Monday, April 10, 2006

The Night Sky

Few things in life compare to the overwhelming beauty of the night sky in its natural state. Unfortunately, it can be seen in its natural state in fewer and fewer locations. Light pollution from nearby (and not so nearby) towns and cities is overwhelming this awe inspiring treasure.

Outdoor lighting is being installed in ever increasing numbers and in ever increasing brightness. For as many reasons as there are fixtures themselves, it seems everybody has a reason to install yet another fixture. Outdoor lights are installed for navigation, for safety, for security and for aesthetics. They are installed on timers and photocells. They are installed for uplighting, wall washing, silhouetting, shadowing, grazing, path lighting and accent lighting. Everybody seems to think they need a few more lights here and there to light this or accentuate that.

Yet few seem to give any consideration to what is lost in the process. To start things off, how about the night? When you get right down to it.. we have lost the night. Now.. I know you're saying... we still have night. Well... sort of. We still have night in that the sun sets and all... but it never really gets dark in some places. Not the kind of dark that our ancestors knew. Not the kind of dark that our species evolved with. We have created a strange, greyish-orangish time... not quite day and not quite night. In our effort to illuminate everything for every reason... we have hidden the one thing our lights can't help us to see... the night.

Now, I'm not saying that all light at night is bad. I'm not saying that we should extinguish all lights and live in total darkness. I am saying that things have really gotten out of hand. Every home does not need to be illuminated from dusk to dawn... every single night of the year. Most should be lit on the few evenings that company is expected (and then, only when they're coming and going). Perhaps they can be illuminated when the homeowners go out... for enhanced visibility on their return. The two scenarios outlined probably acount for the vast majority of time that homes should be lit. Unfortunately, many are lit at virtually every opportunity.

Businesses are no different. Sure, they have folks coming and going regularly, night after night. This is a proper use of night lighting. However, many businesses leave the lights on long after the last customer and employee have gone. They've of course got their own list of reasons to keep the lights on.

What is needed, is a change of attitude... and a change of behavior. Exterior lights should not be turned on simply because its dark. Its supposed to be dark at night. Turn your lights on when you or someone else is actually outside... and need the enhanced visibility that exterior lighting provides. If all of us did this, we can reclaim out heritage of dark, star-filled skies... and enjoy the beauty and simplicity of... the night.