I am sure many of you have heard of the phenomenon of light pollution but if you haven’t, you have been experiencing it right here at Penn State. Light pollution occurs generally from outdoor lighting and is excessive, misdirected, or obtrusive artificial light. That’s right, every time you look up at the sky on a clear night and see few to no stars, light pollution is occurring. So what is the big deal? Why does it matter if I can’t see the stars? While you may take the stars for granted, 3 out of every 4 people in cities have never experienced the beauty of pristinely dark skies and over half the world’s population resides in cities. How do you explain the importance of what they’ve lost to light pollution and how can you make them aware that light pollution is a concern on many fronts: safety, energy conservation, cost, health and effects on wildlife, as well as our ability to view the stars? This blog will hope to answer some of these questions.
Why don’t we first take the time to explore the topic of what light pollution is. There are three main types of light pollution. These three are glare, light trespass and skyglow. Glare from unshielded lighting is a public-health hazard—especially the older you become . Glare light scattering in the eye causes loss of contrast, sometimes blinds you temporarily and leads to unsafe driving conditions, for instance. It is the same sensation experienced when looking into the sun and seeing dark spots. Light trespass occurs when unwanted light enters one’s property, for example, by shining unwanted light into a bedroom window of a person trying to sleep. This can lead to sleep disorders and other health problems such as increased headaches, worker fatigue, medically defined stress, some forms of obesity due to lack of sleep and increased anxiety. And ties are being found to a couple of types of cancer. There are also effects of glare on aging eyes. And lastly, Skyglow refers to the glow effect that can be seen over populated areas. Skyglow is the combination of all the reflected light and upward-directed (unshielded) light escaping up into the sky, blurring the vision of the stars.
This is the least of the impact of light pollution however. Animals are extremely effected by this blinding light. Artificial lighting seems to be taking the largest toll on bird populations. Nocturnal birds use the moon and stars for navigation during their bi-annual migrations. When they fly through brightly-lit area, they become disoriented. The birds often either into brightly lit broadcast towers or buildings or circle them until they drop from exhaustion. According to national geographic, over two consecutive nights in 1954, 50,000 birds died at Warner Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, when they followed lights straight into the ground. And in 1981, over 10,000 birds slammed into floodlit smokestacks at the Hydro Generating Plant near Kingston, Ontario. While this does sound highly comical, this is clucking serious. I mean it though, these species could easily become endangered if this mass bird genocide continues unchecked.
Birds aren’t only ones effected by light pollution though. It also endangers sea turtles. Beaches in sections of Florida’s highly developed coastline are nesting ground for rare loggerhead, leatherback and green sea turtles. Bright lights nearby discourage females from coming ashore to nest. To make matters worse, newly hatched turtles need a dark night sky to orient themselves toward the sea, but artificial lights behind beaches lure them away. Hatchlings are attracted to lights and crawl inland, or crawl aimlessly down the beach, sometimes until dawn, when terrestrial predators or birds swoop down and take them.
So what can you do to help stop this from occurring? Why spread the word! Cutting back on lighting helps every little bit. Lighting makess up an immense part of of America’s energy consumption. In 2014, about 412 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity were used for lighting by the residential and commercial sectors in the U.S. This was about 15% of the total electricity consumed by both of these sectors and about 11% of total U.S. electricity consumption.
I hope you found this blog post informative. Thank you for reading.