|This is the lighting on my ceiling fan. On the left are standard incandescent bulbs. |
On the right are new energy efficient LED bulbs.
Initially, I thought the new law was a bad idea, especially for the poor, who will have to pay higher prices for light bulbs at the retail store. I still have mixed feelings about that. However, in the long run, I think this law has great potential for reducing some of our energy costs and likewise reducing the amount of energy that needs to be generated to power this nation of ours. I see great "potential" because there are also great pitfalls to this legislation as well.
In regards to the poor, and families with limited means, I'm afraid we are now stuck with what we have. The price of light bulbs just went up and they're never going to come back down to what they once were before January 1, 2014. So the question now is; how do we make the best of things?
However, there are some problems with CFL bulbs which trouble me deeply, and on many different levels. From a usage standpoint, while they've solved the flickering problem common to florescent lighting, it still takes a little while for a CFL bulb to reach its full lighting potential. On average, from personal experience of using them, it seems to take about 10 minutes for a CFL to truly reach the 800 lumens one would typically see from an incandescent bulb instantaneously upon flicking the light switch. So they're a little on the slow side to reach full lighting potential. However, that would not be such a big problem in and of itself when you consider the energy savings. The real problem I see is health related, as pointed out in this silly but informative video...
Usage of these bulbs allegedly has some negative effect on the human body in what is called "dirty electricity." I am not familiar with the legitimacy of these claims, but supposedly, there are some negative health effects, especially on diabetics. Some people claim the lighting from these bulbs gives them migraines as well.
Beyond that however, there are other well known health risks. You see, in order to make the CFL bulb viable in the market of standard household lighting, it needs to switch on and off like a regular incandescent light bulb. Flickering, which was common among the old CFL bulbs, is a deal killer. Nobody likes a flickering light bulb in their house. Fixing that requires something that is a fair conductor of electricity but simultaneously a poor conductor of heat. The solution was to add about 4 milligrammes of mercury (Hg) gas to each bulb. That's about 500 times the maximum ingestion amount recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Mercury is a neurotoxin and is highly poisonous. Now thankfully, the gas is contained inside the bulb, and you don't ingest any just by using it. However, if one breaks, the gas is released, and if you're nearby, you will likely inhale some. Who knows how much? But it's something you probably don't want to do. This is why the manufacturers recommend opening up all windows and evacuating the area for a while before returning to clean up the debris. Debris should be cleaned up carefully with disposable tape and card stock paper, and nothing should be touched with the bare hand. Mercury gas eventually crystallises back into a solid, but cutting yourself on any of the glass shards presents the risk of getting mercury particles into the bloodstream. Then there are the long-term environmental effects. While people are supposed to recycle CFL bulbs a certain way to prevent environmental pollution, we all know that human nature will produce otherwise. Over the years, we can expect millions and millions of these spent bulbs in our nation's landfills. I don't know what the effect of millions of pounds of concentrated mercury will do to our environment, but I suspect it probably won't be a good thing. Our nation's regular landfills may slowly transform into toxic waste dumps.
This is one reason why I'm getting rid of all the CFL bulbs in my house. Currently, I have moved most of them outside, to outdoor lighting, and the few that remain in the house are contained inside thick globes to protect my children from accidental breakage of the CFL bulb. Eventually I will cycle them all out of my house and my home will be CFL free.
So what is this Catholic blogger's take on the new light bulbs insofar as Catholic teaching on stewardship of the environment? Well I doubt the U.S. Catholic bishops will be making any kind of official statement on this matter. They have much bigger fish to fry. My take on this is as follows. As a Catholic Christian, I believe in being a good steward of the environment God gave us. I don't necessarily subscribe to all the latest scientific theories concerning man-made climate change (global warming), but that's beside the point. Using less electricity helps the environment no matter what theory you subscribe to, so as a good Catholic, that's what I want to do. At the same time I live in the Ozark mountains of Southern Missouri, and anyone who has visited this area knows that income levels are below the national average here. So practical cost effectiveness is a major factor. I am also a husband and a father who deeply cares for his family. I don't want my wife and children exposed to potentially harmful elements.
That being said, this is my personal advice, based on my educated personal opinion. If cost is a major factor in your weekly budget, just buy the standard halogen light bulbs to replace your old incandescent bulbs. They will cost more than the old bulbs, and you won't see any real savings on your electricity bill, but in theory, you should break even in the long run because with halogen you won't have to replace your bulbs as much. Just so you know, halogen isn't particularly good for you if inhaled, but it is nowhere near as toxic as the mercury gas contained in CFL bulbs. As for those swirly CFL bulbs (sometimes hidden in what looks like a standard light bulb shell), on a personal level, and as a personal opinion, I would NOT recommend buying them under any circumstances. I bought some and now I am sorry. I want to get rid of them, but I'm trying to do so in a responsible manner by cycling them out slowly. I will never buy another one now that I know what a danger they can potentially be to my family, friends and guests. As the price comes down on them, they may become more and more attractive, but when I consider the potential health risks to myself and those around me, as well as the potential long-term environmental damage that may soon be caused by them, I just don't think it's worth it.
If you want to save money on your electric bill, and you're on a tight budget, this is what I would recommend you do. Buy a small stock of cheaper halogen bulbs for regular replacement as needed. However, at the same time, if you can afford it, spend an extra $8, the next time you go to the grocery or department store, on one single LED bulb. Keep it ready to use when the opportunity arrives. Repeat this process, about once a month, whenever you visit the grocery or department store, so you're only spending an extra $8 at a time, spread out over months and years. In time the price of these bulbs will drop anyway. However, if you phase them into your house slowly, they won't break your budget, as you gradually gain the benefit of long term lighting, that will eventually save money on your electric bill, and you shouldn't have to replace them again for a very, very long time.
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