Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Lighting up the darkness

If governments were really interested in conserving energy they could, to misuse an old expression, kill two birds with one stone and thereby save millions of birds from being killed. How? By making local councils switch off street lighting for most of the night, and controlling the unnecessary use of artificial light. Millions of birds are disorientated by street lights, and billions of insects die beneath them. Over all our major cities there hangs an appalling orange yellow glow of light pollution. The precise amount of environmental damage caused by this pollution is extremely difficult to quantify, but it must be enormous. Of course there are places where night time lighting reduces accidents, but there are plenty of places where there is no obvious benefit of lights being on at 2am. What is the point of governments exhorting us to switch of lights and appliances to save energy, while leaving millions of watts illuminating the night sky?

Anyone who has visited the Estancia la Esperanza in Patagonia will have experienced true darkness, and witnessed the enormity of the Milky Way. To anyone living in most of the industrialised Northern Hemisphere, the enormity of outer space cannot be contemplated. Looking up into the clear Patagonian sky, the millions and millions of stars that constitute the Milky Way becomes mind boggling. Governments have it in their power to limit light pollution -- but no action seems forthcoming.

1 comment:

  1. There's a good (=bad) example near Norwich, at the new leisure centre in Whitlingham Park. This building can only be seen if you're in the park, or on one of the trains passing nearby, where you can catch a brief glimpse of it between the trees and river banks. Yet it is brightly lit at night, when presumably not many people visit the park. This park is great for birds, and one can only wonder how they feel now that their home is lit up 24-seven.