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Inconvenient truth or consequences

February 23, 2007

Wouldn’tcha know it, first on the list of recommended actions consumers can take to do their part to reduce carbon emissions, according to the website for An Inconvenient Truth, is to replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents. OK, I’m in favor of that and have written to that effect elsewhere on this blog.

But even when we’ve been selling the bulbs at our congregation, through our Green Shalom committee, some people have asked questions about the mercury content in CFLs. Comes now a pair of stories on NPR that shed more light (pun intentional) on the problem: “CFL Bulbs Have One Hitch: Toxic Mercury,” 2/15/07 on All Things Considered, and “Fluorescent Bulbs: A Better Idea?,” 2/22/07 on Morning Edition.

For the moment, the best advice is to go ahead and use them — they really are efficient and energy-saving, and the mercury in them won’t hurt you while the bulbs are in use. But there are two important caveats:

1. Be very careful handling them during installation and disposal, as the glass tubes are fragile, and the potential harm is the effect if the bulbs break and the mercury, which is highly toxic, is spilled.

2. Find out what provisions your community has made for safe disposal. Consult the energy-star-logo.gifEnergy Star fact sheet on proper disposal of CFLs.

And I’d add a third:

Write to Al Gore and ask him his ideas on improving the recycling options for CFLs — and then updating the “what you can do” part of the movie’s website! Sorry, I couldn’t find an email address for Al. How inconvenient! 😦

Don’t get me wrong — I like Al. Voted for him before and am keeping an open mind about the possibility of supporting him again if a Draft Al movement is sucessful. Just want to see some consistency between the message in the movie/book/slide show/web, and more oomph behind the actions people can take.

P.S. Go ahead and change those bulbs…but realize there are many steps each of us needs to take just to begin to make a dent toward solving the problem. The cumulative effect of millions of individuals each doing even a couple of small actions can build the kind of momentum we urgently need to assure a future for our kids and grandkids, and later generations.  (There it is again — the Margaret Mead effect…)

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