Light Pollution Wastes Energy and Money

By Brad Hopkins and Chris Clark

[from the Commercial Record, April 21, 2022]

Lighting that is too bright or shines when and where it’s not needed is wasteful, and energy waste has huge consequences for our economy and the environment.

The amount of energy our country uses in one year to light streets and parking lots could provide all the electricity that New York City needs for TWO years!

The International Dark Sky Association estimates that 35 percent of outdoor lighting in the U.S. is unnecessary. That translates into $3.3 billion of wasted money and the release of 21 million tons of carbon dioxide per year! To offset all that carbon dioxide, we’d have to plant 875 million trees annually. 

In order to be good stewards of both our environment and also our economy, we need to reduce outdoor lighting. We can install more efficient bulbs that cut energy use by 60-70 percent. Outdoor fixtures can be shielded and direct light down, not into the sky. This type of lighting will provide the same level of light on the ground, but use less energy and cost much less.

Another thing we can do is turn off indoor lighting at businesses and office buildings during the night. Dimmers, motion sensors, and timers can also reduce the amount of energy we waste. Good lighting design reduces energy use and carbon emissions. It also saves money and allows us to enjoy the night sky. 

Recent changes in LED lighting technology have caused many cities and towns across the nation to start replacing older street lighting with newer, more energy-efficient bulbs. Some cities, however,  are using the money they save on electricity to buy more lighting.  

A research study is currently underway, looking at which color of LED lighting helps people see moving objects more clearly at night. The results could help lead to a safer nighttime environment for both drivers and pedestrians.

There’s little debate that LED bulbs are the way to go

One of the most important questions is whether use of LED lighting will result in a lower carbon footprint, which would be wonderful for the environment. The answer depends on how much light is used. LEDs use less electricity, but they will only reduce energy consumption if we use them to produce the same amount of light or LESS than before.

 Many people are becoming concerned about light pollution and want to know what they can do to make a difference in their community. Beyond fixing your own lighting, one thing you can do is work to get an outdoor lighting ordinance adopted in your community. This would be a great tool for helping your city or town implement good, safe outdoor lighting — not to mention saving money. 

Dark Sky Action Item 6: Plan to attend one of the events during Dark Sky Week in our community.

Next week: “We Can Reverse Light Pollution

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