The issue of light pollution is a topic that often received attention in science classes due to the damage it caused the environment on a regular basis. It is now normal for some form of light to always be present. It is not exclusive to the casinos of Las Vegas but a constant feature of all developed countries’ societies. Lamp posts come on the moment it gets dark. In all of our homes, unless there is a power cut, artificial light quickly replaces natural light in importance and significance. The balance is clearly directed towards having light at any cost.
According to National Geographic, when there was a power cut in Los Angeles in 1994, residents were able to see a band of the Milky Way which had previously been obscured by the prominence of light in the area. The excess light, for all the brilliance it brings in normal circumstances, has the potential to be extremely damaging. How so? The night-time skies have become obscured, hindering the way individuals appreciated the natural world in the past. More importantly, it can endanger ecosystems which are specifically reliant on darkness.
This links to how humans behave within mainstream society. Our lives, particularly in Western countries, have become incredibly based around a fast-paced world, which means the natural environment is quickly neglected. Light pollution specifically refers to the excessive use of artificial light, according to the International Dark-Sky Association, which can involve glare, excessive brightness and light generally being present where it is not required.
It is now part of our society that some form of light is always present
Such pollution is extremely impactful on the way individuals are able to live. In 2016, scientists estimated that 99% of continental America and Europe experiences some kind of light pollution, with a third of humans being unable to see the Milky Way. This includes 80% of North Americans, while light pollution has roughly increased by 2% a year between 2012 and 2016.
How can humans manage this? A discussion has turned to using new types of light bulbs. Generally, this is highlighted for its energy savings and price reductions rather than to reduce light pollution specifically. With Los Angeles recently replacing 150,000 streetlights with LEDs, the city saved $8 million across the year, which represented a 60% reduction in their energy costs.
However, LEDs have their own problems – they are often overused and illuminate specific areas disproportionately, wasting light. Similarly, the bright intensity of some lights can be fatal to animals. The National Geographic reported how numerous birds had been killed by the bright lights in 1990 in Toronto. This is due to the glare that may disorientate them, making them fly into gleaming windows and smash into buildings.
The challenge will be trying to maintain this as societies across the globe return to normality
Similarly, the excessive amounts of light can sometimes negatively impact humans too. Darkness is a cue to sleep at night, while the bright lights assist humans in waking up in the morning and trying to retain a sensible body clock. If there is too much light, humans can physically find it hard to fall asleep, which can make us hungry and therefore damage our dietary habits. Such excessive amounts of light can even be threatening regarding illnesses, like heart diseases and cancer. Philosophically too, the night sky’s full presence can make individuals feel like they are part of something larger rather than just existing in their own bubble.
What are the solutions then? Using dimmer lights where possible can definitely form part of the answer, alongside reducing the amount of unnecessary indoor lighting, especially in empty buildings. Similarly, having lower lighting can also be better in the long term for the environment and maintaining a proper sense of sustainability.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the number of stars visible in the skies increased during the national lockdown. In 2020, 61% of people counted 10 or fewer stars compared to 51% at the same point in 2021. Similarly, 5% of participants saw thirty or more states in truly dark nights, which was the highest figure recorded since 2013. While lockdown has undoubtedly had a huge number of costs, the clearly reduced use of electricity has evidently made seeing nature more accessible to individuals. The challenge will be trying to maintain this as societies across the globe return to normality.