Less than 100 years ago, everyone could look up and see a spectacular starry night sky. Now, millions of children across the globe will never experience the Milky Way where they live. The increased and widespread use of artificial light at night is not only impairing our view of the universe, it is adversely affecting our environment, our safety, our energy consumption and our health.
What is Light Pollution?
Most of us are familiar with air, water, and land pollution, but did you know that light can also be a pollutant?
The inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light – known as light pollution – can have serious environmental consequences for humans, wildlife, and our climate. Components of light pollution include:
- Glare – excessive brightness that causes visual discomfort
- Skyglow – brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas
- Light trespass – light falling where it is not intended or needed
- Clutter – bright, confusing and excessive groupings of light sources
Effects of Light Pollution
In disrupting ecosystems, light pollution poses a serious threat in particular to nocturnal wildlife, having negative impacts on plant and animal physiology. It can confuse the migratory patterns of animals, alter competitive interactions of animals, change predator-prey relations, and cause physiological harm. The rhythm of life is orchestrated by the natural diurnal patterns of light and dark; so disruption to these patterns impacts the ecological dynamics.
With respect to adverse health effects, many species, especially humans, are dependent on natural body cycles called circadian rhythms and the production of melatonin, which are regulated by light and dark (e.g., day and night). If humans are exposed to light while sleeping, melatonin production can be suppressed. This can lead to sleep disorders and other health problems such as increased headaches, worker fatigue, medically defined stress, some forms of obesity due to lack of sleep and increased anxiety. And ties are being found to a couple of types of cancer. There are also effects of glare on aging eyes. (See text below.) Health effects are not only due to over-illumination or excessive exposure of light over time, but also improper spectral composition of light (e.g., certain colors of light).
With respect to energy wastage, lighting is responsible for at least one-fourth of all electricity consumption worldwide. Over illumination can constitute energy wastage, especially upward directed lighting at night. Energy wastage is also a waste in cost and carbon footprint.
The good news is that light pollution can be reduced fairly easily by shielding lights properly, by only using light when and where it is needed, by only using the amount that is needed, by using energy efficient bulbs, and by using bulbs with appropriate spectral power distributions for the task at hand.
You Can Help!
The good news is that light pollution, unlike many other forms of pollution, is reversible and each one of us can make a difference! Just being aware that light pollution is a problem is not enough; the need is for action. You can start by minimizing the light from your own home at night. You can do this by following these simple steps.
- Only use lighting when and where it’s needed
- If safety is concern, install motion detector lights and timers
- Properly shield all outdoor lights
- Keep your blinds drawn to keep light inside
- Become a citizen scientist and spread awareness to other persons
Then spread the word to your family and friends and tell them to pass it on. Many people either don’t know or don’t understand a lot about light pollution and the negative impacts of artificial light at night. By being an ambassador and explaining the issues to others you will help bring awareness to this growing problem and inspire more people to take the necessary steps to protect our natural night sky.