RResponsible use of outdoor lights at night is essential to our lives and our future. There is an urgent need to address this global problem as soon as possible. The far-reaching damage these lights are causing on all levels of our lives is beginning to seep into our consciousness and our worlds.
From the serious human health problems created by artificial light, to the problems that astronomers have known for a long time, to the damage it causes to biodiversity and the environment, artificial lights at night, both indoors and outdoors outside, change our lives. And not for the better.
The mystery of staring deep into a sky filled with billions of twinkling stars, constellations, planets and shooting stars has been lost to the majority of people living in the United States and Europe. Light pollution is growing twice as fast as population. This means that each person uses more lights per person than at any other time in the history of the world.
The advent of LEDs with their low lifetime operating cost has created two serious problems that are only now becoming well known. One, many more lights are being installed outdoors, whether by municipalities, businesses or homeowners. An unintended consequence of falling costs, and because many humans have adapted to over-illumination and then take it with them to new places, is that many more lights are used.
And second, the most commonly used LEDs have a devastating impact on all of our lives. The higher kelvins, color temperature, and higher lumens, brightness, far exceed anything humans need to navigate safely through the night.
More lights do not mean safer, as has been commonly advised for years by so many. Even security companies are now realizing that lighting a property all night is not the most effective or cost effective way to deter criminal activity. This field is now being studied carefully and public safety actors are even beginning to understand that smart lighting can provide the benefits sought, without creating the problems that most current lighting poses. Targeted, dimmable and programmable lighting exists and is adopted by many cities and towns.
Electric lamps haven’t been widely used for a long time, only a little over 100 years. A significant portion of the existing population, even in highly developed urban areas like Washington DC, still remember a night sky full of stars, even from the city.
It no longer exists. Generations are now growing up never having seen the stars, let alone the Milky Way. As artificial outdoor lights continue to spread farther and farther into suburban and rural areas, even more humans are losing their connection to the night sky and the night.
Migratory bird populations are devastated by all our artificial lights in the cities and regions they must pass through on their annual migrations. Fireflies, hatching baby turtles, moths and many more are all seeing their populations decimated in the same way.
There is an urgent need to educate everyone about the responsible use of outdoor light at night. Lighting master plans for every locality, state and region are no longer wishful thinking, they must be written and adopted. Fixing errors and lighting problems after the fact is costly and simply unnecessary with informed foresight.
This year is shaping up to be the year for responsible use of outdoor light at night, with the global ROLAN 2022 conference ending on May 13, World Migratory Bird Day on May 17 focusing on light pollution this year. and IDA’s International Dark Sky Week in April. . And several proclamations have been issued for the IDSW in this region and across the country, including one from Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin.
Closer to home, Turner Farm Park Observatory, a Fairfax County Park Authority park, is well advanced in its application process as an Urban Night Sky Place, one of the awarded by the International Dark Sky Association. This will only be the sixth of such designations awarded worldwide to date. In addition to Fairfax County boasting the largest on-campus observatory in the Mid-Atlantic Region of George Mason University, Northern Virginia has many reasons to protect its precious night sky.
The national security element of using energy wisely and minimizing waste is particularly important in light of current world events. Renewed interest and examination of where our energy comes from and how much it costs will only continue to become a bigger factor in how we choose artificial light.
Light pollution is simple and easy to eliminate with careful, thoughtful and creative designs and integration from the start of projects, not after the fact. Now is the time to start thinking about responsible use of outdoor lights at night.