Too Much Light in the Night

Like most eco-warriors, Enviro Girl recycles, picks up other people’s litter, avoids flushing harmful chemicals down the drain and tries to reduce her emissions by sharing rides and consolidating her driving errands.  She’s aware of pollution in all of its forms, even pollution most people don’t think about:  light pollution.

If you step outside at night, can you see the stars in the sky?  If you can’t easily pick out the Big Dipper, it’s due to light pollution.  It’s true–too much light is an environmental hazard, causing problems beyond making urban stargazing a difficult hobby.

Light pollution is simply too much light at night, usually unnecessary light or wasted light, that disrupts the habitat of all kinds of creatures.   Why is too much light at night a problem?

For starters, it’s often a waste of energy.  What’s the point in completely illuminating an entire area reaching up to the clouds?  Sure, some night lighting is essential for safety reasons, but much of the light we create at night serves no useful purpose.  Enviro Girl has several outdoor light fixtures at her house, but she only turns them on as they’re needed, not every night.  And inside her entire house, only one windowless bathroom has a small nightlight that turns on when the room grows dark–all of the other lights go off at night.

Energy use aside, too much light at night disrupts human sleep patterns because light is part of the biological prodding that wakes us up just as darkness helps us sleep.  Light at night messes up migrating birds, feeding patterns of nocturnal creatures and insect breeding.  Take a firefly for example.  A firefly finds a mate by flashing at night–when there’s too much light, there’s no way a firefly can find a mate.  Many firefly populations have disappeared because they’ve no safe place to live.  Nocturnal mammals rely on darkness for cover–when everything is bright at night, they become easy prey and their numbers diminish. Nesting sea turtles rely on the cover at night to lay their eggs–but the bright artificial lights on many beaches confuse the turtles, who now cannot find a safe spot to nest.  According to National Geographic, this results in hundreds of thousands of lost hatchlings a year--just in Florida!  It’s easy for Enviro Girl to pull a shade and restore darkness so she can sleep at night, but the animals, birds, insects and fish do not have this capability.

Light pollution makes the night sky impossible to see in many parts of the world, it also makes it impossible to study.  The constant haze of light separates people from amazing views of the night sky just as much as noise pollution can separate people from the sounds of nature.

What’s both frustrating and encouraging about light pollution is that it’s an easy problem to fix.  By redesigning light fixtures, we can save energy, preserve our view of the night sky and reduce disrupting nature.  The worst kinds of night light include globe lights, billboards, under-lit signs, wall-mounted non-directional fixtures and mercury vapor lights (commonly known as “barn lights”).  A small detail like designing night lighting to light from above to below instead of from below to above makes all the difference.  Check out these two images:

See how the “globe” fixture lights up the road–not only are there TOO MANY lights illuminating the area (Enviro Girl is hard-pressed to find any value in making it look like broad daylight 24/7), half of the light produced goes into the night sky, serving no discernible purpose.

This image shows a well-lit sidewalk.  Almost all of the light produced is targeted to a specific area and very little is escaping into the night sky.  The area is safe without much light reflecting above or beyond where it’s needed.

Enviro Girl appreciates the need for some night lighting to keep people safe, but most of the night lighting she encounters is purely for cosmetic or commercial purposes.  She’s happy to do her part by keeping her neck of the woods dark and welcomes nocturnal creatures who need darkness to survive.  By keeping her lights off at night, bats, owls, rabbits, mice, toads, frogs, raccoons, foxes, skunks, coyotes and yes, even those wonderful fireflies can survive.   She also saves on her electric bill, reduces her carbon footprint and preserves the incredible view of the starry sky.

Enviro Girl encourages you to do nature a favor and examine your use of night lighting.  Can you help reduce light pollution?

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4 thoughts on “Too Much Light in the Night

  1. I was impressed with our hotel in Germany that the hall lights were on motion sensors so that they came on only as we came up the stairs and approached our room. I am also pleased with Target for putting their freezer case lights on motion sensors. I used to go to the gym at 5:30 a.m. and would see stores brightly lit. It didn’t make any sense – the stores weren’t open and I was the only idiot on the road.

  2. In london you cant see any stars during the night but the moon light when its full. we don’t have any lights outdoor and hardly ever use any light inside in the evening and during the nights as its bright outside.

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