Climate Conscious
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Climate Conscious

Where are the Stars?

Why is it important to know about light pollution

Illustration: Author

As a kid, I remember many occasions in peak summers when our family slept on the terrace, and one of the fun activities my siblings and I used to indulge in was to count stars.

I don’t recall the exact number of stars we were able to count, but it used to easily more than 50. It was a fantastic experience to watch the twinkling stars, make our shapes, spot the Big Dipper, etc.

Over the years, air conditioning and air coolers entered our homes, and we stopped sleeping on the terrace. However, whenever I walk out onto the same terrace at nighttime, I hardly spot any stars. Sometimes I can only count fewer than 10.

Is the reason my older eyesight, clouds, haze, air pollution, or something else?

When electric light was invented and introduced to human civilization in the 19th century, it was a miracle. The people would no longer need to remain in darkness or dimly lit rooms with candles and lamps.

Artificial lighting paved the way for more productive hours, gave us the ability to deliver healthcare services at any time of the day, illuminated our streets and roads, and gave us many more possibilities.

Lights have become an integral and indispensable part of human life.

With the advancement of technology, new forms of lights emerged— incandescent, fluorescent, halogen, metal halide, Light Emitting Diode (LED), etc. — cities and towns became brighter and more colorful. However, too much light has created problems that probably the inventors of light would have never imagined — light pollution.

Artificial lights emanating from our offices, factories, residences, shopping malls, streets, billboards, vehicles, and many other things have created too much glow, adversely affecting the night sky.

Impact of light pollution

The brightness over the night sky, especially in cities, prevents our visibility of stars, affects our health, and impacts animals and birds.

Animals and birds

Human-induced light pollution adversely impacts animals and birds, especially those that navigate based on the moon. Migratory birds often get confused and disoriented because of the artificial light, lose their way, and get killed due to collisions.

Insects, a primary food source for many animals, are drawn toward artificial lights, which kill them and impact the food chain.

Visibility of stars

If you live in a big city and cannot spot stars, don’t be surprised you are not alone. Apart from air pollution, light pollution also reduces our ability to view the twinkling stars.

Watch this short film, shot mainly in California, USA, and it shows different levels of light pollution and how the view of the cosmos changes as we move to less light-polluted areas.

Artificial light emanating from our urban centers has created a glow in the night sky that conceals our view of the stars. Studies have shown that more than thirty percent of people across the globe cannot view the milky way.

Health and wellbeing

Studies have indicated that exposure to specific wavelengths of light at night can affect our sleep, affecting our health and performance.

Energy waste

If too many lights are switched on where they are not required, they not only waste energy, but if the power is sourced from fossil fuels, it also pollutes the air.

Astronomers and stargazers

Students, astronomers, and amateur stargazers increasingly find it hard to study our night skies. Traveling to remote areas and regions where one can still spot stars is not something everyone can afford and manage.

Wrapping up

There is no denying that artificial lighting is necessary and valuable for our day-to-day life. Still, considering the impact of light pollution, we need to become aware of this issue and try to find solutions to address them.

Avoiding overlighting an area and finding ways to prevent the upward projection of light by shielding it with a fixture can be options to consider at an individual level.

In addition, we can make people aware of the light pollution problem, such that people who are responsible for fixing lights in private spaces or public places do their best to minimize the damage.

As we talk about air pollution, water pollution, and plastic pollution, among others, we need to discuss pollution caused due to lights as well.

Here is a video, which succinctly presents the impact of Light Pollution.

At the government level, a few countries have taken regulatory action to address light pollution, like France, which has passed a law to restrict the hours of storefront lighting.

As per studies, under perfect conditions of darkness and sky clarity — a normal vision should be able to see thousands of stars.

We don’t want our kids and future generations to be bereft of the pleasure of watching twinkling stars in the night sky.

“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.” ― Bram Stoker, Dracula

Originally published at https://changestarted.com on May 16, 2022.

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Varun P

Varun P

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Working towards a sustainable future. Product Manager. Write about— Environment & Sustainability I ClimateTech I.