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March 5, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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R.I.P The Incandescent Light Bulb, 1878 – 2010

The incandescent light bulb passed an electric current through her tungsten filament for over a century, producing warmth and a yellowy light each time. She was born twice – simultaneously, to Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison – in 1878. And although her parents did not at first see eye to eye – fighting a custody battle over the child’s patent – they eventually came together to form the Ediswan company and the world’s first mass production of artificial light. Apart from some tinkering with her filament’s metallic make-up (to prevent blackening of the glass), she remained largely unchanged as the standard household light. That is, until she was struck by the Warming of the Globe.

With all that humming and glowing, the incandescent light bulb wasted 90% of her energy input on heat, accounting for a full one-fifth of the world’s electricity usage. And as mankind were too busy breeding and consuming to stop wasting light, she would have to go. In 2005, the Cuban and Venezuelan governments announced an end to these wasteful light bulbs and handed out free energy-savers.

Earlier this year, John Howard announced his intention to follow his Communist forebears in phasing out incandescence by 2010 (sans the free replacement bulbs). Ideally, his plan should save 1-4,000,000 tons of CO2 per year, depending on who you ask. Hushed public mutterings regarding Aotearoa followed suit.

The Castro-Howard plan signified the consignment of the incandescent bulb to history, making it obsolete in the way that using oven-heated bricks to warm our beds is obsolete. This is sad for many reasons – not least the incadescent’s warm and yellowy glow upon comparison to the clinical flicker of the fluorescent energy saver – but ultimately laudable. Saving mankind from extinction = good thing to do. Mankind = funny, worth watching.

However, this plan cannot hide other, more wasteful uses of energy taking place with the full support of these supposedly energy-friendly governments. Take, for example, the Royal Australian Air Force’s fighter fleet of 71 ‘F/A-18 Hornets’ and 26 ‘F-111 Aardvarks’, which are allowed to purr through fuel and churn out waste without producing any actual perceivable benefit for anyone. If Mr. Howard insists on continuing to run such machines, his death-knell for the incandescent bulb is rather like pissing on a candle as his house burns down.

Similarly, the benefits of adopting such a rule in New Zealand are minimal- 60% of our power is hydro-generated, so while we would be saving electricity, we cannot view fluorescent bulbs as emission saviours. Given that 50% of our carbon emissions are agricultural, what we really require are energy-efficient, non-emitting cows. And for that, we will have to embrace genetic engineering… moo.

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About the Author ()

Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

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