For most of Earth’s history, our spectacular universe of stars and galaxies has been visible in the darkness of the night sky. Once a source of fascination, star-filled nights have over the past few years been vanishing in a yellow haze. Today, the increasing population of cities and the corresponding increase in negligently installed outdoor lighting has resulted in light pollution. But it does more than simply mar our view of the stars; this lighting threatens astronomic studies, disrupts ecosystems, effects human circadian rhythms and wastes energy.

Chicago at night – by Jim Richardson – www.jimrichardsonphotography.com
Chicago glows in the night as clouds drift in off the lake. The cities pattern of streets, which shows up so distinctly at night, is unusually rigid and the core city area is lit almost entirely with sodium vapor lamps.

Health effects may include increased incidence of headache, medically diagnosed stress, decreased sexual function and increased anxiety. From newly hatched sea turtles to migrating birds, fish, frogs, salamanders, and fireflies, artificial night lighting disrupts the cycles of nocturnal creatures in potentially devastating ways.

Light pollution wastes money and energy. Each year billions are spent on unnecessary lighting, and unshielded outdoor lights — those that leave bulbs in plain sight and fail to direct light where it is needed — are directly responsible for 14.7 million tons of carbon dioxide waste in the US alone. The adverse economic and environmental impacts of wasted energy are apparent in everything from the monthly electric bill to climate change.

The Church of the Good Shepherd, picture taken at New Zealand’s Aoraki Mackenzie – by Fraser Gunn – www.astrophotography.co.nz

A growing number of scientists, environmental groups and civic leaders are taking action to restore the night to its natural state. Many of their solutions are simple and cost-effective. Just use as much light as you actually need and only when you need it. Use efficient light sources outdoors, and they should shine down, not up!

In 1988 the International Dark Sky Association was founded in the US to lead the fight against light pollution. This NGO and other similar initiatives provide information on their websites about light pollution and ‘international dark sky places’, locations of exceptional nighttime beauty, such as Zselic Starry Sky Park in Hungary, Galloway Forrest Park in Scotland, the Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania, US, New Zealand’s Aoraki Mackenzie and Namib Rand Nature Reserve in Namibia.

Without inspiration from the night sky, much of the world’s history, art, culture, music, and literature would not have been created. Now: switch of all your electronic devices, light up some candles and get inspired!

Text: Romy Uebel