The Times, 1 September 2009


As of today, light bulbs are officially over. The 100 watt bulb and all its frosted cousins are banned under EU rules. According to the Energy Saving Trust, this is an occasion for jubilation - compact fluorescent lamps (energy saving bulbs, to the rest of us) use 80 per cent less electricity than the Edison versions.

Given our national love of a bargain, and our collective loathing of paying a penny more for our electricity than is absolutely necessary, we should be cheering.

But instead we are, if not incandescent with rage, then certainly flickering with it. Energy-saving bulbs, after all, used to be horrible. They took 20 minutes to reach actual illumination, they were green, and dingy, and could make our homes look like operating theatres in a gulag where patients weren't intended to survive.

Migraine sufferers and epileptics were poorly affected by the flickering quality of the light, too. And in the moral high-ground stakes, a worthy eco-monkey telling you to use less energy and sit in the dark is trumped by someone holding their head in agony or foaming at the mouth.

And how are we supposed to have good ideas if there is a light bulb drought? The eureka moment is traditionally portrayed with an old-fashioned, instant light. If we have to wait for the bulb to warm up, that idea looks markedly less exciting. And how does one dispose of these bulbs responsibly? They contain mercury, so I'm pretty sure I can't just chuck them in the bin. Can I recycle them, even if I live nowhere near a thermometer factory?

Supermarkets and electrical retailers have reported a run on old-style, 100 watt bulbs, as people stockpile them for decades to come. And as these light bulbs become rarer, they'll become increasingly valuable. Light bulbs might be given as wedding gifts or anniversary presents. People will go mining for them, in the light bulb-rich territories of pensioners' cupboards. My mum's garage will be annexed by Rio Tinto.

No one, however, is campaigning to save the frosted or pearl bulbs. With good reason: they are the lighting equivalent of the costumes in George and Mildred. No one buys a frosted lightbulb unless they intend to use it to illuminate the bowl of car keys at a swingers' party. In other words, frosted bulbs aren't just bad for the environment, they're also unhygienic. And pervy.

So perhaps we can learn to embrace energy-saving bulbs, which contain no morally dubious subtext. And they really are cheaper: since I moved to a flat with energy-saving bulbs, my electricity bill is literally a third of what it was before, so I'm happy. Although I haven't had a flash of inspiration since May.