Eco-Advantage Blog

January 8, 2007 | Andrew Winston | Jump to: Comments (1) | Post A Comment

Behind the Times

Today we have a guest blog from colleague Seth Bauer (I wanted to write this, but he beat me to it, so let a journalist have his say…)

Seth writes…

In yesterday’s NY Times Week in Review, William Hamilton engages in a 1,000 word sneer against compact fluorescent light bulbs. It makes me wonder:

  1. Where has he been for the last 5 years or so? He acts as if he’s never seen a compact fluorescent light bulb or the kind of light they produce. I stay in pretty nice hotels when I travel, and I haven’t been in one lately that didn’t have compact fluorescents in all of its fixtures. And the bulbs themselves are on the shelf in every store that sells bulbs. Can Mr. Hamilton really live such a rarefied life that he has not seen one?

  2. Whither the NY Times editors and their sense of the utterly specious? They let Hamilton’s three main points stand without challenge, even though two are completely invented and one is scientifically debunked. The first is that we prefer incandescent bulbs because they’re more like fire, and we have an innate attraction to fire. But what if Edison had happened upon gas-based light instead of his filament-based solution? Would all humanity have rejected a simple, low-danger method of lighting the ageless dark? I think not. The second is that compact fluorescents are scary because they’re not “light-bulb” shaped. “Compact fluorescent light bulbs,” Hamilton writes, “with their tight twist of tube, look like ray guns, a Saturday night special from another planet. You feel like you’re arming the house, not lighting it …” Can the sophisticated writers for the world’s most prestigious newspaper really be so easily spooked? Next thing you know, he’s going to have to turn in his Underwood for one of those new-fangled computer things. Finally, he writes about the quality of the light that fluorescents produce. As an esthete myself, I have some sympathy for him here, which is why I choose to light my office with compact fluorescents rather than with the long-tube white versions. But Hamilton quotes a scientist, Russell Leslie, a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., and associate director of its Lighting Research Center as saying, “With current technology, you can’t distinguish the difference unless you see the light bulb,” he said. “We’ve done tests.” Then Hamilton goes on to assume that, unlike someone who has actually studied the effects, people who would really know are decorators and designers from whom the public needs leadership.

  3. What happened to the context? Having pronounced compact fluorescents anthropologically incorrect, intimidating in design, and pooh-poohed by interior decorators, Hamilton is ready to consider them a flop. But he never addresses the underlying premise: Here is a simple, affordable, readily-available device that can save millions of pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year and save consumers money in the process. It is a generation ahead of hydrogen-based cars, widespread solar power, or nearly any other CO2-lowering practice. And its only downside is a theoretical difference in light quality that most people apparently can’t perceive. Maybe Mr. Hamilton should have consulted his energy-efficiency-promoting colleague Tom Friedman before being swayed by the suggestions of Michael Bloomberg’s decorator. —Seth Bauer



On January 8, 2007, Tom Konrad said:

Amen! Where do they dig these guys up?

The Times has actually been doing an excellent series of articles about renewable energy and energy efficiency… at least they had a link to their mostly balanced article about Wal-Mart’s CFL push on the same page: but the picture was a real insult: a blurred, washed out photo of oldstyle fluorescents (most likely magnetic ballasted ones… as opposed to the far superior modern electronic ballasts which are the secret of the modern CFL.)

And that designer they quoted: ““People don’t look too healthy,” he explained. “Human beings base their well-being on how others appear, to establish how we feel about ourselves.””… hasn’t he realized that CFLs make us healthier by reducing emissions from coal fired generation. Even if they did make us look unhealthy (which is true for the ones they were making 10 years ago) it would be well worth it to look unhealthy if we could BE healthy. As it is, with the light indistinguishable, it’s a win-win.


Post A Comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)