for high performance lamps such as spotlights at rock concerts and large cinema projection systems) invented in England by Humphrey Davy in 1800. Then in 1878 the English physicist Sir Joseph Wilson Swan demonstrated his new electric lamps, with a carbon paper filament ,in Newcastle, England. They worked well but the carbon paper filament burnt out quickly.
In 1879, the American inventor Thomas Alva Edison discovered that a carbon filament in an oxygen-free bulb glowed but did not burn up for 40 hours. Edison eventually produced a bulb that could glow for over 1500 hours.
What Edison did that no-one else on the trail had done was to register his patent in 1880. So in 1880, Eduson registered the first patent for an electric light bulb.
Now Edison was trying to make a light, he didn’t need to worry too much about efficiency and his light worked, it converted most of the energy to heat but it worked and gave off quite a bit of light.
In 1907 Edison patented his invention of a fluorescent lamp but it wasn’t until the 1930’s that GE of America really started to develop fluorescent lighting as an energy efficient light source.
The important bit about how the lamp works is that the electricity causes mercury vapour to discharge some invisible light and that in turn is turned into visible light by phosphor coatings on the inside of the tube. It is the mercury vapour that makes these lamps a hazardous waste.
Break the tube and you release mercury. Mercury is a toxic metal associated with contamination of water, fish, and food supplies
Now just how toxic is toxic?? Well, official advice from the Department of the Environment in the UK states that if a low-energy compact fluorescent lamp is smashed, the room needs to be vacated for at least 15 minutes. That toxic huh? Now note that I’ve moved on to low energy lamps, the modern low energy lamp. The compact fluorescent lamp – vacate for 15 minutes if one gets broken.
OK – so maybe the UK is being over cautious, here is some advice from an American website:
The mercury in compact fluorescent bulbs poses no threat while in the bulb, but if you break one:
- open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more
- use a wet rag to clean it up and put all of the pieces, and the rag, into a plastic bag
- place all materials in a second sealed plastic bag- call your local recycling center to see if they accept this material, otherwise put it in your local trash. Wash your hands afterward.
So after all this rambling where have we got to.?
We want to save energy and save pollution. To do this we are going to replace the light bulbs in our house when they fail with a better option.
All we have to do now is find the better option – and there's a big problem.
The only better option I can find is daylight. Stop thinking about artificial light and put back some daylight.
So next time a light bulb fails start to ask yourself whether a window would be a better option!
If not then maybe one of the new LED lamps. There is a 32 watt LED lamp that is designed as a street lamp. There is no mercury pollution but there are still phospors involved and there is talk of a risk of cancer for people working on the manufacture of LEDs. Other pollutants are present, after all, when all the hype is over, an LED is a solid state device and I presume there will be a level of lead solder present in the manufacture White LED’s containYttrium Aluminum Garnet and Gallium Nitride with links to Alzheimers being suggested for aluminium pollution, and pollution of groundwater by Gallium, Indium, and Arsenic being found near semiconductor manufacturing plants.
Of course, making glass for that window??
Finally, I want to tell you how I came to write this piece and thank some of those unbeknownst contributors.
A few days ago there was a discussion on Kitchen Garden International which a few of us hijacked and started to talk about low energy light sources and pollution. Kate, over on http://hillsandplainsseedsavers.blogspot.com/
Then someone else on KGI posted a link to Micheal Pollan’s new article "Why Bother" http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/magazine/20wwln-lede-t.html?_r=3&oref=slogin&pagewanted=all&oref=slogin
which I read and liked.
Then I visited Patrick’s Bifurcated Carrots site http://www.patnsteph.net/weblog/?p=325 and he had a piece about the Pollan article
So all this weighed on my mind and then today, a lamp failed and I had to replace it. I didn’t have a CFL or an LED lamp so I had to use an incandescent and that is when I started to write!
Don’t do as I do but do as I say!
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