Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Productive / Counter-Productive

Checkout the accompanying video. It shows what I found to be an incredibly ironic situation. The foreground shows a wind farm, silently and cleanly harvesting free, renewable energy. Wind turbines are the poster child of the clean energy movement. Let's flag this as a very Productive situation.

Located just behind the wind farm is a huge commercial facility. It is ringed by an evenly spaced collection of energy consuming, light pollution producing glare bombs. To make matters worse, this facility is lit like this even when the facility is closed and no business is taking place. Let's flag this as very Counter-Productive.

So, past meets future as our bad habits are bumping into our best aspirations. Hopefully, we'll continue to see the growth and adoption of these clean and renewable energy sources. At the same time, it is hoped that we'll see these energy wasting and environmentally destructive behaviors of the past fade from memory. If not, our best technological efforts may never be enough to overcome our worst habits.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Images Of The Night Sky

The night sky has been at the center of developments throughout history. Much of what happened in our world was attributed to alignments in the heavens. Nowadays, we've (mostly) lost our connection with the night sky. Fortunately, there are still folks who interested in the night sky and seeing and understanding what's going on up there. A new website www.AdventuresInAstrophotography.com is dedicated to imaging the night sky 'one pixel at a time'. Whether you're an amateur astronomer or astrophotographer, you'll find some great information as well as some amazing astronomical images of all things night sky related. Adventures in Astrophotography contains some serious night sky eye candy. The accompanying image shows an image of Comet 17P/Holmes. This naked eye comet can be found high in the northeastern sky in the constellation Perseus.

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.

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.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Outdoor Lighting

Outdoor lighting is a fact of life. We need it to enable our 7x24 society to run without skipping a beat. Take a look around you, it is everywhere. Therein lies the problem. Many people don't give much thought to outdoor lighting. They simply require lighting for their homes and business and if some light is good, more light must be better. They don't try to match their outdoor lighting requirements to what they choose to install. In many cases, far more lighting is installed than is required. If all you're looking to do is walk from the car to the front door without tripping, you're unlikely to need multiple floodlights. These are likely to reduce your visibility, not improve it. Then we have folks who install photocells, devices which automatically turn their lights on when it gets dark. The problem is, they're emitting large amounts of light throughout the night, even though there is no activity outside the house. This wastes vast amounts of energy and (as you'll see if you visit this blog regularly) creates havoc for entire eco-systems.
It is the hope of the authors of this blog that you'll come to appreciate the night for what it is and not try to erase this very important aspect of our lives. Natural lightscapes are required by every living creature on this Earth. Without a proper light dark cycle, we put at risk the very quality of life we constantly strive to improve.

The Night

So much goes on at night that most people are generally unaware of. It is a time when darkness settles over the land, and stars fill the sky. It is a time for some to rest and others to wake. This blog will be an attempt to reunite our hurried society with the peace and tranquility of the night environment.