Earth Day - Prospects Of Incandescent Bulbs Looking Dim
The light bulb has been with us for some 130 years. There have been changes and tweaks along the way, but for the most part the basic design has remained more or less the same. Whether you're lighting up a room, or cooking a brownie in an Easy Bake Oven, it's no exaggeration to say that the low cost and relative efficiency of the light bulb has shaped our modern world in myriad ways. There is a relatively recent spotlight on one of the costs of the light bulb, the cost to our environment.
The last few years have seen a flurry of development in new sources of illumination. Multi LED arrays and Compact Fluorescent Lights provide the same amount of light at much lower wattages. There is a distinct push toward worldwide adoption of these new light sources. More and more countries have laws on the books that will eventually outlaw (yes, they're really using the word "outlaw") certain wattages of conventional light bulbs in a global effort to reduce pollution.
Many large retailers are celebrating Earth Day by giving out free CFL lights. Others are partnering with municipal power providers to discount these new bulbs to speed mainstream adoption of these new light sources, and it appears to be working. It also puts me in mind of a similar conservation and thrift minded partnership that came before...
In the past, local power companies offered a sort of "light bulb club". Subscribers paid for bulbs as part of their electric bill, and were entitled to pick up an allotment of bulbs at local shops. The idea was to save consumers money while encouraging them to use lower wattage bulbs (some were odd wattages I'd never seen before. A 41 watt bulb?). Or you could be like my boss at my high school job who squeezed the maximum number of light bulbs possible out of the service. The large number of light bulbs pictured came from just such a hoarder, but let's get back to talking about today.
From my casual observation, consumers are accepting of these new bright spots in their lives. The high initial cost is quickly offset by a real savings on the monthly electric bill. The only down sides I see are the clinical bluish cast of such lights. I prefer the warm tones of an incandescent, especially for photography. Also there is a small quantity of mercury in CFL lights. Not enough to be harmful if one breaks, but worth keeping out of the ground. Fortunately many retailers are taking CFL bulbs back for safe disposal and to recycle the electronics within the fixture.
As time goes on, more advanced versions of these alternative light sources will hopefully be a bit more sympathetic to the eye. The outlawing of incandescents in the future excludes low wattage and decorative bulbs, so you'll still be able to enjoy dimmable romantic mood lighting when the spirit strikes. There's no need to run out and replace your Christmas tree strings and night lights. The laws are intended to move the bulk of day-to-day illumination to more environmentally responsible alternatives.
It's a marvel that a modern incandescent bulb still has a lot in common with those of Edison (and the many forgotten inventors and patent holders that got there before him, but that's another story). As we move on to new sources of light, I hope that no matter what moebius strip shaped device we screw into a light socket, we'll still call it a "bulb" as a bit of a tribute. Why not? After all we still "dial" a phone on a keypad - and we don't call its ring an "electronic chirp". As we move toward more environmentally responsible light sources, let's not forget to admire the simplicity of the cheap and reliable incandescent bulbs that made so much more possible for our entire planet for so long.