By John Macklien Olandag | February 17, 2021
“In most cities the sky looks as though it has been emptied of stars, leaving behind a vacant haze that mirrors our fear of the dark and resembles the urban glow of dystopian science fiction.”
-Verlyn Klinkenborg, Our Vanishing Night
Subjects concerning the environment have always been attributed to physical and tangible aspects. Afterall, those that can be seen and felt have the most immediate impact on the people. The garbage problem for instance, has been hampering the environmental sustainability that the world had longed to materialize.
Yet, another matter is often overlooked: the issue of light pollution.
Lighting Research Center defines light pollution as “an unwanted consequence of outdoor lighting and includes such effects as sky glow, light trespass, and glare.” To elaborate further, here are the effects of light pollution.
Light Pollution and Nature
Sky glow is the increasing luminosity of the night sky. It is mostly seen in urban areas where artificial lights brought by traffic, buildings, factories, adverts, and other sources of manmade lights. The night sky then turns into a day like image as people get awakened by the flash of these lights.
National Geographic reported that about 80% of the global population has witnessed sky glow, with developed and developing areas considered to be hotspots as human activity is concentrated in said places.
The sky glow has always been a concern for astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts as it hampers their ability to see celestial objects. Urban lights often shine brighter than stars.
From the outside, this phenomenon may not affect the environment. However, it affects the physiological process of both animals and humans, therefore interrupting ecological balance. Circadian rhythm, an innate clock inside every organism that dictates their day-to-day activities, is one natural process that is affected by sky glow and photo pollution. Included in the process is the melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that initiates sleep in humans. When too much light is perceived at night, melatonin production also decreases, causing anxiety, sleep deprivation, fatigue, and other health problems.
Ecological balance is also affected as animals are influenced by the effects of light pollution. Migrating animals that are guided by moonlight get confused and would often die in the journey.
Richard Stevens, a University of Connecticut professor and cancer epidemiologist, says light hazards start to affect the biological system once light hits the retina of every organism’s eyes; and unfortunately, it does not just affect animals. According to Winslow Brigg in his 2006 book Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting, prolonged exposure to artificial photons will affect many flora and fauna from adjusting with seasonal variation, therefore, affecting the natural behavior of wildlife even in rural areas. From breeding cycles and nocturnal patterns to even the animals’ ability to adapt to their surroundings, light pollution affects the entire ecosystem.
In the article “Missing the Dark: Health Effects of Light Pollution” by Ron Chepesiuk, instances of changing animal behavior due to artificial light can be seen on sea turtles. Female turtles usually lay their eggs on the beaches. When these beaches illuminate at night, chances are, females may not nest in them. Often, the turtles themselves are disoriented by the blinding lights of roads and streets, where they are in danger of being overrun by passing vehicles.
Addressing the Illuminating Problem
Many of the US states have now started to address the issue of light pollution by urging people to control outdoor lighting. Even the position of light sources can ensure that no photoelectric energy is wasted. This does not only lead to less energy consumption but also less energy consumption. As such, the use of energy-efficient light sources has been the guiding concept for manufacturers to boost natural sustainability in their production of such materials.
Additionally, dark sky reserve has also been another way to address light pollution. Just like how marine life is preserved through marine sanctuaries, dark skies, being part also of the environment as a stimuli for sustainable ecology, are also preserved through these initiatives. The International Dark Sky Association in the United States was formed in 1988 to mitigate this often-overlooked environmental problem.
The Central Idaho Park Sky Reserve, with a land area of almost 4000 square kilometers, became the first approved dark sky reserve of the 11 other dark sky reserves in the world.
The most practical thing people can do to address this issue specifically, is to make sure their lights are directed down instead of upwards, and they should be properly shielded with opaque objects, which can be done through closing curtains at night to keep the light inside.
Chepesiuk, R. (2009, January 1). Missing the Dark: Health Effects of Light Pollution . Environmental Health Perspectives. Retrieved February 15, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2627884/
Florida Atlantic University. (n.d.). The Problems of Light Pollution — Overview. Retrieved February 15, 2021, from https://cescos.fau.edu/observatory/lightpol.html
James Madison University. (n.d.). Light Pollution: The Overuse & Misuse of Artificial Light at Night. Retrieved February 15, 2021, from https://www.jmu.edu/planetarium/light-pollution.shtml
Lotzof, K. (n.d.). Bye-bye dark sky: is light pollution costing us more than just the night-time? . National History Museum. Retrieved February 14, 2021, from https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/light-pollution.html
National Geographic. (2019, July 23). Light Pollution. Retrieved February 14, 2021, from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/light-pollution/