Powercuts, the night sky and a green solution to light pollution (sorry, couldn’t resist)… December 29, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in Environmentalism, Science.
This Christmas I was given a book on the last 50 years of spaceflight: Space, the First 50 years. It’s great, co-written by the grand old man of astronomy (and remarkably reactionary) Patrick Moore and it’s a great addition to a small library of space science books. Incidentally for a fantastic book with a broader remit can I direct you towards Cosmos: A Field Guide which I picked up in Chapters in Dublin last year. I’m not sure what it is, but paradoxically the rationalist and materialist in me finds a somewhat pantheistic comfort in the incredible imagery of space that this era has provided.
Anyhow, I’d been thinking of writing a post on Astronomy Ireland and their efforts reported on Monday in the Irish Times to counteract the light pollution which has effectively made the night sky a pale shadow of its true glory [click on the above image to see how bad light pollution has become]. They’re pushing, as part of an international campaign, led I think by the International Dark-Sky Association, for better more energy efficient public and commercial street lighting.
David Moore of Astronomy Ireland is reported as noting that as much as 30 per cent of the bill for public lighting (€300 million a year) could be saved in a transition to energy/light efficient fittings.
He says that: ‘What we have… are light fittings that are incredibly badly designed. They are just a bulb hanging out of a pole and so much of the lighting gets wasted because it goes upwards and not where it is supposed to go. With light shade deflectors you can go down to a lower wattage bulb, space them further apart and save energy’.
‘It’s a win-win situation. Astronomers get their skies back and the public get lower energy bills and a lower carbon footprint’.
Not just astronomers though. We all get our skies back. So, here we have a convergence of science, environmentalism and green politics in an area which will allow us to actually reap a serious benefit both in terms of energy efficiency and giving us back something that we’ve lost from our personal environment in the past fifty odd years or so… a genuine appreciation of the night sky.
I can count the number of times I’ve seen the Milky Way in such a way as to truly appreciate the term ‘star field’. Once on Inis Mean in the early 1990s, once in Tunisia and once in the countryside outside Kilkenny. That’s absurd in the context of decades on the planet and a lifetime looking at the sky.
Anyhow, curiously enough, there was a powercut tonight in the part of Dublin I live in. Spooky? Well not really, it was fixed within an hour or so (and oddly enough another gift I received, a windup torch, came in handy). But what was revelatory was how even a limited reduction in ambient street light allowed a significantly enhanced view of the sky (mind you, it played havoc with alarms and such like, and was actually genuinely spooky before torches came on to be caught within a near pitch black environment).
This is the easy stuff, improved technology, better planning and consequently a genuinely better standard of life. Mick of Organized Rage made the point recently that little, except perhaps true love, exists outside political culture. Well, while this is love (of a sort), it’s also political and cultural. And most importantly it makes good sense.