Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Winter Wednesday Light Pollution

We have been enjoying our Winter Wednesday activities being offered by The Handbook of Nature Study blog. Each week we read a new chapter from the book "Discover Nature in Winter" and do the associated activities. This week our focus was on the winter sky. Last Saturday night, after reading up on winter constellations and the movement of stars, I convinced my family to leave the warmth of our house and step outside to do some star gazing. Problem was, there were no stars to see due to the effects of light pollution.

Not knowing much about light pollution, I decided to do some research on the Internet and within minutes I stumbled upon The International Dark Sky Association's website. This organization's mission is to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting by following the three goals listed below:

1. Stop the adverse effects of light pollution, including;
-Energy waste, and the air and water pollution caused by energy waste
-Harm to human health
-Harm to nocturnal wildlife and ecosystems
-Reduced safety and security
-Reduced visibility at night
-Poor nighttime ambiance;and

2. Raise awareness about light pollution, its adverse effects, and its solutions; and

3. Educate about the values of quality outdoor lighting.

While I knew and understood that unnecessary outdoor lighting wasted energy, I had no idea that outdoor lighting also caused disruptions to plant, animal and even human life. Through the Dark Sky website, I discovered that artificial outdoor lighting affects flora and fauna by preventing many trees from adjusting to seasonal variations. Animals are impacted because light pollution can alter their behaviors, foraging areas and breeding cycles. Birds are additionally affected when they are attracted to the lights coming from tall buildings and end up colliding with the building. The impacts to humans are shown in an abstract featured on the Dark Sky website called "Missing the Dark: Health Effects of Light Pollution" by Ron Chepesiuk.

Source: © 2001 P. Cinzano, F. Falchi, C.D. Elvidge

The picture above shows how we have increased our use of artificial light over the years and the increases that are expected through 2025. There are some things that we can do right now to reduce the impact of light pollution:

-shield all outdoor lights and lower the wattage.

-use only the light you need to get the job done.

-use timers, dimmers, and sensors to darken unoccupied areas.

-Shut off lights when you can

I have always felt it was a good idea to keep an outdoor light on in the areas around my house at night in order to discourage intruders, yet the Dark Sky website mentions that night time outdoor lighting may actually be lighting the way for those that want to break into homes. Makes me wonder how much safer street lights or parking lot lights really do keep us, especially when considering the amount of crime that happens during the day.

After learning about light pollution and its harmful effects on plants and animals, I realize I need to rethink my use of outdoor lights. I was glad to discover that the city of Chicago is leading the way in this effort. Chicago is the first U.S. city to dim its lights and thus reduce its light pollution in the interest of saving birds. "Lights Out Chicago" is a collaborative effort of the Chicago Audubon Society, the city of Chicago, the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago, and the Field Museum. Throughout the city, lights are either turned off or dimmed during spring and fall migration which results in the saving of 10,000 birds each year.

Finally, as it turns out, all is not lost when it comes to star gazing opportunities for my family. The Fox Valley Astronomy Club holds monthly star gazing parties at Peck Farm Park where members of the club set up their telescopes and interpret celestial happenings for the public. We will be sure to head over there the next time they are offered.

To view past Winter Wednesday posts please click here


Barb-Harmony Art Mom said...

What a great blog entry! I learned so much. We live in a fairly rural area but I know when my neighbor leaves his porch light on and it shines in my bedroom window...annoying. We have started turning our outdoor lights on as well and it makes it more noticeable when there is a full moon. During the summer when I sleep with the shades up to allow the breeze in, I can sometimes see the moon outside my window and it makes me feel good just to know it is there for some reason. it.

Thanks for sharing your experience and I hope you get to visit the star gazing event soon.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Tim Fuller said...

Hey, you are one talented dude! (dudette?) I really like your blog! When I was growing up, we lived in a small mining town in the Sierra Mountains in California and the night sky was crystal clear then. My father taught me to recognize a few stars. Thanks for your long-time support of local food in our area. I realize how fortunate I am to hang out at the farm all day with Bucky the Farm Dog and all of nature.
Tim Fuller

Darcy said...

Hey Tim,

Thanks for the great comment and thanks also for all of your hard work on the farm bringing us wonderful organic food all summer long!


barbara said...

Hello Darcy,
Your blog was very enlightening! I will be turning off my large mercury light that I have out by my drive here in the country. I thought it was a way to reduce crime but now I see the other side thanks to your post. Also, I have so many wonderful birds around that I want to keep them healthy and migrating through. Thanks for the informative blog -- Barbara - hickory splint homestead