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THE LIGHT AND THE DARK

The German poet, Goethe, is said to have cried out for more light as he was dying. He thus equated light to life, death to darkness. Many centuries earlier, the Upanishads had seen light as synonymous with knowledge, ignorance with darkness. The mystery surrounding darkness disappeared with the discovery of the electric bulb, which ended mankind’s dependence on sunlight. Darkness could be lit up with the help of a switch that turned on an incandescent lamp. It is impossible to list the number of ways modern life is dependent on the electric lamp which Thomas Alva Edison first introduced in the 1870s. By the 20th century, the electric bulb had become the commonest source of light after sunset or in places where sunlight could not penetrate. This monopoly seems about to end.

The Australian government has announced that it will soon introduce a legislation to phase out the sale and use of incandescent light bulbs and to replace them with compact fluoroscent lights that are more energy-efficient. The momentous decision grows out of environmental concerns. The incandescent light bulb uses electricity that flows through a filament to create light, but much of the energy used is wasted heat. According to the Australian government, up to 95 per cent of the energy each standard light bulb uses is wasted. In comparison, fluoroscents use only 20 per cent as much electricity to produce the same amount of light. According to calculations, in Australia, lighting, which is mostly from incandescent lamps, represents 12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from households, about 25 per cent of commercial-sector emissions and another 25 per cent from emissions associated with public and street lighting. This could change dramatically once the switch-over from old bulbs to fluoroscents is made. Thus, if Australia becomes a trendsetter in this regard — California has proposed to do away with incandescent light bulbs by 2012 in favour of compact fluoroscent bulbs — there could be a tremendous impact on the environment, especially on global warming.

It could be said, of course, that by proposing to do away with incandescent light bulbs, people are beginning to see the light. There is a growing awareness across the globe that man’s activities and many scientific advances have had adverse effects on the earth’s environment. The implications are serious enough to threaten man’s very existence on the globe. The famous Keynesian dictum, “in the long run we are all dead”, has suddenly acquired very ominous and immediate overtones. The end of the light bulb may turn out to be the beginning of the journey from ignorance to knowledge and, ironically, from darkness to light. The path to enlightenment lies in doing away with a common source of light.

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