Sunday, July 30, 2006

Blinded By the Light

Want to guess the number one reason people install outdoor lighting? So they can see at night, of course. Improving nighttime visibility is what it’s all about. Did you know that often times the lights we install to help us to see at night actually hinder our ability to do so? It’s true. Sadly, improperly chosen outdoor lighting is almost the norm.

Many people choose an outdoor light fixture that’s “pretty” to look at in the daytime, with absolutely no consideration for how it will perform at night. The “pretty” brass & glass fixtures that are so common nowadays often shine more horizontally than down. This means that the majority of the light these fixtures put out is aimed right into your eyes. Think that’ll improve your visibility? Nope, not even a little.

What you’re experiencing, even if you don’t know it, is a form of light pollution known as glare. Glare is the result of an excessive contrast between bright and dark areas. Light shining into the eyes of drivers and pedestrians is glare. Glare is a particularly important issue in road safety, as poorly shielded lights along roadways may partially blind drivers or pedestrians and contribute to accidents.

Wow! The very lights we install to help us see can actually reduce our visibility if they’re not chosen wisely. I’ll come out on record and say it. Lighting manufacturers should not be allowed to sell these vision robbing glare bombs. They are dangerous and inefficient products that can be immediately replaced by better and more efficient designs already on the market.

Fortunately, there are a large and rapidly growing number of attractive, high quality outdoor lights for homes, businesses and communities. These don’t cost any more to purchase and often will be significantly cheaper to operate due to more efficient use of the light produced.

Many communities have begun requiring the use of exterior light fixtures that only shine light down. This significantly improves nighttime visibility while also dramatically improving the views of the night sky as an added bonus. Hopefully, these “night sky friendly” outdoor lighting ordinances will continue to spread. There might even be one under discussion in your community?

Why Does The Sky Glow At Night?

Have you ever noticed that the night sky is no longer inky black and full of stars like it used to be? Have you noticed the strange orangish glow that’s replaced it? The strange orangiy glow is a form of light pollution referred to as sky glow.

Sky glow is probably the most recognizable aspect of light pollution. By far the largest segment of the population equates sky glow with light pollution. This is wonderful, as it shows a growing awareness of the problem. As a quick refresher, sky glow is the glow we see above cities and towns when viewed from a distance. The intensity of the sky glow is an indication of the quantity of exterior lighting which is wastefully shining up into the night sky.

To put the problem in perspective, estimates place the cost for the US alone in the neighborhood of$5-10 billion dollars annually. This is not the sum total of all outdoor lighting, this is just that portion of outdoor lighting that is so misdirected as to light up the night sky. This is an incredible sum of money to simply waste, and yet that's exactly what we do year after year. In fact, the problem is actually increasing in magnitude and cost.

A consequence of sky glow is the dramatic reduction in the number of stars visible in the night sky. Under pristine conditions, some 4000-5000 stars may be seen. In the most light polluted cities, perhaps a dozen or two are visible. You may think that this only impacts astronomers, but you'd be wrong. We are all affected in a profound way. The human race has looked to the stars through out history in an attempt to understand our place in the universe. It is highly unfortunate that the most technologically advanced civilization to inhabit this planet should also be the most detached from the cosmos. It is no wonder that more and more people feel detached, alone and overwhelmed in our continuous motion society. They simply have lost their reference points and are unable to find their way.

Sky glow also changes the surrounding environment. In many areas, it never really gets dark at night. This seriously impacts local wildlife. Many species are simply unable to adapt. Sea turtles are a prime example. All sea turtles that inhabit Florida waters are either threatened or endangered, and according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, light pollution is a major contributing factor.

If you'd like to change this situation, its easy to do your part. Simply choose a night sky friendly light fixture. Night sky friendly lights put all the light they emit onto the ground beneath them and do not shine any wastefully up into the night sky. By choosing a night sky friendly outdoor light fixture for your home or business, you can feel better knowing that you are doing your part to reduce sky glow in your area and help to reclaim the majesty of the night sky.

What Is Light Pollution?

Light pollution is a growing worldwide problem which affects vast areas of the earth. In a nutshell, Light Pollution is misdirected or misused light... generally resulting from an inappropriate application of outdoor lighting products.

Light Pollution comes in several flavors... each with its own negative effects. These are…
  • Sky Glow: light wastefully escaping into the night sky and causing a glow over urban/suburban areas.
  • Glare: light shining dangerously out into people’s eyes as they walk or drive by.
  • Light Trespass: unwanted light shining onto a neighbor’s property or into their home.
Why should I care?
  • Light pollution impacts us all... in many ways. Some of these are quite obvious, others are much less obvious. For starters....
  • Light pollution wastes billions of dollars annually in the United States. 5 to 10 billion depending on whose numbers you want to use.
  • Light pollution wastes incredible amounts of valuable natural resources. Hundreds of millions of barrels of oil... and hundreds of millions of tons of coal... just so people can light the bottoms of clouds?
  • Light pollution pollutes the air we breath through needless generation of electricity (most of which comes from fossil fuels). See the previous comment about burning oil & coal. Air pollution is a serious problem that affects large segments of the population.
  • Light pollution harms nocturnal wildlife. Many species won't even go near an area that has bad lighting. Also, many species will simply stop reproducing if habitat destruction from overly bright lights becomes too severe. Light Pollution currently threatens all Florida Sea Turtles.
  • Light pollution harms humankind, being linked to some serious ailments, including breast cancer. This is for real! This can be thought of as second hand smoke in the 1980's. Researchers were just starting to look into the effects of second hand smoke back then. Many people laughed at the idea that one person could smoke... and another person could be harmed. Today, we know that this is in fact the case.
  • Light pollution destroys the views of the heavens that man has enjoyed since the beginning of time. 90% of all American live under skies that are "affected" by light pollution... while roughly half can not see the Milky Way from their homes. This is a shame. Mankind has throughout history looked to the stars to try to understand events around them.