Preserving starry skies supports our heritage, cost of energy consumption, and safety.
The above image of M42, a nebula in Orion, was photographed by Mississippi member Mickey Fratesi.
Written by Starry Skies South member Dr. William Baker
Light pollution is a “real thing”. Even if you don’t care about looking at the wonder that is the night sky, you should be concerned about light pollution (LP). It turns out that Light Pollution is negatively affecting you in more ways than you know.
LP is costing you money, lots of money. In the U.S. alone, an estimated $3 billion a year is wasted on bad outdoor lighting. As of this writing, September 2022, energy costs are up 17% in AL and are expected to continue to rise! Even if you turn off all your home outdoor lights, your tax dollars are still being wasted on bad lighting. From street lights such as these, typically seen in this area, about 35% of the light is wasted, being directed upwards into the sky, and not down to the street or sidewalk where it is needed.
Even new lighting can cause LP: many so called “better” LED street lights are being installed, but unfortunately but these are way too bright and use more energy than what is needed for this purpose, again, leading to wasted money: your tax dollars, going to waste. Money that could be used on something else, or returned to you in lower taxes. It just makes financial sense to care about LP, and hopefully to keep more of your hard earned cash.
If you want effective security lighting, get rid of that dusk to dawn light and go with motion sensor lighting instead. What are you going to notice more: a light that is on all the time, or a light that comes on suddenly and unexpectedly? This unexpected light will come as a shock to any would-be intruder. With a light that is always on, someone can actually hide in the shadows and the glare will make it difficult for you see them. With a motion sensor, they can’t predetermine the covered area and they will be caught in the light. On a larger, national scale, the energy wasted on LP just increases our energy dependence on other countries. So let’s be patriotic, and turn off those outdoor lights for our national security!
Further, glare from unshielded lights makes it harder to see at night. By choosing fully-shielded, targeted lighting, it is easier to see your surroundings.
Consider how much easier it is to see someone - a potential intruder - when a glaring light is shielded by your hand.
The above photo series was captured by George Fleenor.
Bad lighting disrupts your sleep wake cycle, also called your circadian rhythm. Just think back to the seasonal time changes and how hard it can be to adjust. LP causes these same disruptions, albeit on a less noticeable level. But the disruptions can, and do, take a toll on your body. You need a truly dark room to sleep properly. (This also applies to the blue light given off by your phone and tablet, although that is a whole other topic). With disrupted sleep you get a list of problems including increased stress, increased risks of diabetes, weight gain, depression and possibly even an increase is certain cancers like breast cancer.
The research on LP and risks to your health is ongoing and available online to search for yourself. Unfortunately some neighborhoods are more affected than others. Exposure to LP, as with many things, is disproportionally affecting communities of color. An excellent site concerning this is Light Justice. Remember, we are all in this together, and it will take all of us working together to reduce the effects of Light Pollution.
Another issue is called light trespass. Even if you have your outdoor lights off, you can still get light pollution from street lights or your neighbor. You wouldn’t tolerate someone blasting music all night long, nor should you have to put up with a light “blasting” into your windows and disrupting your sleep. Notice a sure sign of light trespass in this photo, below:
This street light has been painted on one side, which is the side facing the nearby house. A well designed fixture would not do this. What about the moon you say, doesn’t that affect sleep? Yes it does, as studies have shown, however, short of closing our blinds, we haven’t yet found a way to “turn it off”. But, we can, and we should, control the amount of LP caused by bad outdoor lighting. Follow the guidelines provided on this website to consider how you might change your lighting to eliminate light trespass. Once your lighting is improved, you can print out a Dark Sky Friendly Home certificate.
Putting aside all the practical reasons why you should care about light pollution, if you like nature (and who doesn’t like nature?), there are also many other reasons to get involved.
The night sky has amazed humans since the beginning of time. All cultures have their stories relating to the night sky. It is an awe inspiring sight, which unfortunately most of the U.S. population can no longer fully appreciate. Over 80% of Americans can’t see the Milky Way anymore.
Some of our earliest tales relate to the stars. The oldest known tale is of the “Cosmic Hunt”. It is estimated to be ~30,000 years old, originating in Siberia where the hunted animal is a mammoth! The tale is old enough to have been carried from Asia into the Americas by the First Peoples. The animal hunted in the tale changes with the continent, but the basic story remains the same. There are hints that the story of the Pleiades, “the Seven Sisters”, may be 100,000 years old, as it is found all over the world and in Aboriginal culture. Even the Old Testament, Psalm 19:1, talks about the beauty of the night sky: “The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky proclaims
His handiwork.” More recently, stars were used by the Underground Railroad to point to the north and freedom. Instead of the Big Dipper, it was the Drinking Gourd that pointed to Polaris, the North Star. Currently, even the North Star itself is hard to see today from our cities. You would not consider destroying and paving over Yosemite or Yellowstone National Park. Why would you want to erase the night sky?
Take a moment to take in the splendor of the night sky when it is seen without the effect of misdirected artificial light at night: