Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Let There Be LESS Light

Yesterday, dear readers, I directed your attention to an article in the Denver Post about the city of Colorado Springs having to cut services due to budgetary concerns.

One of the services getting the ax is street lights.  And you know what?  That's absolutely wonderful news!

This country could do with probably less than half the street lights we currently have.  Think of the light pollution we could eliminate by reducing the number of street lights and making those that remain more efficient, and shielded. Both actions could save taxpayers unbelievable amounts of money while reducing light pollution significantly.

Sky glow.  What a pretty name for the horrifically wasteful, widespread, environmentally harmful dissemination of unused lighting.  Even out here, just off the one lane road, one neighbor has three of those high-powered street lamps on his farm; two other neighbors each have a "yard light."  Driving home in the "dark" I see all kinds of postage-stamp size yards, each--and some overlapping--with its own "security" light.  These are on all night long, all year long.  Even out here, way out here, I see sky glow from nearby teeny towns.  How much money could these little municipalities be saving?  Thousands of dollars!

West Virginia is a "heart of darkness" as far as star-gazing is concerned.  Ranked in the top tier of star-watching locations by the International Dark Sky Association, we are fortunate to be able to witness firsthand, astronomical events.  Comets, meteor showers, the planets, the Milky Way, the full moon...out here JOTOLR, on a clear night you CAN see forever.

The April 1997 issue of Blue Ridge Country magazine published my piece on the huge new radio telescope under construction at the time at Green Bank.  My article began this way:

"Coal is not West Virginia's only black resource.  Stand atop a ridge in the state's southern highlands on a clear, moonless night and look up at the sky.  Shake hands with Orion and drink in the splendor of the Big Dipper.  Sit awhile and watch the procession of constellations...Cassiopeia, Leo, Taurus, among them--climb the anthracite bowl of the heavens.  Those who should know say there are more than 200 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy.  You'll swear you can see them all. 

'It's no secret to scientists who study the stars or to those who simply measure their beauty.  The uncluttered celestial canopy of the Mountain State's rural countryside provides a stellar array of opportunities for exploring the realms of the universe.

You know what, though?  Americans are afraid of the dark.  Yet we need darkness, not to mention the great beauty in dark skies, never seen by most.  Studies have shown that both humans and animals suffer as a result of unremitting light.  Sea turtles lose their way at nesting time; bats --consumers of copious quantities of insects--become confused; raptors on night patrol are mesmerized by all the light.  Practically all species are affected by light pollution.  Night routines are changed significantly as animals re-program themselves, adjusting to the overpowering hypnotic draw of light.  But, people are slow to let go of their mythologies.

Again, my own words, from Blue Ridge Country:

"Arguably, light pollution ranks low on the list of environmental threats.  But, because choices need not be made beween progress and preservation, reducing sky glow is an appealing task to tackle.  Saving and even restoring the dark sky can be a win-win situation for everyone.  Easy, cost-effective lighting methods are readily available that use energy efficiently and save consumers money.

"Wasted light energy in the name of "security" costs consumers in the United States over one billion dollars annually.  Obsolete outdoor fixtures, marketed when energy costs seemed inconsequential, send light upward, affording more protection to mischief-makers than to property owners.

"Particularly disconcerting is the proliferation of dusk-to-dawn yard lights that scour the rural countryside.  People for some reason feel "safer" under an all-night sun, believing that criminals dare not trespass in the presence of light.  Just the reverse may actually be true:  would-be burglars might never have noticed a rural dwelling were it not for the "security" light.  Once on the premises, those with harmful intent easily retreat to dark shadows."

So, there you have it.  I truly hope Colorado Springs follows through with its intent to douse the lights.  Sky glow is not pretty.  It robs us of some of life's most cherished experiences: connecting with our star-studded universe.


  1. We are lucky out here in rural Devon with the minimum of light pollution. The only problem on this island location is the almost constant presence of clouds. For the last 2 years we missed the Perseid meteor showers due to the cloud cover rapidly becoming 100%.

  2. Very informative post Elora. Having lived in Megalopolis for seven years of my life, I am very familiar with light pollution. The brightest stars were barely visible if you could see them at all and the full moon did not light up the night sky. I used to travel to West Virginia to visit family on holiday weekends and would witness the transition of the sky as you made your way east and south toward West Virginia. When we moved to the farm, the previous owner had a “dusk-to-dawn” light installed by the power company that lit up a huge area around the house. Needless to say that was the first thing to go once we moved in. Besides the monthly cost (~ $15.00 at that time), it bathed the property in an unnatural light, prevented us from observing the sky, advertised to passers by that there was a residence “up the holler and off the road”, interfered with wildlife and disrupted the natural cycles of plants, animals (domestic and wild), and insects, and interfered with our dogs’ ability to patrol at night. It also interfered with my sleep unless I closed the blinds and curtains, which I refuse to do living out here with no neighbors in sight. I prefer a window with no obstructions so I can see out, and of course let the light in. No lights allowed on in the daytime here. Another benefit from no light pollution at the farm is that I’m able to use the moon to judge what time it is by glancing out the window (oriented south) and noting where it is at in the sky, or by the direction of the shadows. This comes in handy at around 4:00 AM in the morning since I do not use an alarm clock or have a clock in the bedroom. Unless you’ve lived somewhere like rural West Virginia, it is hard to believe how much light the stars and moon put out. I look forward to the full moon every month and can actually feel its energy when walking around the property (with no flashlight of course!).

  3. Wow, I remember when I was a kid my brother and I would drag out our telescope and take a look at the stars. When I went back at Christmas, it was amazing, I could still see some stars (a little less than in the past but still OK) and i realised that this was yet another thing I missed about living in Canada and a small town. Genoa glows at all hours, you cannot escape the light to see the stars, and it is very very sad, because I think that some of the kids living in this city would really get a kick out of being able to grab a telescope and fantasize about the stars!