The Dark Side of Keeping the Lights On
Sat, April 10, 2021

The Dark Side of Keeping the Lights On

Electric light has allowed people to enjoy their hobbies and work hours of their choosing without regard to time of day / Photo by: CHAINFOTO24 via Shutterstock

 

Hundreds of years ago, our early ancestors survived with only the moon and stars to guide them at night. Now, most of us couldn’t imagine not having any light at night. Indeed, electric light is one of the most important inventions that has ever been created by humans. It has enhanced personal safety and lives by lighting up everything from the smallest community to the largest city through all hours of the night.

Electric light has allowed people to enjoy their hobbies and work hours of their choosing without regard to time of day. While electric lights have indeed transformed our lives, its impacts on wildlife and human health are only worsening. The 2016 study “The New World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness” showed that more than 80% of the world’s population live under light-polluted skies. Also, 99% of people in the US and Europe live under skies almost 10% brighter than the natural starry state.

BBC, a British public service broadcaster, reported that researchers warned that nights that never get darker than twilight are affecting nocturnal animals. This has also been attributed to sleep disorders and diseases in humans. The study showed that the entire population in Singapore lives under this extreme level of artificial night-time brightness,

“There are a lot of street lights that are not particularly well designed. They shine light into areas that are not useful - so up into the sky, for example, isn't really useful for anybody. There's a big difference between having a well-lit street, which means everybody can get around really easily and safely, and a brightly lit street, which could mean there's too much light and it's not helping anyone,” Dr. Christopher Kyba, from the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, said. 

This phenomenon is called light pollution, excessive, misdirected, or obtrusive artificial (usually outdoor) light that can have serious implications on plants, animals, insects, and even human health.

Understanding Light Pollution

In 1866, people noticed that dim stars were no longer visible from cities such as Paris and London. By 1909, astronomers and skywatchers had to find new ways to observe stars because they could no longer effectively do this from cities. This is one of the earliest consequences of light pollution ever seen. According to Globe at Night, an international citizen-science campaign to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution, light pollution can interfere with astronomical research, wash out starlight in the night sky, and disrupt ecosystems. 

The main cause of light pollution is using outdoor lights when they are not necessary. It is caused by various sources of light such as the intrusive light falling inside our rooms from outside at night, large industrial and residential areas, and excessive and immoderate use of lighting. Also, poorly designed residential, commercial, and industrial outdoor lights contribute significantly to light pollution. While this seems easy to handle, excessive lighting can adversely impact our planet. Reports show that it is accountable for emitting millions of tons of carbon dioxide across the world. 

The main cause of light pollution is using outdoor lights when they are not necessary / Photo by: Werner Sigg via Shutterstock

 

According to the National Geographic, an American pay television network and flagship channel that is owned by National Geographic Partners, Amanda Gormley of the Tucson-based International Dark-Sky Association stated that light pollution is linked to the ever more fast-paced world. “We lose something essential; we lose a part of ourselves when we lose access to the night sky. We lose that sense of stillness and awe that should be right over our heads every night,” she said. 

A new project at the University of Exeter called “Lost at Night” explores how the ever-increasing levels of light pollution are not good for our planet. Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, reported that it bleaches the night sky and makes the Milky Way and deep-sky objects impossible to see. It can also be detrimental to plant flowering times, biological clocks of nocturnal and diurnal species, migration times and navigation for birds and turtles, and people’s sleep. 

How to Solve Light Pollution

A recent study conducted by researchers from Washington University in St. Louis noted that while light pollution has affected us, it is relatively straightforward to reverse compared. According to Science Daily, an American website that aggregates press releases about science, the researchers reviewed 229 studies to document the myriad ways that light alters the living environment. 

The findings of the study published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation showed that light pollution can be addressed by simply turning off lights that aren’t needed. Lighting policies should be managed in such a way that would reduce energy use and have minimal impacts on our ecosystems and human health. Making lights motion-activated, putting fixtures on lights to cover up bulbs, and directing light where it is needed are also some of the recommendations. This is because the light coming from bulbs usually illuminates different directions. 

Brett Seymoure, Grossman Family Postdoctoral Fellow of the Living Earth Collaborative at Washington University in St. Louis, stated that it's important to use different colors of light. "Right now, I suggest people stick with amber lights near their houses, as we know that blue lights can have greater health consequences for humans and ecosystems,” he said. 

Being informed that light pollution exists and how it greatly impacts us can help in saving our environment. This only shows that excessive use of anything in our world poses consequences to our ecosystems and also to humans. 

The findings of the study published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation showed that light pollution can be addressed by simply turning off lights that aren’t needed / Photo by: NA image via Shutterstock