I can’t see the stars anymore living here
Let’s go to the hills where the outlines are clear…
~Susan Enan, “Bring On The Wonder,” 2005, susanenan.com ♫
It is a lovely thing: gazing at the deep, clear darkness of the night and the bright, brilliant light of all that’s in it. But like most lovely things, it’s endangered. ~Casey N. Cep, “The End of Stars,” Pacific Standard, psmag.com, 2014
At least when it comes to light pollution, what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas. What happens here seeps across the surrounding desert so that national parks in Nevada, California, Utah, and Arizona… report their horizons aglow, their dark skies tainted. ~Paul Bogard, “To Know the Dark,” The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, 2013,
The light pollution blindfolds every star. ~Carol Ann Duffy, “Bridgewater Hall,” Rapture, 2005
Simply put, light pollution is excessive and inappropriate artificial light at night. Light pollution is not all outdoor lighting, and important distinctions are made depending on the ecological sensitivity of an area. Artificial lighting is an essential part of modern culture and possibly the most obvious demonstration of technological progress. The problem arises when “progress” cross the line to become wasted energy, wasted resources, and a negative alteration of the environment. ~The International Dark-Sky Association, “Our Endangered Night,” Fighting Light Pollution: Smart Lighting Solutions for Individuals and Communities, 2012, darksky.org
For those living in cities… it can be hard to imagine that in truly dark spaces, people would run out of wishes before they’d run out of shooting stars. ~Megan Finnerty, “Valley light pollution erasing stars from Arizona night,” azcentral.com, 2014
Four hundred years ago, the twinkling stars cast shadows on a moonless night. Constellations were so intricate as to be unrecognizable today, and some sky landmarks were defined not by individual stars but by the dark spaces between them. The Milky Way appeared so solid that only a magnified view revealed it wasn’t one body but hundreds of thousands of stars so densely clustered that their faint, ancient light formed a path across the cosmos. ~The International Dark-Sky Association, “Our Endangered Night,” Fighting Light Pollution: Smart Lighting Solutions for Individuals and Communities, 2012, darksky.org
People need the sense of beauty and perspective and awe that we get from our exposure to the universe in a dark night sky. It’s part of every culture, part of being human — to contemplate what’s above us. ~Marker Marshall, Grand Canyon Park Ranger, 2014, quoted by Megan Finnerty
As a child I was afraid of night at the lake because the dark was so thick it seemed tangible, something you could stick your hands into or hold, like muck, or drapery. And the woods are still that way, but the sky is beginning to wear at the edges where gas stations hope to attract customers by immolating themselves in white light, and roadside restaurants blow their electricity bills straight into the sky. Each summer when I return to the lake I am no longer so much afraid of the dark as I am afraid for the dark. ~Paul Bogard, “Why Dark Skies?,” Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark, 2008,
As light pollution spreads we are slowly losing one of the oldest and most universal links to all human history. ~Peter Lipscomb, astronomer, “Dark Skies,” Santa Fe Conservation Trust, sfct.org, 2013
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder where you are.
Looking up is no solution;
The sky’s so full of light pollution.
~David H. Levy, astronomer, c. 2013, unverified
A millennium without air or light pollution made for pitch-black skies. The stars didn’t just appear anymore. They exploded. Diamonds on black velvet. You couldn’t tear your eyes away. ~Blake Crouch, Wayward, 2019
…the smoke-smuggered stars… ~Dr. Seuss, The Lorax, 1971
At first blush, it’s hard to imagine why light pollution is a big deal. Sure, it’s nice to be able to see the stars at night. But artificial lighting is also incredibly valuable — we can now do all sorts of things in the dark that were once hard to do. We don’t have to squint to read by candlelight or hold up a lantern to walk down streets at night… Still, it’s possible that modern-day lighting has gone a bit overboard. In recent years, scientists have found that excessive artificial lighting at night can actually have a surprising number of adverse consequences. Here are four big ones: light pollution can disrupt our sleep, it really messes with wildlife, it’s a big waste of energy, and it can diminish our sense of the universe. ~Brad Plumer, “Light pollution is erasing the night sky. Can we bring it back?,” Vox.com, 2014
Light pollution doesn’t just bleach the night sky. It squanders electricity, does little to curb crime, disrupts life for animals including sea turtles, bats and migratory birds, and has been linked to everything from insomnia to breast cancer in humans. “The whole issue isn’t about not having light. It’s how do we use light more responsibly and thoughtfully,” said Paul Bogard, author of 2013’s “The End of Night.” ~Megan Finnerty, “Valley light pollution erasing stars from Arizona night,” azcentral.com, 2014
More than anything, protecting our skies from light pollution is vital for reminding us of our place in the universe… The night sky reminds us of how vibrant our planet is, urging us not to take it for granted, but to protect it and care for it — this living, breathing world suspended in the cold, glittering vastness of space. ~Tiffany Francis, Dark Skies: A Journey into the Wild Night, 2019, tiffanyfrancisbaker.com
We are losing dark skies all over the globe, but nowhere more than in western Europe and North America. Astronomers say that because of light pollution, fully 80 percent of the people living in these areas no longer experience “real night,” that is, real darkness. ~Paul Bogard, “Why Dark Skies?,” Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark, 2008,
But one thing worries me — the ever increasing plague that is light pollution and especially when it concerns the topic of this book — the Milky Way. How many of us can remember a time when we could go out into our gardens or a nearby park and see the wonderful swathe of the Milky Way cut a path across the sky? Nowadays one needs to be deep in a sparsely populated rural landscape or high in the lonely mountains in order to see this wonder of nature.
We are told constantly that the resources and animals of the world we live in need to be conserved and protected, and I agree wholeheartedly with this notion… Yet, it seems to me that the conservation of nature and the appreciation of our world stops when it gets dark. Surely, the most wonderful spectacle in all of nature is the night sky, blazing forth in all its glory. Yet most of the world seems unaware that we are losing this resource. ~Dr. Michael D. Inglis, FRAS, “A Plea to the Faithful,” Astronomy of the Milky Way, 2004
Lighted towers and tall buildings so confuse migrating birds that they circle and die of exhaustion or of collisions with each other or the structures themselves. Sea turtle hatchlings attracted to coastal streetlights end up desiccated, crushed under foot and wheel, or killed by predators. Yet beyond these high-profile examples, the magnitude of the ecological consequences of artificial night lighting is only beginning to be known. But all indications are that unless we consider protection of the night, our best-laid daytime conservation plans will be inadequate. ~Catherine Rich and Travis Longcore, Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting, 2006
What would happen if we were to understand darkness as sacred? We would turn down our lights, for one thing. We would design our fixtures so they sent no light into the sky. We would understand that the wildness upon which the places we love depend, depends itself on the darkness of night. ~Paul Bogard, “Why Dark Skies?,” Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark, 2008,
What happens when humans tamper with the age-old balance of day and night? ~Joan Marie Galat, joangalat.com, 2017
No matter what time they are most active, all animals need darkness. Nocturnal animals are adapted to capture food and avoid enemies in dark environments. Animals that are active at night face less competition for food, water, shelter, and space. Diurnal animals, like red squirrels, need darkness to hide from predators and feel safe enough to sleep. But squirrels can’t close drapes or put on an eye mask… ~Joan Marie Galat, Dark Matters – Nature’s Reaction to Light Pollution, 2017, joangalat.com
The dark skies are partially obscured by the light bulbs of the streetlamps below burning with a vibrant luminosity… The glowing orbs of light appear to challenge the dark skies above the city. ~Jeffrey Estrella, The Time Stone, 2013
In large cities around the world, millions of artificial lights have replaced natural darkness with a pinkish haze that hides all but the brightest stars. Poorly designed fixtures illuminate objects with the intensity of daylight, whitewashing the sides of buildings, streaming through windows and over property lines, and escaping into the atmosphere. Billboard lights and business signs demand attention at hours when there is little likelihood of customers seeing them. Searchlights and light sculptures pierce the darkness, attracting hundreds of birds and night-flying insects. Security lights brashly illuminate lonely stairways, parking lots, and ATM machines, creating shadows that actually reduce visibility. ~The International Dark-Sky Association, “Our Endangered Night,” Fighting Light Pollution: Smart Lighting Solutions for Individuals and Communities, 2012, darksky.org
Darkness helps regulate sleep patterns in humans and provides migration, feeding, and mating cues for wildlife. Even trees depend on the length of the day to guide the timing of leaf molt. Cycles of light and dark have determined the rhythms of life since life began. ~The International Dark-Sky Association, “Our Endangered Night,” Fighting Light Pollution: Smart Lighting Solutions for Individuals and Communities, 2012, darksky.org
Aside from all the health effects, all the negative disruption to our fragile wildlife, and all the money and energy wasted on excessive artificial lights, perhaps the most effective way to understand the importance of dark skies is to simply look up. Every year, more and more people are losing access to the night sky, unable to see the stars and planets due to light pollution. One of the most well-known galaxies, the Milky Way — that band of sparkling, ethereal light smeared over our heads — is becoming so difficult to observe that a growing majority of people believe they have never seen it. In 1994, an earthquake in Los Angeles knocked out all the power lines, and the emergency services received numerous calls from residents reporting that a strange, silvery cloud had appeared in the night sky. They were seeing the Milky Way as, for the first time in their lives, it was not obliterated by the skyglow emitted from the city. ~Tiffany Francis, Dark Skies: A Journey into the Wild Night, 2019, tiffanyfrancisbaker.com
For much of the populations of North America and Europe the night sky is no longer black, or even dark. Rather, it is a bright yellow orange, aglow from poorly designed light fixtures and almost bereft of stars. For some people born in the 1980s or later, it is possible that the only object they have seen in the night sky is the Moon. ~Mike D. Reynolds and Michael E. Bakich, “Light Pollution,” Exploring the Universe: A Laboratory Guide for Astronomy, 2015
We are wasting hundreds of millions of dollars a year on our light bills due to poorly designed lighting, and in matters of safety it is far more important that lighting be effectively used than abundantly used. We are ignoring warnings from scientists about serious consequences for our health. Our lights are killing songbirds that migrate at night; the list is long of nocturnal birds, animals, amphibians, and insects that depend on darkness. Some are as famous as wolves and sea turtles, some as ignored as salamanders and moths. ~Paul Bogard, “Why Dark Skies?,” Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark, 2008,
Returning the night sky to its natural state is as simple as thoughtful placement of outdoor lighting: putting light where it’s needed and darkening areas where it’s not. These solutions save energy, conserve resources, and restore ecosystems. ~The International Dark-Sky Association, “Our Endangered Night,” Fighting Light Pollution: Smart Lighting Solutions for Individuals and Communities, 2012, darksky.org
Modern society requires outdoor lighting for a variety of needs, including safety and commerce. IDA recognizes this but advocates that any required lighting be used wisely. To minimize the harmful effects of light pollution, lighting should:
• Only be on when needed
• Only light the area that needs it
• Be no brighter than necessary
• Minimize blue light emissions
• Be fully shielded (pointing downward)
~International Dark-Sky Association, “Outdoor Lighting Basics,” darksky.org, established 1988
Dark skies-friendly lighting checklist:
1. Is the light necessary?
2. Is it on only when needed, or should it be on a timer or a sensor?
3. Is it fully shielded: does the light point only down, not out or up?
4. Does it give off the minimum amount of light necessary, or could you do dental surgery on the steps?
5. Is it the right color? Amber bulbs create the least skyglow.
6. Is the bulb energy efficient?
~Megan Finnerty’s 2014 paraphrasing of the International Dark-Sky Association outdoor lighting guidelines
And despite concern about a potential growth in crime, many of these places have experienced the opposite result. In fact, police in Bristol, England, reported a 20 percent reduction in crime, and other English towns have seen crime drop up to 50 percent since lights have been turned off after midnight. ~Paul Bogard, The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, 2013,
Scientists estimate that in about 10 years, America will have only three dark patches of land where people will be able to clearly see the Milky Way and where they’ll be able to do high-quality astronomy and nocturnal wilderness research. Those areas are southeastern Oregon and western Idaho; northeastern Nevada and western Utah; and northern Arizona and southeastern Utah — the better part of the Colorado Plateau… But only the Oregon-Idaho area is really safe, since the neon lights of Las Vegas and the sprawling streets of Phoenix are threatening the other two areas. Like travel and tourism around the Northern Lights, the Milky Way might well become something we go somewhere to see, not something we can see from wherever we are. ~Megan Finnerty, “Disappearing darkness,” azcentral.com, 2014, and Casey N. Cep, “The End of Stars,” psmag.com, 2014 [
Phoenix is in a unique position because it’s such a large metro area so close to so many dark places. Your light affects people’s experience in national parks and nocturnal wildlife environments. You can’t just say, “It’s my backyard and I’ll do what I want.” It’s a shared resource. ~Nathan Ament, coordinator of the Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative for the National Park Service, quoted in Megan Finnerty, “Disappearing darkness,” azcentral.com, 2014 [“Ament said rangers prefer to educate visitors about smart lighting, rather than lobbying municipalities to rewrite lighting codes. ‘In the West, it seems to work a lot better for people to make decisions for themselves than if city or state or federal government tells them to.’”
Once you become aware of light pollution, you see it everywhere. So many of our lights are unshielded — meaning the light sprays in all directions, including into our eyes and into the sky. Simply by insisting our lights be shielded, we could significantly improve safety by eliminating glare and improve our view of the stars by reducing the light shining into the sky. ~Paul Bogard, “Why Dark Skies?,” Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark, 2008,
Around the world, public and private groups known collectively as the “dark sky movement” are taking action to return the sky to its natural state… Yet to achieve this requires education and community participation… This book offers the tools to become a guardian of the night, reduce energy, protect nocturnal ecosystems, and keep the universe in sight for generations to come. ~The International Dark-Sky Association, “Our Endangered Night,” Fighting Light Pollution: Smart Lighting Solutions for Individuals and Communities, 2012, darksky.org
You can be a powerful dark sky advocate for your neighborhood, your city, and even your state and country. Solving the light pollution problem involves raising awareness of the issue so that people are empowered to make better decisions as consumers, voters and community members. ~International Dark-Sky Association, “Take Action,” darksky.org, 2015
Light Pollution & Dark Sky Quotations
Original post date: 2017 Apr 22
1st major revision: 2018 Apr 21
2nd major revision: 2020 Jun 13
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