I just had my first experience with the Northern Lights. In the dark background of almost new moon night the slowly moving phantom of green light looked very majestic. The sad part of the scene that I could not help notice was how polluted the sky was with the ambiance light from the city. This was already 1:00 in the morning and most people were probably already a couple of hours into their sleep and I could not help wonder for whom are all this light lit? This made me think of the topic of consumerism and all the bleak picture of its impact presented in the documentary “Story of Stuff”. As shown in the documentary one of the characteristics of consumerism is the possession and use of goods and services even though they are not necessary. Simple logic tells that other than the street lights and the lights in places like hospitals, airport and fire brigade it does not make sense to leave the lights lit for the whole night. Whatever other use the excessive city light might have, it can be made such that the light is lit when required. Technology like motion sensors can be used to make the light use more efficient. In essence, it seems very logical for me to think that it is just an extension of mindset plagued with consumerism that the night lights are lit in the city although there is no need for them. Last week when I was in Tanzania even during the quarter moon I could see the Milky Way, the Big Dipper, the Orion Belt and some planets fairly easily. But here in Helsinki due to the artificial lights even in new moon night one has to struggle to find the stars. As the famous American artist and the author of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes puts forth, “If the people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live life a lot differently.” I hope that one day due to our efforts and enlightenment from courses such as this we will be able give our future generation an unpolluted sky where they can enjoy the stars and the majestic Northern lights from their backyards, even in Helsinki.

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And here is what I saw from Espoo. 

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2 comments
  1. eliserehula said:

    Nice writing Tara, I couldn’t be without commenting on this. Night sky and stars, what could be better.

    For us who live in downtown areas, it really is almost impossible to have a moment, indoors or outdoors, without even a glimpse of light. This so called ”light pollution” is not only a visual harm but also an environmental problem that harms, I’d say, every city in the world. As you mentioned, it’s obvious that there’s always need for lights even during the night time. Lights are used for increasing safety in the streets and other public / open areas and in shops and offices to prevent burglaries. Also traffic needs light. Not forgetting that all of the people don’t follow the ”normal” sleep rythm from 22-7.

    The need on light is still not only a matter of safety and health, but also about being used to something. Even tho the bumpy and bad roads in Tanzania, people were still walking outside in the darkness without a problem. For me it was something magical to walk on those streets durign the nights and enjoy the clear star spectrum, but as I talked with the local people, the opinions were not that straightforward that I thought. The ones who’ve been their whole life in a village with not even a one street light, didn’t see a point why there should be lights when it’s dark. The houses are dark almost all day long and once you know the streets you can navigate wherever with no problem even though you can’t see anything. Then on the other hand, the ones who’ve more used to have electric lights in the everyday life and maybe have been traveling and seen the difference, are longing for some more light in the environment. And I would also say that also here in Finland even tho we are used to have laternes all over, people from rural areas are more comportable going for a walk in the dark forest paths than the people from downtown areas.

    One thing worth of mentioning is also accessibility. Often we percieve accessibility as physical issue, but forget the visual accessibility, that is important for everyone, but especially for the ones with bad sight and other illnesses.

    I found this article about the light pollution in Finland and how the people perceive it http://yle.fi/uutiset/valosaaste_hairitsee_suomalaisia/6371622 (only in Finnish). As mentioned before, lights are an environmental and visual problem, but for me it was surprising to read that they also cause health problems. In the article researcher Jari Lyytimäki says that artificial lights cause physical changes, that affect for example to our health, hormonal functions and falling asleep. Also the risk of breast cancer is said to increase. Even more interesting is that many countries have started to reduce the amount of artificial light pollution by law, but here in Finland we haven’t taken any governmental actions, even though the environmental law mentions the light pollution as one of the factors that harm the environment. Despite of that, there are no guidelines or rules how to reduce it. The ways can still be really simple and practical. For example in Tenerife the hotels in some area have to use blindinders after the dark time do keep the light inside and also so called ”low-light-hours” during the night time are used sometimes at least in rural areas. The biggest way to affect to the situation is better lightning design, considering light as products and as illumination. It can be as simple as directing the light to point down, not up into the sky.

    Putting effort on the lightning design as part of urban design and in private homes, we are hopefully some day able to see the Orion belt in downtown Helsinki and other cities in the world.

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