By Max Davidson
Published: 7:00AM BST 25 Aug 2009
If you have missed this story, it is probably because you have been reading your daily newspaper in such poor light that you have given up the struggle.
Since January 1 this year, when
leading retailers announced a voluntary ban on stocking traditional 100-watt
incandescent light bulbs, those glorious domestic globes with their
Rubens-esque curves, the lights have been going out all over
From September 1, shops will no longer be able to buy incandescent opaque light bulbs, which will be banned across the European Union, with the objective of slashing energy bills and carbon dioxide emissions.
It is a noble ambition, in tune with the environmentally-conscious Zeitgeist. Tony Blair probably felt a 100-watt glow of pride as he and his fellow heads of government waved through the proposal at a European Council meeting in March 2007. But the implementation of the new EU directive looks set to cause a worse headache than reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica by candlelight.
How many people even know about
the ban? And will all shopkeepers apply it with equal rigour? We are in for one
of those periods of retail chaos that seem to originate in
And I don't mind admitting that, in matters of light-bulb morality, I am on a par with the Germans. On Saturday, I nipped out to the shops to buy replacement pearl bulbs while stocks last. I will give way eventually, change to the new CFLs, do my bit for the environment. I just don't see why I should read my morning paper lit by something that looks like a lavatory U-bend. It's too depressing.
"There is a certain amount of consumer resistance to CFLs," says Lizzie Ruffles, of the consumer magazine Which?. "People think – wrongly, on the evidence – that the new bulbs are less bright than conventional ones. New technology always worries people – very similar concerns were expressed when we moved from gas lamps to electricity. The main weakness of the CFLs, which we have surveyed, is not their brightness but the fact that they start to dim sooner than their manufacturers say they will."
In terms of energy saving, the case for the new lights is compelling. Government figures suggest that a typical home will save £37 a year on electricity bills by installing low-energy fluorescent and halogen bulbs, while national carbon emissions will be slashed by an estimated five million tons a year. The new CFLs, which cost around £3 each and in theory last six or seven years, use about a fifth of the energy of a conventional bulb.
"The new bulbs will help you save money and energy," says Paula Owen of the Energy Savings Trust. "And by saving energy, you'll be helping to fight climate change, too."
A survey by the Trust found that half the people questioned could not tell the difference between the traditional bulbs and the new energy-efficient ones. But, unfortunately, I am not one of them. There is a difference, and it devalues the argument to skate over it.
Aesthetically, many of the CFLs I have seen are too hideous for words. Compared with the warm glow of traditional 100-watt bulbs, they give off such a cold, unnatural light that the overall effect is incredibly dispiriting, like a mortuary or a cheap tanning salon. What is the point of saving the planet if we are all going to turn into zombies as a result of the dehumanising quality of our lit environment?
The irony is that, during the period in which we have all become more aware of the importance of energy conservation, many of us have also become much more picky about the lamps we buy. An Italian chandelier here, a glass wall-light there, a concealed spotlight there. We light up the domestic comedy of our lives in loving detail. We are aesthetes as well as eco-warriors.
With luck, we will be able to muddle through, and eventually come up with light bulbs that are both energy-efficient and visually pleasing. But we may have to endure some fairly grim lighting during the transitional period – not to mention wasting time, energy and money buying state-of-the-art light fittings that refuse to go into the sockets for which the shopkeeper insisted they were designed.