SAVINGS TIME BRINGS LIGHT QUESTION
by Whit Gibbons
question I received went something like this: "I'm familiar with
the financial waste of light pollution (except for the power companies),
but what about the environmental problem? As a part-time astronomer I
have seen the problem, but how drastic is this unnecessary use of light?
year ago I saw an email stating that the Georgia Department of Transportation
had proposed a million dollar project for the installation of street lights
along several currently unlit miles of an interstate that bordered a national
wildlife refuge and a monument of the national park system. The proposed
project would place more than 200 lights on 35-foot poles along the stretch
of highway. This is more than enough information to reveal a truly bad
idea, without even needing an answer to the question of who is making
a profit from the sale of the lights.
is the state in question is not important, because such proposals are
made in almost every state. That the estimated cost to taxpayers for the
lighting project is almost a million dollars is not important, because
if it costs taxpayers anything at all for unnecessary lighting of the
night world, the cost is too high. It does not really matter whether this
particular proposed plan for new lighting was implemented. What is important,
what taxpayers should vehemently protest, is a proposal anywhere by anyone
to put up lights where we have never had them and do not need them.
I can see fewer stars in the night sky than the year before, and simply
having eyes that are a year older is not the reason. Nocturnally challenged
people of the world are stealing the natural beauty of the night sky by
photopollution. I still cannot understand this penchant some people have
for illuminating the night. I'm not sure what they are afraid of.
that some sections of big cities and some areas in small towns might be
unsafe without street lighting. But most rural and residential areas would
be safe enough without bright street lamps. I feel sure that after hours
parking lots do not need so many lights that it looks like a sunrise on
Mercury. And what is the attraction of a 50 foot high glaring mercury
lamp in the backyard of an otherwise serene countryside or residential
area when the use of a sensor light would be equally effective? Likewise,
do we really need to light up an interstate in a wildlife refuge?
sometimes necessary, outdoor lighting can have negative ecological effects
on plants, animals, and even people. The effects may be subtle and go
unrecognized but can also be deadly. Street lamps disorient sea turtle
hatchlings emerging at night, resulting in disaster for those traveling
toward a highway instead of the ocean. In depth research on the effects
of lights on other wildlife will unquestionably reveal that behavioral
patterns of birds and mammals are also altered in significant, detrimental
ways. Lighting up a wildlife refuge or any nonurban area offers no benefit
to the animals that live there.
We accept gradual change, even pollution, because we grow accustomed to
it without realizing what is happening. By the time pollution reaches
a magnitude that warrants complaint, commercial forces may be difficult
to combat. Photopollution is an excellent example of this insidious practice.
Power companies and businesses specializing in outdoor lighting will naturally
try to encourage more lighting. But they should be seeking ways to illuminate
necessary areas in less obtrusive ways and stop trying to push a product
where it is not needed.
consider any proposal to add more outdoor lighting in the context of the
impact it may have on natural phenomena, in the sky as well as on the
earth. The loss of the night sky is of increasing concern. Anyone observing
Orion from a dark desert or beach, or for that matter a wildlife refuge,
is aware of how outdoor lights rob us. Many of the nation's large observatories
are threatened by the night sky illumination associated with urban development.
Let's not add to the problem by trying to make a case for lights outside
a Chinese proverb that says, "It is better to light one candle than
to curse the darkness." This is excellent advice. But nowhere that
I know of does anyone suggest eliminating the darkness with perpetual
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