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An Illinois River Almanac

Jason Haupt's Energy and Environment Blog

Turn the Lights Out

Posted by Jason Haupt - Energy

We have a natural fear of the dark. Whether it is the fact that we cannot see the edge of the table to protect our toes or because we fear the monsters that are hiding in the shadows, darkness makes us uncomfortable. Our battle over the dark extends back in time and it seems that we are finally driving the darkness back. But is this a good thing? As little, as 100 years ago in all but the largest cities, the Milky Way was visible but even in rural Illinois, the Milky Way is not visible. This loss of visible stars is known as Light Pollution.

Light Pollution has many negative effects other than not being able to see stars and the Milky Way. Light Pollution has negative effects on wildlife. Birds migrate at night and it is suspected that much of their navigation is based on the stars. Bright lights in cities can confuse migrating birds slowing the migration potentially stranding birds in areas. The constant light also affects nocturnal and diurnal animals. Nocturnal animals are not as successful in hunting without the darkness to cover them. Diurnal animals are also extending their foraging times. Constant light also has a negative effect on humans. The constant light has been shown to affect the circadian rhythm.

Light pollution has far-reaching effects. In addition to affecting wildlife, it has had an impact on astronomical research reducing the effectiveness of ground telescopes. Many of us have been driving in rural areas and have seen a glow on the horizon or a bubble of light that surrounds a city or town. For me, this is an eyesore on the night sky. One of the things that I find very enjoyable is sitting beside a fire just looking at the stars. If you have been out to Montana you know how many more stars are visible compared to here in Illinois. This is the result of light pollution.

Here are some very effective ways of reducing light pollution:

  • Turn off Lights- This is the simplest and the most effective way of reducing light pollution. Unless the lights are needed turn them out.
  • Shield your lights- Direct your light to the ground. You are not trying to light up the night (at least I hope not). Having a simple shield will direct the light to the ground where it is needed.
  • Reduce the number of lights- Work with your local government to reduce the number of street lights. Only having every other light lit is an option. It saves the community money and reduces the amount of light emitted. Changing the building codes to require new homes and neighborhoods to have lamp posts in the front yard rather than large light poles.
  • Reduce the wattage- Look at using a lower wattage bulb in your outdoor lights. Find a bulb that is bright enough for the job and no brighter.

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