The Growing Environmental Threat of Light Pollution

“For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me want to dream.” – Vincent Van Gogh

An ordinary street light is thousands of times brighter than the stars on a moonless night, and an average outdoor light fixture emits a glow that affects the darkness of the night sky for about 15 miles in every direction.

What We’ve Lost

“Looking up into the night sky is looking into infinity.” – Douglas Adams

Yes, the light bulb has changed the way we live for the better, but indoor lighting isn’t the problem, indoor lighting doesn’t really add to light pollution. The overwhelming number of unnecessary and redundant outdoor lighting is what has contributed to the disappearance of the night sky. Entire generations will live out their lives without ever having seen the Milky Way.  And study after study has shown that overly bright outdoor lights don’t contribute to safety since they increase the darkness of shadows where people can hide.

Light pollution is now among the most chronic environmental problems on Earth, disrupting migratory patterns of animals and birds and interfering with the hunting and mating habits of nocturnal animals. Some species of birds use moonlight to navigate when they migrate at night. If there are too many lights on in an area, then these birds might get disoriented and fly into buildings or other structures instead of flying away from them.

And it’s also a culprit in disturbing our own sleep patterns, causing insomnia, which leads to stress, heart disease, obesity, and even some cancers. In a study done by the National Sleep Foundation, it was found that people who live in areas with high levels of light pollution were more likely to report poor sleep quality than people living in lower-light-pollution areas.

Global Solutions

“If people looked at the stars each night, they’d live a lot differently.” Bill Watterson

There are several common sense and practical ways we can reduce our planet’s light pollution.

Covered bulbs for street lamps and highway lights that face downwards would help reduce the brightening of the skies as it eliminates the light that reflects into the sky.

Switching to LED lighting allows for reduced luminance without compromising visibility, but only warm-colored bulbs should be used.

Timers that can be pre-set to turn off automatically whenever the environment is naturally bright, such as when there is enough natural skylight to see by, can reduce energy and preserve natural lighting. Lighting configurations for parking garages, like integrated photo controls for dusk-to-dawn control, can automatically sense and adjust light levels to maximize energy savings without compromising on safety.

Ensure that the lighting in your house or street lighting projects does not interfere with neighboring homes, and refrain from directing outdoor lights that glare into other’s spaces.

Dim lighting while driving at night on highways already lit with artificial lighting is sufficient. Bright lights interfere with the vision of other motorists causing unsafe driving.

The use of lighting during the day is needless and should be completely avoided.

Municipalities and individual homeowners should use low-glare fixtures, which guarantee low-pollution lighting, or substitute them with colored lights, which provide enough illumination for safety and comfort while reducing the amount of light escaping into the atmosphere.

Using Your Voice

The world has been getting brighter and brighter over the last few decades, with more than 80% of people living in urban areas now exposed to light pollution. It’s vital, then, that we do our own part in reducing the amount of light pollution that we contribute to. Then, beyond that, rally our local municipality, city, or town to do what they can to use more shielded, warmer, and glare-free lighting. And encourage your businesses to do their part by reducing their own outdoor lighting, like using smart technologies that take advantage of sensors to turn lights off when they’re not needed. If we all do our part, perhaps we’ll get a glimpse of the kind of sky our ancestors used to marvel at.

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