Sunday, February 19, 2012

Should the Filament Bulb be banned?

First published in the Stylus Magazine of Reliance Retail, December 2007

I recently came across a campaign by Greenpeace to get the light bulb banned in India, on account of it being the most inefficient light source possible. Apparently, a majority of the energy consumed by the ubiquitous light bulb (GLS or General Lighting Series Lamps) is lost as waste heat, and by switching to alternatives like Fluorescent tubes and CFL's (Compact Fluorescent Lamps), India could apparently save millions of tons of Carbon Dioxide emissions. Such emissions have been identified as the possible culprit in the altering global weather patterns, these past few years.

While I sincerely believe that the developed nations or the first world nations have to shoulder a major part of the blame for the degradation of the environment and consequently take the front line in the shouldering of responsibility towards the cutting back of carbon in the atmosphere, and India has the onerous responsibility of first providing a decent standard of living to all its citizens before worrying about such lofty ideals as the environment, in the current globalized scenario, I feel that it is perhaps prudent that we ought to be trying to achieve that by adopting technologies that will not gas the world into oblivion, even while improving the lot of our people. Towards this goal, the developed nations should ideally be providing investments and infrastructure at affordable costs to large nations like India and China to ensure that we do not follow in their polluting footsteps.

Indeed, the Per Capita Carbon generated by India is a minuscule fraction of that generated in the US or UAE, the total quantum of carbon generated by India adds up to a serious sum, and as we are all aware of the need to cut back ones' carbon footprint, India needs to undertake some measures. One such measure is the adoption of energy efficient lighting solutions and hence there is much merit in supporting this ban; however the flip side of the coin that one needs to consider are the following:

§  India has still a long way to go before the dream of power and lighting being made available to every citizen of our country. By banning the bulb which is very inexpensive to buy may put a spoke in the efforts of the government (when it puts in such an effort) to make the above dream come true. However, if the bulb is indeed banned, then more people will buy CFL's (which is the best alternative to GLS bulbs) bringing to effect economies of scale in their manufacture and perhaps, bring the costs down considerably.

§  We have many very small scale factories and cottage industries that are dependant on the manufacture of the light bulb for the livelihood of many thousands of people. By banning the bulb, will we perhaps be taking away their only source of income? A very sobering thought, as we face a minor social problem that will require the intervention of the government to provide alternate means of livelihood for these people. I suppose we also need to consider the fact that global warming and adverse weather will kill more people every year worldwide and hence, perhaps should justifiably be treated as the greater evil!

§  Lastly and perhaps most importantly, CFL's are very dangerous and can be a real challenge to recycle / dispose safely because the coating they contain is made using mercury. It would be a disaster if we just threw away our millions of CFL's every year, as the mercury would find its way into the ground and surface water sources and kill millions of birds, fishes and other wildlife, and in turn humans who consume them. For sure, we will require a legislation that will make it mandatory for manufacturers to collect back fused CFL's while selling replacements, and to recycle them suitably.

The moot question here is, Will our government have the vision and the sagacity to promulgate such a law? Your guess is as good as mine, (I guess!!). Maybe some day it is bound to happen?? (One hopes and prays).

Thus, all things considered, I decided to support the petition as I felt that we had no real choice - just look at the summer weather in Europe and the floods in India during the monsoon! I thought it was a good idea to seek your support for the movement to ban the bulb, and I have advocated the same to all my friends and contacts.

Hemanth Sharma

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