The CFL Controversy Continued: Who Knew?

Wow. Who knew a little CFL piece would spark so many responses, and more importantly so many that were not necessarily in agreement. How great is that? It’s what makes Care2 cool in my opinion, because the people who are reading are thinkers and like to share info. Since so many people popped in with their info, I thought I’d highlight a couple of ideas from responses and then add in what I was planning on writing about this week anyway. Here goes.

• A number of folks wrote in that they felt that any amount of mercury is bad and I fully agree with them on this notion. That said, if you aren’t going to use CFLs you still need to rectify with yourself that your old Edison bulbs are using more energy which is requiring more coal power (in most of the U.S. anyway) and that there is a large amount of mercury coming out of those plants. I’d like to hear from people on specific thoughts on why putting more unchecked mercury into the environment is better than a smaller amount in your control that you can make sure is disposed of properly.

• I should have mentioned this in the last article, but a great resource on recycling just about anything, including CFLs, here in the U.S. is Sadly this is only for the U.S. but maybe folks from other countries can write in with similar resources.

• While it is in the comments from the last article, I also found this resource on CFLs to be intelligent, well written, and very honest about the pros and cons of these bulbs.

• From reading the comments (and I wish I could respond to all the ones I’d like to but time wouldn’t permit) it appears that some people do get migraines from these bulbs and for obvious reasons there’s no point in these households even trying them. I’ve also heard from several people that some older houses with poor wiring and some older dimmers are not compatible with CFLs and therefore, it wouldn’t make sense in these households either.

• Another comment that caught my attention mentioned the environmental degradation that results in China from making these bulbs. I can’t say as I know much about this and would be interested in learning more, but checked at the store and the Edisons I found were also made in China so I’m interested to learn the differences. If anyone has any info please post it up.

I think the greatest thing I learned from the response from last week’s piece is that there is still a lot of misinformation out there about CFLs and a lot of controversy, much of it valid, that surrounds them. Having said that, I feel it’s important to point out that this is a halfway mark. Edison bulbs were invented to create heat and thereby give off light (and ironically were not invented by Edison, but a Brit named Joseph Swan–Edison perfected it using a new type of filament and patented that process). One hundred years or so later, CFLs came out as bulbs that were intended to create light and also gave off some heat, sort of the opposite of the original.

The future will most likely not be CFL-lit and as a result, most of what we have been discussing will eventually be moot (ya know, like in the Rick Springfield song). LED light bulbs have a significant future ahead of them and are quite promising. The bulbs that exist now can be plugged in and run for 10 years and will cost about 80 cents a year to run. Sadly, the two most popular units available right now are extremely expensive and for the average person, will prove to be less than adequate for most uses. But this too shall change and when it does, all of this will be behind us.

So what’s a good greenie to do? Well, while there are no pat answers for everything, there is one that is sure to improve things for most people. Turn your lights off. One of the comments last week mentioned this and I was bummed (and sort of psyched at the same time) that someone beat me to the punch. Some friends of mine tried this a few years back. For two months, they religiously turned their bulbs off every time they were exiting a room and then compared their electric bill to the year before. They ended up shaving 20 percent off their electric bill. No purchases, no confusion, just good old common sense.

Final advice? Do your homework and decide where and if CFLs are right for you. Keep an eye on the LED front and know that they are on the horizon. Train yourself to keep those lights off when not in use. And more importantly, recognize that life is not all or nothing and that doing even a little is better than doing nothing at all.

Dave Chameides is a filmmaker and environmental educator. His website and newsletter are designed to inspire thought and dialogue on environmental solutions and revolve around the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. “Give people the facts, and they’ll choose to do the right thing.”


Ruth R.
Ruth R2 years ago

Now that I got your attention -- the answer is not the kind of light bulb that you use -- the answer is to USE SOLAR-WIND-TIDAL-WAVE -- in ways that do not hurt mankind and the earth.

Ruth R.
Ruth R2 years ago

At least let's let -- people have a choice -- about what kind of light bulb they use !
After reading more comments -- it sounds like people need the choice !

Yes a minute amount of mercury in CFL's.

NO mercury in LED lights.

Thank you for the article ! Sorry for the mix-up.

Please what is in LED Lights -- that mankind may know -- what we are getting into?
1.) What are the material and the chemicles?
2.) How does the process work to form light ?
3.) What effect on people's eyes will LED light have?
4.) Do people truly have the anwers yet ?

At least let's let -- people have a choice -- about what kind of light bulb they use !
After reading more comments -- it sounds like people need the choice !

Still nothing like a good incandescent light bulb !

Ruth R.
Ruth R2 years ago

IF we do not use coal -- and we do use solar - wind- tidal -- in a way that does not hurt mankind and the earth -- as much as possible -- then why bother with new bulbs.
THAT IS -- IF WE DO NOT USE COAL -- AND WE DO USE SOLAR-WIND-TIDAL-WAVE -- -- in the ways that do not hurt mankind and the earth as much as possible -- LET PEOPLE CHOOSE -- THE KIND OF BULB that they would like to use -- skip the coal.

Now that I got your attention -- the answer is not the kind of light bulb that you use -- the answer is to USE SOLAR-WIND-TIDAL-WAVE -- in ways that do not hurt mankind and the earth.

Roger H.
Roger H5 years ago

I can control the recycling of CFL's that I use, but the majority of Americans are going to dispose of them in the trash like they already do with fluorescent light bulbs. They may save energy, but the cost to our environment isn't worth it. If anyone has seen what it is doing to the health of the Chinese people who make these bulbs and their environment, you would be totally against these bulbs!

Electrah DM
Electrah DM6 years ago

Mercury is the 2nd most toxic thing on the planet next to plutonium. We're encasing it in fragile glass and saying it's "under control/" Also, please ignore the fact that CFL's emit radio frequency and dirty electricity. This is reminiscent of the "eco-friendly" plastic lumber that saves the trees, but pollutes the manufacture and the ground at disposal. Good intentions; twisted logic.

Linda W.
Linda W7 years ago

See how these lightbulbs are poisoning Chinese workers, see Excerpt: "Large numbers of Chinese workers have been poisoned by mercury, which forms part of the compact fluorescent lightbulbs. A surge in foreign demand, set off by a European Union directive making these bulbs compulsory within three years, has also led to the reopening of mercury mines that have ruined the environment. "

Kirsten G.
Kirsten G7 years ago

Great article. I am interested in this debate and what would be best. This entry expresses feelings very similar to mine. I agree the best thing to do is to just turn off the lights! :D

Reenie B.
M B7 years ago

Thanks for your balanced advice. It's good to have well-researched and fair information to let people decide if it's something they should act on. I often get confused reading articles in newspapers because they don't give the full story.

Donnie H.
Donnie H7 years ago

I tried compact fluorescent light bulbs, and had to stop using them, in less then an hour. They gave me a migraine, and made me feel nauseous. And, they caused a great deal of interference and distortion in my hearing aid. It was so bad, that I couldn't understand speech at all. I really hope that we will be given a choice of which light bulbs we want to use, because I have no idea what I will do, if incandescent bulbs are banned. Many other people have also said they can't tolerate the compact fluorescent bulbs. What a dilemma.

Linda W.
Linda W7 years ago

Timothy R. asked "are led xmas lights energy efficient compared to lamps?" My understanding is that they are. We went to see a huge holiday light display at the zoo in Tacoma and they used all LED lights because they save electricity. The LEDs bulbs seemed sharper and cooler than old fashioned Christmas lights.