Yesterday’s Earth Hour inspired me to write a little about light pollution.
I’m not 100% sure whether this is a true story or just an urban legend but someone told me how in some city in the US the emergency phone lines were filled with calls from disturbed citizens on a specially clear night – the callers were afraid of the strange lights that filled the sky. Most of us would call them stars. If this story is true, I think it is quite a sad one. In addition to not being able to enjoy the stars, light pollution impacts on our night vision, circadian rhythm which can lead to sleeping and health problems, and melatonin production. In addition, light pollution affects animals too as it can cause a loss of their night ecosystem. This results in decreases in animal populations; for instance nocturnal animals are more exposed to predators and suffer increased difficulties in finding food. Also birds, reptiles and insects are affected by this problem.
Light pollution could obviously be decreased by using less unnecessary lighting in general and preferring more efficient lighting options. For example street lights that cast the light downwards are a better option than lights which emit light to all directions. In Finland the Finnish Transport Agency has set a goal that by this fall, 20 % of the lighting of the government owned road network will be turned off during night time. In addition to decreasing the amount of light pollution, this will save the government €1.2 million yearly.
Events like Earth Hour are a good way to increase awareness as well as create an impact. For instance, on Facebook Earth Hour has received 852 000 likes and created discussions. Of course it is not enough if people turn their lights off for an hour every year, yet it is a start as I believe this event made people also to reconsider their lighting usage in general and some of them are likely to be turning off unnecessary lights. At least for some time.