The battle of the bulb: fluorescents vs incandescents
The arguments for and against switching to fluorescents are interesting. Have your students do the math themselves and determine whether fluorescent bulbs cost more. If the 100 watt fluorescents cost $11.00 per bulb and will last 8,000 hours and incandescents cost 50 cents per bulb but you need to replace them after 750 hours, which bulb saves you money? How much is the difference over the life of the bulbs? How many light bulbs are burning in your home? How many are burning in your school?
Newspapers provide wide coverage of environmental issues. Have your students find and flag all the stories in the newspaper that deal with environmental issues and list the topics (global warming, recycling, etc.).
Is the coverage of environmental issues in your newspaper balanced? For example: Are both sides of an argument presented when an article deals with the threat of global warming or is the existence of the threat treated as fact? Help your students hone their critical thinking skills by dissecting articles on environmental issues.
How many governments does it take to change a light bulb? Quite a few it seems. Lawmakers in several states want to ban ordinary tungsten light bulbs in favor of longer-lasting, energy-efficient compact fluorescents. New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, South Carolina, California, Connecticut, North Carolina and Rhode Island are all considering bills that would phase out traditional bulbs as a way to cut electricity bills and maybe save the planet by cutting power-plant emissions blamed for global warming.
In fact entire nations are trying to go fluorescent. While compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) now account for only six or seven percent of the American market, they comprise 80 percent of the market in Japan. Canada hopes to phase out filament bulbs in their country by 2012; Australia by 2009.
What's the bright idea? Environmentalists say CFLs use up to 75 per cent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, last up to 10 times longer, and, although they are more expensive, can save about $40 in electricity costs over the lifetime of the bulb. Some claim the new bulbs can pay for themselves in six months plus require less frequent changes.
What's wrong with our current light bulbs? One of the problems is that more than 90 percent of the energy used to light thin tungsten filament inside common bulbs goes to waste as excess heat, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).
Why aren't the new bulbs more popular? Aside from their higher initial cost, CFLs are not catching on fast in most American homes because women in particular are less likely to accept the light they throw off according to market research. The Washington Post reports that energy-saving bulbs are a "turnoff for wives," who dislike "their initial flicker, slow warm-up and slightly weird color."
Is there a dark side? There's growing concern about how hazardous the bulbs themselves are to the environment. Mercury, the catalyst that makes the bulbs glow, is also a neurotoxin linked to brain, liver and kidney damage. The small spiral bulbs don't have much mercury in them, but there are lots of those bulbs and that makes them a potential problem in landfills. The government recommends that you use proper precautions when disposing of burnouts or breaks. Consumers are warned not to breathe the dust from a broken fluorescent because of the mercury. And General Electric points out that 90 percent of the compact fluorescent bulbs sold in the United States are imported from China and that an outright ban would greatly affect our job market here.
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