Update: Brendan Koerner has written a pretty solid rebuttal of Rosenbaum's article: The Case for CFLs (Slate). I'm still not convinced about the light output, but maybe I just haven't seen the right bulbs (or data) yet.
Ron Rosenbaum has an article in Slate about what we lose when we outlaw incandescent bulbs in favor of compact fluorescents. He's a bit too nostalgic for my taste, but he does raise some important points. Excerpt:
Yes, the idiots in Congress, too torpid and ineffectual to pass a health-care bill for children, have busy-bodied themselves in a bumbling way with the way you light up your world. In December, they passed legislation that will, in practice, outlaw incandescent bulbs because they won't be able to meet the new law's strict energy-efficiency standards. The result: Between 2012 and 2014, incandescent bulbs will be driven from the market. Replaced by the ugly plasticine Dairy Queen swirl of compact fluorescent lights.
From a purely environmental perspective, this move is shortsighted. CFLs do use less energy, which is good. But they also often contain mercury, one of the most damaging—and lasting—environmental toxins. Not a ton of mercury, but still: A whole new CFL recycling structure will be required to prevent us from releasing deadly neurotoxins into the water table. CFLs: coming soon to sushi near you.
Failing to properly recycle your CFLs won't be the same as putting an Evian bottle in the wrong slot. It'll be genuinely hazardous, particularly dangerous to children. Way to go, congressional dimbulbs!
And God forbid you break a bulb. If you do, you are advised by some experts to evacuate the room for 15 minutes to escape the release of mercury vapor, then scrub the area as though there'd been a plutonium spill, virtually wearing a hazmat suit as you dispose of the glass shards. [...]
Good luck. But the greater crime of the new bulbs is not environmental but aesthetic. Think of the ugly glare of fluorescence, the light of prisons, sterile cubicle farms, precinct stations, emergency rooms, motor vehicle bureaus, tenement hallways—remember Tom Wolfe's phrase for the grim, flickering hallway lights in New York tenements: "landlords' haloes"?—and, of course, morgues. Fluorescents seem specially designed to drain life and beauty from the world. [...]
Not fair!, say the CFL advocates. Our new fluorescent technology is not your father's fluorescence, it doesn't drain blood from complexions like a vampire, it doesn't buzz and flicker the way the old ones did.
I've tried the new CFLs, and they are a genuine improvement—they don't flicker perceptibly, or buzz, or make your skin look green. There is a difference, and I'd be in favor of replacing all current fluorescent bulbs with CFLs. But even CFLs glare and blare—they don't have that inimitable incandescent glow. So don't let them take lamplight away. Don't let them ban beauty.
I use CFLs, but still have some incandescents kicking around. I couple of years ago I bought some full-spectrum incandescents, which I find much nicer for reading than regular incandescents, and they also last very long. CFLs give worse light than either, and people seem to be ignoring the disposal/recycling problem.
Google tells me there are now bulbs marketed as "full-spectrum compact fluorescent" but I can't tell if the light output is really comparable. I suspect "full" is marketing-speak for "a little bit wider" spectrum, but I may be wrong.