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The PristinePlanet.com Newsletter
10 March 2007 — Issue #29
Editor: Michael J. Ross
Environmental News
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Incandescent Bulb's Future Not Bright

Humans have an innate urge to control their environment, and this includes the illumination of that environment. For most of our time on Earth, we have had to make the most of natural lighting, which consisted of light provided by the stars — primarily the one closest to Earth, the sun. Those ancestors of ours found their daily schedules dictated largely by sunrise and sunset, just as it does for all other diurnal creatures. It wasn't until we learned how to control fire, that we were able to extend the hours of safe wakefulness, and to light up recesses of our world that had previously known only eons of darkness. The fire torch, despite its low-tech design, allowed the bravest of the group to explore the deeper and darker parts of the cave — literally and figuratively. It also allowed man to make a step forward in productivity — and a step backward in health — with the introduction of the world's first "all-nighter".

Yet even in the most imaginative dreams of the fire-taming cave dwellers, they certainly could not have conceived of a day, hundreds of thousands of years later, when a lowly office worker could begin another modern-day all-nighter simply by flicking a plastic switch on a wall, thereby illuminating an entire acre of cubicles. For this history-changing capability, our grumbling cubicle slave can thank the inventors and developers of incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs. These electromechanical pioneers include Sir Humphry Davy, an English physician, who as early as 1801 created the first rudimentary incandescent light, by passing an electrical current through platinum strips. Thin metal filaments can serve as simple media through which to pass electricity, but they tend to burn out after little time — to which any homeowner can attest who has made the mistake of using an incandescent light bulb in a hard-to-reach place. A wiser choice, in such a case, would be a fluorescent bulb, whose origins date back to the second half of the 19th-century, and the pioneering efforts of German physicist Heinrich Geissler and Serbian genius Nikola Tesla. They and other scientists chose media that would never physically deteriorate like metals, namely, gases.

Incandescent bulbs have other disadvantages compared to their fluorescent counterparts, known as compact fluorescent lamps (CFL): They generally consume five times as much electricity to produce the same amount of light. That wasted energy — up to 95 percent! — takes the form of heat, which is usually unwanted, especially by the hapless homeowner who mistakenly touches a bulb that has been burning for some time. In addition, CFLs last four to ten times longer. Proponents of incandescent bulbs are quick to point out that they are much cheaper. But that is only true from the short-term perspective typical of far too many modern consumers. Over the long haul, fluorescent bulbs incur far fewer total costs, due to their much greater longevity and energy efficiency. For example, a single 20W CFL will provide about the same amount of light during its lifetime as 15 100W incandescent light bulbs.

The environmental advantages of replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones, may alone be sufficient to make it worthwhile, partly because use of the latter could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 60 to 70 percent. In the UK alone, for instance, such a policy would reduce the quantity of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by 2.3 million metric tons per year. Extending that policy throughout Europe, for all new lighting, would achieve reductions of approximately 24 million metric tons. Critics of CFLs note that they contain trace amounts of mercury, unlike incandescent bulbs. However, these levels are only a third of what is released into the atmosphere by power stations burning fossil fuels in order to produce the extra power required by incandescent lighting — to say nothing of all the other airborne pollutants.

The ecological benefits of fluorescent lighting have now become so obvious that even government officials are beginning to take notice — especially those in a former English colony, though it is not the United States. By the year 2010, Australia will have completely phased out all standard incandescent light bulbs, according to Malcolm Turnbull, the country's Federal Environment Minister. It is estimated that this new mandate will, by 2012, reduce Australia's greenhouse emissions by four million metric tons, and cut household lighting costs by up to 66 percent.

Speaking of gaseous emissions, Turnbull's counterpart within the US federal government, EPA head Steve Johnson, participated in the annual "Change a Light, Change the World” campaign in October 2006, in which the EPA, DOE, and HUD asked Americans to promise to replace a single incandescent light bulb during an entire year. An EPA press release boasted, with no apparent irony, that these changes comprise "small energy-saving actions". Not waiting for the US federal government to make a sizable difference, retail giant Wal-Mart has been strongly encouraging its customers to adopt CFLs, and has vowed to get CFLs into 100 million homes during 2007. In the United States, there is plenty of room for progress, as only six percent of households use CFLs. Wal-Mart's campaign reportedly met with resistance from light bulb manufacturers, competitors, and consumers.

Despite the hurdles faced by CFLs, it is likely that that the incandescent light bulb will eventually join the fire torch as an obsoleted technology no longer used for lighting modern man's cave.

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Brilliant Earth

Diamonds, rare stones, gold, and platinum have been treasured by mankind for millennia, partly because of their unequaled durability over time, both physical and monetary. Yet a more common reason for this time-honored demand is their undeniable beauty, even in their raw form, after being extracted from the earth. However, these mining operations have a track record that is anything but beautiful — marred by strip mining, arsenic-based leaching, and other ecologically detrimental practices, in addition to harsh working conditions. Fortunately, mining enterprises in North America dramatically improved their environmental and safety practices decades ago, and have fostered similar improvements in resource-rich foreign countries.

Consumers and investors seeking to support this laudable movement have not always had an easy time of identifying, for instance, diamond dealers who offer only ethically-selected merchandise. Brilliant Earth is a rare exception (pun intended). Founded in July 2005, in San Francisco, this firm works exclusively with diamonds, precious stones, and precious metals that are fully consistent with the business owners' high ethical standards. These items include conflict-free diamonds from Canada, fair trade sapphires, and responsibly-mined gold and platinum. These materials are beautifully crafted into diamond engagement and wedding rings, as well as other fine jewelry, such as earrings and pendants.

The founders of Brilliant Earth note that many of their customers had refused to purchase diamond rings because of what they had heard of the deplorable working conditions of miners in foreign countries. Brilliant Earth invites people to visit their Web site, to browse their selection of conflict-free jewelry, and read how the company donates a percentage of their profits to the Diamonds for Africa (DFA) Fund, which is an organization that helps African communities affected by diamond mining.

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Dax Stores

When environmentalists attempt to convince other people to "vote green" with their purchasing dollars, a common objection heard is that green products are significantly more expensive than conventional products. This is a stumbling block that environmentalists have contended with for decades, and may for decades more — until people go green by choice, or by price, as demand increases for greener goods.

One enterprise looking to help alleviate this problem, is Dax Stores, which is the world's largest family-owned eco-friendly department store. They currently offer nearly 3,000 environmentally responsible products, in a wide range of categories: outdoor furniture, indoor furniture, and organic baby furniture; organic bedding supplies for adults and babies; organic mattresses; organic bath linens; natural fiber bedding; silk clothing; garden pieces, such as fountains and sculptures; even educational toys. It's just like the department stores we remember as children, but with a strong emphasis upon Earth-friendly products at competitive prices, offered through the convenience of the Internet. The firm's Web site features lots of pictures and descriptions of many terrific items that can be difficult to find elsewhere, such as non-toxic children's furniture.

The company, located in San Carlos, California, was founded in 2003, by majority owner Mark Sweiger. He wanted to create a venue for shoppers of all persuasions, in which the eco-friendly selections were offered at prices that make them attractive to shoppers who would like to buy them on their merits alone, whether they consciously realize how these products benefit the environment. At the same time, he wanted to achieve a very high level of customer service and satisfaction — qualities usually absent from the modern-day big-box retail stores that have replaced the department stores of old. He has certainly achieved this goal, as reflected by his high ratings as a Yahoo Store, and the extremely positive feedback received directly from customers delighted with their purchases and their savings. Be sure to visit Dax Stores and discover how going green doesn't have to mean paying more of it.

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All material copyright © 2007 PristinePlanet.com™, except for Environmental News articles copyright © 2007 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved. No portion of this newsletter can be copied without express written permission from its copyright holder.

Letters and guest articles posted in the Newsletter section of the Forum or sent to the publisher become the property of PristinePlanet.com, and may be edited for brevity or clarity prior to publication.