jump to navigation

Powercuts, the night sky and a green solution to light pollution (sorry, couldn’t resist)… December 29, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Environmentalism, Science.
trackback

earthlights_dmsp_big.jpg

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.

milkywaylightpollutionseptember2006.png

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.

About these ads

Comments»

1. Starkadder - December 30, 2007

My dad used to tell me the names of the various constellations
when I was small.

It’s mainly cloudy in Ireland, and I can remember as a kid
wondering why the night sky was a dull orange instead
of black (it was the orange neon streetlights).

I was shocked and disappointed at Patrick Moore’s comments about
women TV presenters-he was always a hero of mine.

Like

2. WorldbyStorm - December 30, 2007

That’s very true. That yellow/orange glow is something I remember vividly from my childhood.

It’s a real pity about Moore and odd when one compares and contrasts with Arthur C. Clarke…

Like

3. Graham Cliff - March 16, 2008

Please do not worry about Sir Patrick’s misogyny, although it is sad. He has awoken an awareness in the wonders of the night sky for too many people to criticise him now. Old folk can sometimes sound “silly”? The truth about light pollution is that it is just a symptom of the 24 hour day. This is killing off Life On Earth.
Please learn some of the “hidden”, insidious truths of LP, as caused by the 24 hour day, at http://www.lightpollution.org.uk
Please try to join in with (World) Earth Hour this upcoming 29th March. You know it makes sense – or do you?

Like

4. WorldbyStorm - March 16, 2008

Pretty much. I still have considerable respect for PM.

Like

5. Colin Henshaw - March 17, 2008

Better lighting design would go a long way to improve the situation. The message about light pollution has been out now for almost two decades, so all street lights should be full cut-off or better. Yet despite this we see precious little of it. In addition 11pm curfews on non-essential lighting, on minor roads in suburban areas will make a big difference, as it did before 1970 when this was standard practice. All street lights on minor roads were on timers.

Street lighting should only be used sparingly, when needed, where needed and in the correct amounts. All security lighting should be motion operated and aimed downwards so it does not cross property lines.

Decorative lighting that does not serve any useful purpose should no longer be tolerated. This includes floodlit buildings, churches, advertising outside city centres, skybeams, lasers, and illuminated regeneration follies. These are all major contributors to the problem in one way or another.

Lighting in commercial properties, especially high-rise buildings, should be switched off at night if the property is not being used.

Sports facilities should be roofed over, and if possible sports enthusiasts encouraged to confine their activities to daylight.

Street lighting can be very obtrusive, and may cause a considerable amount of distress to those who don’t want it. If requested, a municipality should remove it from outside a property should it interfere with a householder’s lifestyle. They should not prevaricate on grounds of safety or fear of crime. It is now well established that street lighting does not reduce crime and may well encourage it. The removal of one or two offending street lights will not make any measurable difference in areas that are already over-lit.

Unfortunately our civilisation is addicted to lighting through the mistaken belief that it reduces crime etc, and the lighting industry exploits this in order to maximise profits and safeguard its own jobs. It is well established that light pollution is very damaging to the environment, so it has now become a green issue. Unfortunately it largely goes unrecognised by those who ought to know better. Light pollution is a waste of public money, energy and natural resources. It also a major contributor to climate change and global warming. A culture change is therefore needed in our attitudes to outdoor lighting before we are going to see any real improvement.

Like

6. Colin Henshaw - March 17, 2008

Better lighting design would go a long way to improve the situation. The message about light pollution has been out now for almost two decades, so all street lights should be full cut-off or better. Yet despite this we see precious little of it. In addition 11pm curfews on non-essential lighting, on minor roads in suburban areas will make a big difference, as it did before 1970 when this was standard practice. All street lights on minor roads were on timers.

Street lighting should only be used sparingly, when needed, where needed and in the correct amounts. All security lighting should be motion operated and aimed downwards so it does not cross property lines.

Decorative lighting that does not serve any useful purpose should no longer be tolerated. This includes floodlit buildings, churches, advertising outside city centres, skybeams, lasers, and illuminated regeneration follies. These are all major contributors to the problem in one way or another.

Lighting in commercial properties, especially high-rise buildings, should be switched off at night if the property is not being used.

Sports facilities should be roofed over, and if possible sports enthusiasts encouraged to confine their activities to daylight.

Street lighting can be very obtrusive, and may cause a considerable amount of distress to those who don’t want it. If requested, a municipality should remove it from outside a property should it interfere with a householder’s lifestyle. They should not prevaricate on grounds of safety or fear of crime. It is now well established that street lighting does not reduce crime and may well encourage it. The removal of one or two offending street lights will not make any measurable difference in areas that are already over-lit.

Unfortunately our civilisation is addicted to lighting through the mistaken belief that it reduces crime etc, and the lighting industry exploits this in order to maximise profits and safeguard its own jobs. It is well established that light pollution is very damaging to the environment, so it has now become a green issue. Unfortunately it largely goes unrecognised by those who ought to know better. Light pollution is a waste of public money, energy and natural resources. It also a major contributor to climate change and global warming. A culture change is therefore needed in our attitudes to outdoor lighting before we are going to see any real improvement.

Like

7. WorldbyStorm - March 17, 2008

All entirely true. This is a win win situation.

Like

8. Colin Henshaw - March 17, 2008

Light pollution is an insidious form of pollution that does not just annoy astronomers. The astronomers were like the caged canaries that were once used in mines to detect carbon monoxide and methane. Because they were affected by it they were the first to complain. But light pollution does not just affect the night skies, as this excellent web-site has demonstrated. In 1994 I pointed out that lighting world-wide has been sweeping up insects for decades, and that being the case, it would have a concomitant effect on higher order consumers such as birds, bats, other small mammals, spiders, reptiles and amphibians. It also affects plants, as there will be fewer insects to pollinate them, and that this will amplify the already deteriorating positive feedback cycle by providing even less food for the insects to feed on. Environmental organisations are now telling us that there have been major declines in common species over the past forty years that correlate negatively with the expansion of street, security, commercial and decorative lighting over the past forty or fifty years. The connection between the decimation of insects and lighting needs to be recognised by all groups concerned with the environment and they should now vigorously campaign against it. Lighting does not reduce crime, as has been shown in New Zealand and elsewhere, where criminality dropped almost to zero during power cuts. Some lighting, of course, is necessary, but it should be used sparingly, where needed, when needed, and in the correct amounts. It should not to be obtrusive to neighbours and should not to pose a hazard to the environment. Reducing light pollution in the long term, then, will be beneficial to us all, as it will substantially reduce energy wastage, save money and contribute less to global warming and climate change.

Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,367 other followers

%d bloggers like this: