Is Change Too Tedious To Be Undone? A Perspective On Energy Efficiency

Posted on November 25, 2010 in Specials

By Tong Niu:

Lately, the news has been less than pleasant to read. With an unstable economy, an ever increasing amount of fossil fuels released into the atmosphere and obesity rates on the rise, it’s hard to see the positives in our world. Every, new technological advancement seems to bring an equal, if not greater, set back. Cell phones cause driving accidents and radiation-induced brain damage, social networks lead to constant distractions and a decline in face to face interaction and synthetic growth hormones are negatively altering child development, causing young boys and girls to go through puberty at a shockingly young age.

And while it is important to understand and acknowledge current problems, often times we take what we read too seriously and fail to see how much society has progressed. We are led to believe that the bad in the world is significantly greater than the good and that our efforts to battle economic, social and environmental problems are in vain. With the media focusing more on natural disasters, wars and national deficit, a general sense of hopelessness pervades our society, making us less hopeful and willing to change.

It took a rather off topic physics class to help me reconnect with my inner optimist.

The lesson was regarding power and energy. Since its invention in 1809 by Humphry Davy, an English chemist, the light bulb has been an integral part our lives. The first light bulbs were made using tungsten filament to conduct electricity. In a typical 60 watt light bulb, 60 joules of energy are emitted every second. However, these light bulbs are inefficient in that 90% of the energy is emitted as heat and only 10% is emitted as visible light.

Next came the compact fluorescent bulbs, shaped funnily like curlicues. These innovative bulbs not only use less energy to produce and power, but also last longer. To produce the same amount of light energy, a compact fluorescent bulb requires only 15 watts, compared to the 60 watts in an incandescent bulb. Unfortunately, these bulbs contain poisonous mercury.

With advancements in technology, even the fluorescent bulbs have become outdated. Now, the Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are the most popular source of lighting. Small and compact, these bulbs require only 5 watts to achieve the same effect as the 60 watt incandescent bulb. And these come mercury free.

While we may only read about America being the largest electricity consumer in the world, we need to also keep in mind the scientific progress achieved in the field of energy efficiency. To think that the damage, in whatever field that may be, is too great to be undone is factually incorrect. When we ignore the positive steps society has taken towards social, economic, and environmental reform, we discredit the work scientists and researchers have put in. Rather than always focusing on the negative, we must celebrate and encourage more of the positive. When we show others that there is still hope, that’s when people can truly begin to fight.

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