Light Pollution: Why You Should Care

(Appeared in the Commercial Record on March 17, 2022)

Not long ago, anyone could look up at night and see thousands of stars. Today, artificial lighting has made the night sky too bright for us to see very many stars; only one in five Americans can see the Milky Way from their home.

For millions of years, the sun, moon, and stars were our only source of nighttime light. Now, electric lights have conquered the darkness. Cities glow at night and our daily biological clocks are increasingly out of whack. Light pollution affects all of us, disturbing the environment, wasting energy, threatening health, and creating unsafe conditions. 

Light pollution happens when artificial outdoor lighting ends up in the wrong place or there is too much of it. It’s easy to find examples: a residential floodlight that keeps neighbors awake, a gas station that’s brighter at night than during the day, lights over an empty parking lot blazing at three in the morning, or poorly-aimed street lights that blind drivers. The fact is that most outdoor lighting is neither efficient nor effective. Millions of budget dollars and tons of scarce energy resources are wasted every year due to poorly designed outdoor lighting.

At night, dark-sky-friendly lights are directed downward.

More and more people are becoming aware of light pollution and its negative effects. An organization known as The International Dark-Sky Association is working to protect our nighttime environment. It’s their goal to educate the public on the effects of light pollution and help cities and towns enact ordinances and policies that improve the use of lighting. For more information, visit the darksky.org website and watch a video, browse information on lighting, sign up for a citizen science project, or read through a model ordinance.

The really good news is that light pollution is an easy problem to solve. A growing number of scientists, environmental groups, and local governments are working hard to restore our naturally dark nights. Unlike other forms of pollution, we can have an impact on this one very quickly.

Dark Sky Action Item 1: Consider the outdoor lighting for your home or business. Could you use lower-wattage bulbs? Could you eliminate any lights? Could they turn off automatically after midnight?

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