Learn to Light Safely to Preserve Dark Skies
Most of us have heard of light pollution. Many people live with it each night. Astronauts from the International Space Station often remark on how widespread light pollution is, how lit-up our planet looks. Even where I live, which is close to being a wilderness, we get light pollution. Sure our dark skies are better than what many people experience, but they’re not perfect.
I know a lot of folks will say, “So what?” And, that’s understandable, unless they don’t want to live in a world with the consequences of light pollution. Those consequences aren’t just that astronomers can’t see the dark, starry skies—although, that IS important. Dark skies ARE our common heritage, and we’re wasting them away by lighting up the sky. You’ve seen the car dealerships shining light UP, instead of focusing all their light ON the cars. Why light up the sky? You’ve probably been blinded at least once by one of those brilliant electronic billboards as you drove along. At least you recovered your night vision quickly and didn’t have an accident after being blinded by the glare. Not everyone is so lucky. People HAVE been blinded by those things and have been in tragic accidents.
Recent medical studies show that light pollution, or even worse, working under bright lights at night, can increase a person’s risk of diseases such as prostate cancer and breast cancer. Too much light at night interferes with our circadian rhythms, and the melatonin production that regulates them. This results in sleep disorders and other health problems.
Humans aren’t the only ones affected by light pollution. Migrating birds, insects, fish, sea life, plants, trees — many species of wildlife — are affected in some way by light pollution.
The interesting thing about light pollution is that it doesn’t have to be this bad. Yes, we need lighting for safety and security and no one is suggesting that we turn off all the lights. That would be ludicrous. But, there ARE ways to safely and securely light your home, your business, our streets, our cities, without lighting up the sky. Without burning fossil fuels to do so. I mean, think of the fuels we burn to send light to the sky. Doesn’t that seem a little silly when the objective is to light things ON the ground?
So, Miss Smartypants, I hear you asking, what do we do? The first thing is to investigate using full cut-off lighting on your buildings. You may also see such light listed as “fully shielded”. That means that the light fixture sends light to the place you want it, usually DOWN, not up. I’ve seen a lot of parking lots switch to these, and I’ve heard that they are also saving the users money on their electrical bills. That’s not a bad thing. And, it helps keep the glare from the skies and in our eyes.
The International Dark-Sky Association is spearheading dark skies awareness. They have an incredibly interesting site jam-packed with information for builders, architects, designers, homeowners — pretty much anybody who uses light and wants to use it wisely. Check them out and while you’re at it, check out how you can reduce light pollution around your neck of the woods. It might be easier than you think! Your fellow humans and other life forms on the planet will thank you!
Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Education Committee of the International Dark-Sky Association and the co-producer of a fine video my company (Loch Ness Productions) made for them called Losing the Dark. Check it out!