It was winter of 2003 when I purchased my very first compact florescent light bulbs. The packaging said something like, “uses 80 percent energy than regular incandescent bulbs and lasts 5 times longer,” and tearing open the plastic wrapper took a carpet knife and my teeth. The novelty of using the fancy light bulb was so unique that when my neighbours seen it from my kitchen window, they immediately inquired as to where they could get their hands on a couple of them. They were a bit pricey, and the sizes were very limited back then, but they threw a lot more light than the incandescents bulbs at a fraction of the energy.
I was so proud of my purchase, and took every opportunity to tell people about the energy savings and conservation that I proclaimed I had. Soon after most department stores were selling them by the truck loads. At one department store I remember seeing a line up of people that stretched an entire parking lot waiting to get their hands on the latest model of compact florescent bulbs. When I bought mine, they were about $15.00 per unit, and by then the price only went down about 15 percent, so I was not too hard pressed about being the owner of one of the first massed produced lines. However, even today the prices only dropped to half of what they were then, so comparing the cost to buying the incandescent bulbs is still not that economical. When my friend, who is a engineering graduate from UBC, showed me what these new florescent bulbs actually produce, the cost savings in terms of electrical energy is not that impressive, and not even close as to what the manufacture claims on the packaging. He put the bulb that I had purchased from 2003 on his test bench and I was shocked to find that it uses 43.2 watts of power instead of the 27 watts that is printed on bulb. However the bulb does emit almost the equivalent amount of light as a 100 watt incandescent bulb, so I cannot really complain about that. And, the bulb still works today, getting switched on and off at least twice a day.
The real problem I see with everyone jumping towards new technology is that we will throw away the old. Capitalism really functions on this constant transition of consumers buying into the new. So, we all see the need to become eco-friendly and we also see the need to use less energy, but in fact we are using more energy than ever to meet our “eco fashion/bandwagon needs” like the compact florescent light bulbs. It took more energy and materials to create my new compact florescent light bulb than it took to make six (possibly more) incandescent bulbs. The packaging that my compact florescent bulbs came in was unbelievably over packaged, and that went straight into the land-fill. The bulb will eventually make it there too.
I think Earth Day should be more about change rather than finding more ways to sustain our current need to maintain our wasteful life style. Do we really need to drive, have lights one all night and have central air that keeps our homes at a comfy 23C? Maybe wind farms is the way to go, but only if we can kick our fossil fuel habit. I like to see a total transition that would make burning of fossil fuels illegal, and limits as how much waste each person can through out. It is going to be tough to kick this habit, but at least we have Earth Day to ponder these ideas on.