The modern florescent lamp was first conceived by Peter Cooper Hewitt in the late 1890s and they were initially used for large industrial buildings and photographic studios.
This technology was later applied in the first commercially practical compact florescent light bulb (CFL) designed by George Inman and the General Electric Company. Although this development was designed over 70 years ago it was the forerunner to the modern CFL invented by Ed Hammer and General Electric in response to the 1973 oil crisis. Although a successful design, the invention wasn’t manufactured due to the expensive costs of production and the potential investment needed. The design was subsequently leaked and copied by other leading manufacturers leading to a gradual increase in usage and continued improvements.
Due to the rising cost of electricity in both the UK and the US many households and business, keen to reduce costs, have switched there lighting to CFL bulbs as they are on average 10 times more efficient. CFLs also help to reduce carbon emissions leading to a planned phase-out by the EU ensuring incandescent bulbs are no longer available by 2011. Despite the potential cost saving gained there remain staunch critics to CFL energy saving bulbs in the popular press. Much of this criticism involves popular myths associated with ‘energy savers’ that have long since been ironed out by manufacturers.
With headlines such as ‘Environmentally friendly light bulbs ‘can cause skin cancer’’ (2008) and ‘Revolt! Robbed of their right to buy traditional light bulbs’ (2009) the Daily Mail is leading the campaign against Energy Saving bulbs. Such reports have been slammed by the government and the Lighting Association as irresponsible ‘scare stories’ to sell newspapers and last year the Energy Saving Trust set out to convert the public by introducing the ‘Pepsi Challenge’. This survey, to study people’s reactions to energy saving bulbs, allowed people to enter two different rooms, one lit by energy savers and the other by traditional light bulbs. The study found that half the people could not tell the difference and additionally 2 out of 3 people preferred the energy saving ones.
Concerns over the mercury content of energy saving bulbs have also been one of the papers ‘buzz topics’. Realistically however most modern CFLs use amalgam, a mercury substitute that is completely safe to handle, transport and store and poses no direct risk to humans or the environment. Other bulbs use recycled mercury and their price included a recycling charge making them far more environmentally friendly than incandescent bulbs.
With climate change a continual threat to our way of life, is it irresponsible for the Daily Mail to wage war against energy saving products? The paper reported almost continually throughout the beginning of the recession on ‘money saving tips. There promotion earlier this year to distribute a free 100w bulb to every reader has been criticised by some environmental groups as ‘climate suicide’.
The paper tends to use outdated views of CFLs to convince its readership that they are being policed into buying something they don’t want. However, is it not true that in many aspects of our advanced capitalist society? Indeed wasn’t the UK’s newspaper media guilty of ‘barging out’ the smaller niche newspapers in order to create a greater market share (and limited consumer choice).
As paper news becomes ever more obsolete, newspapers need bigger gimmicks and more shocking headlines to shift units, this results in more questionable facts and more outlandish claims. I encourage anyone to seek a balanced view in the topic, and I am confident that reducing energy cost and carbon emissions is a good thing. I encourage you to take a look at Greenhouse Organisation should you require energy saving light bulbs.