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Shedding light

Various politicians have turned a virtuous shade of green after ordering that incandescent light bulbs be turned into CFLs in order to save energy, but CFLs may pose some problems:

They require far more energy to manufacture than standard bulbs and are produced with toxic materials; they may require expensive special fittings; they must be kept on longer to run efficiently which means their energy savings are significantly reduced; and they won’t work in ovens or freezers. The quality of the light is also said to be depressing.

The fluid, free, scientific thinking that created the incandescent light bulb would come in handy now.


Working in England, Joseph Swan invented the light bulb in 1860. He based his invention on ideas developed by Humphrey Davy, who invented the first electric light by connecting wires to a battery and a piece of carbon in 1800.

Swan's bulb lacked a good vacuum and an electric source, so he developed an electric source, used a carbonized thread as the filament (the same material Thomas Edison would eventually use), and in 1878 turned on his light bulb. However, he had not mastered the vacuum. Several years later Edison, working in America, produced a commercially viable light that burned for over 1500 hours in an oxygen-free bulb.

Significantly, government had no role in this invention. Since questions have arisen about CFLs, a scientific rather than a political approach might be more rewarding.

Note: If you missed Channel 4’s Global Warming Scandal, you can see it here.