Reducing light pollution isn't rocket science

Despite being easy to address we continue to allow light pollution to keep us awake, block out the night skies and confuse wildlife.

The orange glow from Las Vegas can be seen over 150km away in the Nevada Desert

The orange glow from Las Vegas can be seen over 150km away in the Nevada Desert

Speaking at a meeting held by the NSCA to discuss the problem, school-teacher-turned-astronomer, Bob Mizon, outlined the goals of the Campaign for Dark Skies and suggested how they might be hit.
"About 20 years ago almost nobody would have heard of light pollution, nowadays an awful lot of people know about this, he said.

"Since about 1950 the night sky has more or less disappeared for urban people in this country. There is now nowhere in mainland England that you can see a totally dark sky."

According to Mr Mizon's logic, the sky accounts for half of our environment and whilst laws punish those who pollute our land and seas, legislation protecting anything above the horizon is weaker.

"If you despoil any part of our environment, they'll have you but if you block out the night sky, they can't touch you," he said.

While Mr Mizon's view may overlook legislation that regulates air quality and emissions of polluting gases, he did acknowledge that the meteoric rise of climate change up the political and public agenda was good news for dark nights.

"Light pollution is wasted energy - it's not controlled and it's not exactly where we want it," he said.

And, as we count the environmental cost of energy inefficiency, there is a growing political and civic will to address the problem. With directional lights that pointed down rather than across and shuttering to stop beams spilling outwards, the technology and knowledge is already available, he said.

"Light pollution is a problem that is so easily solved," said Mr Mizon.

"Light travels in straight lines, so is it really rocket science to put it where it belongs?"

Light pollution is not simply an annoyance for those who wish to see the stars, but throws natural cycles off balance too.

Carol Williams of the Bat Conservation Trust explained how inappropriate light could have a profound impact not just on the flying mammals, but on all manner of wild things from flowers and insects to turtles and birds.

Night light effects bats in many ways, with most species shying away from the glare which can cut down on potential roosting and foraging sites or drive them away from the formerly dark, safe corridors they used to travel such as streams or hedgerows.

The low-light foraging grounds still available to bats may also have a shortage of insects as local populations buzz around the bright lights.

Those bats who are less shy of the light - typically speedy species such as pipistrelles - can still find that learned behaviours such as hunting round an insect-attracting light can leave them open to predation from sparrow hawks and kestrels which have picked up the same hunter's trick.

Those creatures which have evolved to navigate by the moon and stars also find themselves in trouble.

Flocks of migrating birds have been known to steer into tall, illuminated buildings leading to high casualties - in extreme cases wiping out thousands of confused birds at a time as they smash into tower blocks.

Newly-hatched turtles aiming for the glow of the horizon above the sea as they have for millennia instead find themselves mistakenly heading inland to their deaths.

Many photosensitive plants, too, are affected by light pollution as they mistime their blooms or fail to flower at all.

The biggest difference we could make, said Ms Williams, was to consider light pollution when designing developments.

If lighting engineers, planners and conservationists worked together from the outset there would be little problem in creating communities that did not block out the night sky with an orange glow and didn't interfere with nature's nighttime habits.

Sam Bond


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