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Unscrew you


I have finally joined the ranks of CFL users, having resisted the mania over the last year for the really important reason that buying something new is rarely green, no matter how recycled or organic or local, when whatever you’re using now is still perfectly functional. Thus, my incandescents stayed in place until they burned out.

Now we have an ice cream swirl bulb on a dimmer in our hallway, casting a miserable green-ish glow and not really dimming. My boyfriend picked it out at the little local hardware store, where I suppose they had a narrow selection, as opposed to the vast cache at Wal-Mart, which also maintains electronic displays that orient customers to the switch, to find colors and wattages that will replicate, as well as they can, their old fashioned Edison-style bulbs.

I’ve written a lot about CFLs, and I tried to be properly skeptical of them, but everyone I talked to—from Wal-Mart’s VP of sustainability to physicists at the NRDC—swore that they really could make a marked difference in energy consumption, that the change-a-bulb, change-the-world mentality of which I was so suspect actually had some truth to it.

Which is why Lesley Chilcott, producer of An Inconvenient Truth and general greenie, started Unscrew America. Starting next week, they’re launching a campaign to get the CFL back on the radar of the average American. While other nations consider a ban of the incandescent, we’re still nursing our libertarian streak here in the States, leaving it up to the individual to change. So on their nifty website Chilcott and her cohorts are asking Americans to make the switch.

But can these lights do as the campaign title suggests, help to wrest us from where we are now, which is, to put it delicately, kind of screwed? There are problems with CFLs, of course. Only one brand of CFLs is manufactured in the United States—most come from China. We’re still being coaxed to buy new products when we really should resist consumption wherever we can tolerate it—the more stuff we produce, the more we pollute. But she’s right—in this case, it might be worth it.

There’s the whole mercury thing—although CFLs have far less of it than your average thermometer, and lord knows we throw those out in the trash when we’re done with them. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with this bulb when it burns out, and I’ll admit I’m sad that it might take 7 years, and that we bought a two-pack (encased in thick, unrecyclable plastic), so we’ll be walking the hall under this grooky pallor for eons. At least we’ll be doing so guilt-free.