There’s nothing quite like a crystal clear night in the country. The quiet solitude, away from city noise gives you a chance to not only listen intently, but to look intently as well. Only “in the middle of nowhere” do you really get away from light pollution—the modern phenomenon that has overtaken our cities, shrouding them in a smoky glow that hides the full brilliance of a starry night.
What Is Light Pollution?
Look at any picture of the Earth taken at night from outer space and you immediately recognize what light pollution is—the sum impact of modern artificial lighting that illuminates our streets, our public spaces and our homes and “pollutes” the otherwise pristine darkness. The term broadly refers to several types of light pollution, including light trespass, over-illumination, glare, light clutter and skyglow.
At the very least, light pollution is a nuisance that limits our ability to enjoy nature’s true beauty. At its worst, light pollution can have a negative impact on any living organism with a built-in biological clock tuned to the natural light-dark cycle. These circadian rhythms follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, and they help regulate physical, mental and behavioral patterns (e.g. sleep!).
But all that light cuts crime and makes us safer, right? Not so fast. Studies actually show that increased lighting isn’t much of a deterrent to criminals, as they like to see what they’re doing just as much as the rest of us.
Our modern lifestyles nearly guarantee that light pollution won’t go away. We need light to see when we’re driving home at night. We need lights in parking lots just to find our car. And the 8-hour workday isn’t just from 9-5 anymore, so we need lights on at the office to get our work done. But there are certain measures we can take to limit the amount of light pollution invading our skies (see below).
What Is Light Trespass?
Light trespass is a form of light pollution, and it occurs when unwanted light creeps onto another’s property or into another’s window. For example, you may have a light on your back patio illuminating your backyard. If some of that light creeps over the fence and shines into your neighbor’s living room through a window, your backyard light is trespassing on your neighbor.
A number of cities across the U.S. have started somewhat of a grassroots effort to curb light trespass in their communities, and thus cut down on overall light pollution. Their efforts are supported by the International Dark-Sky Association, whose mission is “to preserve and protect the night time environment and our heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting.”
How to Combat Light Pollution
Curbing light pollution really depends on what the problem is. For the example above, where your backyard light is trespassing into your neighbor’s home, it’s just a matter of adjusting your light fixture (swapping in a new fixture that can be focused, choosing a lower wattage bulb, etc.). In general, here are a few of the main solutions to reducing light pollution…
- Use lighting systems that use only the minimum intensity needed for the application
- Utilize smart controls or timers to keep lights off when they’re not needed
- Update light fixtures, choosing ones that are able to focus or direct the light directly to (only) where it’s needed—a common solution is the full cutoff lighting fixture, which directs light downwards and prevents it from escaping upwards or outwards
- Choose the right type of lamp—some give off light waves that are more prone to cause glare depending on the conditions