SAVINGS TIME BRINGS LIGHT QUESTION
A recent 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?
About a 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.
That Georgia 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.
Each year, 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.
I realize 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 should 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 the cities.
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