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Should Dark Sky Initiatives Focus on Space or Earth?

A recent article in The Guardian warned of the light pollution being emitted by satellites such as Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites. While providing all kinds of benefits to mankind, these satellites and some others allegedly emit too much light. The light emitted is light pollution and it brightens the night sky.

Light pollution is an issue and losing dark skies is a very real issue. The question is, in world that knows very little and cares even less about dark sky issues, do we start pushing dark sky initiatives in space, on Earth, or both?

What is light pollution and who cares?

Light pollution comes in many forms from light that trespasses from one property to another, to light that goes up and stops people and and wildlife from being able to see the night sky. The International Dark Sky Association documents many forms of light pollution, the effects of light pollution, and ways we can mitigate light pollution.

What is dark sky lighting, at least here on Earth?

Dark sky compliant lighting is LED light fixtures that lights up what needs to be illuminated without causing uplight that reduces our ability to see the night sky.

My Thoughts

While I don’t personally know much about satellites causing light or the value the satellites provide, v. the cost to society via a less dark sky, I do agree that we need to protect our skies from light pollution. More of an effort needs to be made by communities around the world to become dark sky communities. Becoming a dark sky community is a local way to start preserving the dark sky for nature, our wellbeing, and the benefit of future generations.

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Endangered Birds Are Wounded by Deadly Light Pollution in Hawaii

Misdirected lighting from an Air Force Base in Hawaii is causing birds to literally fall from the sky. While we’ve long known that light pollution can impact avian life, the severity of that impact is now becoming clear. Fortunately, lighting technology is developing faster than ever before, so solutions are available.

Misdirected Lighting and Its Effect on Birds

More than 126 birds have recently fallen around Hawaii’s Kokee Air Force Station. Ten of them have died. Affected birds include Newell’s shearwaters, a threatened species, and the endangered Hawaiian petrels. Birds flying over the base seem to be distracted by the combination of bright lighting and foggy weather, which causes them to crash into objects or fly, confused, until exhaustion. The US Air Force has redirected their lighting fixtures and the number of incidents has already declined.


Light Pollution Alters Birds’ Daily Lifecycles

Left: Photo of sky in a rural area with minimal lighting. Right: Photo of sky in an urban environment with the telltale “glow” from light pollution.
Left: Photo of sky in a rural area with minimal lighting. Right: Photo of sky in an urban environment with the telltale “glow” from light pollution.

The phenomenon in Hawaii is emblematic of a larger problem concerning birds and night light. Birds, just like humans, have circadian rhythms that govern their daily biological cycles. Excessive night light alters these rhythms and disorients feeding schedules, reproductive cycles, directional awareness, and more. A study published in the Journal of Pineal Research found that animals with disrupted circadian rhythms (catalyzed in this case by an overexposure to artificial light) also struggle to produce melatonin, which can lead to an increased production of fat, a higher likelihood of heart disease, lower metabolism, risk of hypertension, etc. Urban areas are particularly problematic for birds because the bright lights make it tough for them to differentiate between daytime and nighttime. Scientists stress that birds cannot function normally in habitats where natural lighting has been so severely altered.



Amber LEDs May Accommodate Wildlife

Although the proliferation of night lighting has caused this problem, lighting technology offers solutions. There are full lines of wildlife-friendly LED lighting available. Amber LEDs, for example, operate at a wavelength that does not disrupt the flora and fauna around it, but provides enough light to illuminate a given area. Companies like the one linked to above offer reflectors that prevent light from reaching anywhere it isn’t needed. The amber lights also have the energy-saving perks of LED lights; notes that “LEDs use 20%–30% of the energy and last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.”

Your turn. Will LED lighting be enough to prevent interference in the lives of wild species? What other measures do we have to take to protect animals from light pollution? Share and tweet this article with your thoughts—I’ll follow up. 

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New Study Shows Crime Rates Unaffected By Night Lighting

Many cities have invested in significant upgrades to street lighting, converting to energy efficient LED and solar powered fixtures in an effort to save money and power. In some places, the local government has resorted to turning off the night time street lighting entirely. There are those who believe that this is an unacceptable option for conserving resources, citing an increase in traffic accidents and crime as a reason to keep the lights on. A new study from the University of London School of Medicine, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, has called this correlation into question, concluding that there is no relationship between increased street lighting and less crime.

Research Casts Shadows on Conventional Wisdom

Night lighting in cities consumes a lot of energy, and the light pollution from heavily populated areas has a detrimental impact on the environment. Municipalities assume that the financial and environmental costs of lighting are a necessary evil in order to reduce crime and prevent automobile collisions. Only recently have local governments, who may not be able to afford LED Amber upgrades, been scaling back their night lighting for both cost and environmental reasons. The choice to turn off the lights has often been portrayed as a somber sacrifice in safety.

The 2015 study indicates that this may, in fact, be a false portrayal of the situation. Researchers looked at data on road traffic collisions and crime in 62 cities in England and Wales where authorities had turned the lights off, dimmed the lights, turned them off intermittently, or substituted the lamps with low-power LEDs. They found that reduced lighting had no effect on crime or accident rates.

The University of London’s study is consistent with other recent research. A 2011 study, focusing on London, found no correlation between street lighting and safety. A 1997 report to the United States Congress by the National Institute of Justice reached the same conclusion. A further study, conducted by the City of Chicago in 2000, showed that bad outdoor lighting can actually contribute to crime rates; while a 2012 report by the American Medical Association concluded that glare from unshielded lights can decrease safety for drivers.

Fear of the Dark: Addressing Public Concerns

Increased lighting may not increase safety, but it does affect the perception of safety. City dwellers out at night understandably feel that they need stronger lighting to travel safely. Residents in some cities have expressed concern when night lighting was dimmed or eliminated to save money.

To address these concerns, community leaders must engage in outreach with residents so that they understand the basis for any street lighting plan. Residents are less likely to object to such changes if they are consulted up front and given reasons supported by facts to explain the locality’s plan of action.

It is also important to note that reducing outdoor lighting does not mean eliminating night lighting entirely. Many of the councils under study had replaced traditional lighting with energy saving measures such as amber LED lights. These lights are dimmer but still provide sufficient illumination for pedestrians and drivers alike; and their low, familiar orange glow cannot be seen by nocturnal species. City leaders can apply common sense to provide adequate visibility at night and at the same time reduce unnecessary glare by installing fully shielded or cutoff fixtures wherever applicable.

night crime 2

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The Strange Reason Turtles Are Hyding on Jekyll Island

Environmental authorities have discovered a sharp decline in the number of nesting sea turtles on Georgia’s Jekyll Island, and it appears that light pollution is to blame. 111 nests were counted on other areas of the island this year, with only 1 discovered on the beaches in front of the newly opened Westin Hotel. Prior to the hotel opening, the beach hosted an average of 8 turtle nests a year. Sea turtles can lay hundreds of eggs in one nest, and the loss of 7 nests is an exponential decrease in the number of potential turtles that have the ability to be born on and live near the island.

A Different Kind of Pollution

The drop in turtle nests around the beachfront property directly corresponds with the opening of the Westin Hotel, which began operating in April, when turtle nesting season was getting underway. The hotel was cited in May by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Senior Wildlife Biologist, Mark Dodd, for 10 lighting noncompliance issues. The citations include partially shielded fixtures, light leaking from windows and individual lights, such as pool, balcony, and tree lights which are all guilty of light pollution.

Sea turtles face a variety of environmental challenges thanks to mankind, but artificial lighting remains the largest threat. Female sea turtles prefer to nest on quiet, dark. Bright lights discourage them from laying eggs. If they do manage to nest on a brightly lit beach, the resulting hatchlings will be easily disoriented. Upon hatching at night, turtles are usually drawn to the sea by the soft glow of light reflecting off the ocean. Artificial lights draw them inland, where they inevitably can not survive.

hiding turtle

An Obvious Solution

Mark Dodd and David Egan, a co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, are in agreement that the height of the building and the lighting violations have created an especially unfriendly zone for sea turtle nesting in the area. Hotel officials have said they are working to achieve compliance, but that there is no time limit due to the complexity of the project. However, according the letters that were sent to the Westin regarding the infractions, once notified they have 10 days to comply before they are considered to be in violation of the terms of the lease.
Incidents like these underscore the importance of developing technologies, such as wildlife friendly LED lighting. While it may not be possible for the hotel to encourage every guest to close their blinds at night, they could easily replace many of the offending outdoor fixtures with amber LED. Amber LED emits light at a frequency and color temperature that does not negatively affect local wildlife. Not only does wildlife friendly LED cut down on light pollution, it also has the undeniable benefits of LED efficiency.

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Lighting Networks Could Make For a Wonderful Tomorrow

We are barreling head first into the next generation of the internet. After ecommerce, social media and the cloud, connecting everything is the obvious next step. The trend has been called the “Internet of Things”, or IoT. The connected devices can be as simple as sensors and security cameras or as complicated as vehicles and production machinery. Bosch Software Innovations expects before 2022 there will be 14 billion connected devices.

The Internet of Things

IoT refers to the network of objects embedded with electronics, software, sensors and the capability to connect which are able to exchange data. Generally, the capability is used to communicate with manufacturers, operators, or other devices. For instance, Ford, is working to create cars which are able to “sense” one another and their outside environments, thereby preventing collisions due to operator error.

The term “the Internet of Things” was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton. It is expected that, as wireless technology  continues to advance, the interconnection of embedded devices will allow for automation in nearly all fields. In fact, the automation industry already depends heavily on IoT technology. New applications for IoT innovations are being developed every day, and it appears that lighting may play an important part thanks to VLC.

Visual Light Communication, or VLC, can best be explained with a metaphor: imagine using a flashlight to send a message using morse code. Turning the flashlight off and on at specific intervals expresses the message. VLC works much the same way, except that the light transmits the message via flickers which occur so quickly, our eyes can not perceive them.

Given that our cities, homes, cars and cell phones are brimming with usable light, it makes sense that researchers would seek a way to combine efficient lighting technologies with the communication requirements of an IoT world. Streetlights can be fitted with sensors which are able to monitor urban environments. With their height and numbers, streetlights could be highly effective at detecting air particulates and providing important ecological data about the quality of a city’s air.

Have you ever had trouble finding a parking space in the city? Streetlights could help with that problem, too. Siemens has developed a system whereby sensors would detect cars, motorbikes or even motorcycles that are parked illegally and send an automatic signal to the authorities. Now, pair that same technology with a smartphone app and you have a system that can tell you where the open parking spots are and if they are even big enough for your car.

In Newark Airport, a wireless network of lights has already been implemented which is able to monitor the movement of people and vehicles. This enables the airport to observe traffic and travel patterns, predict outages or delays with higher accuracy, and send marketing promotions. Mostly, the system is used for security and maintenance purposes. Apparently it’s still not good enough to replace the lengthy pat-downs at security, though.

IoT and VLC have more attractive, less Big Brother type applications as well. The Philips Hue LED bulb is capable of communicating with your television set. Once synced to your TV, the bulbs will flash, pulse, dim or change color in accordance with what is happening onscreen. Imagine watching that action film on a big screen, with surround sound, and bright flashes of light every time something explodes on screen. Who needs movie tickets when you have an immersive theater at home?

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Outdoor Lighting That Won’t Disrupt Wildlife

Bats are one of the most important species for our global ecology. After the sun goes down they, along with a few other species, become the primary pollinators of nighttime plant life. This greatly contributes to our after hours agricultural system and the environment as a whole. They are also a large contributor to insect and pest reduction. People in insect rich areas like Florida have even tried building Gothic bell towers to attract the desirable flying mammals.

Which is why it is with great alarm that scientists have realized that outdoor lighting poses a threat to nocturnal wildlife and bats in particular. Since bats only come out at night and rely on echolocation rather than their eyes to see, any light pollution can hurt them. Many other nocturnal species may benefit from a light pollution reduction in your neighborhood as well.

Bat friendly lighting generally takes the form of amber light. This is due to the wavelengths that are created by different types of light bulbs and led lights. Wildlife friendly amber light is by far the best choice for outdoor light pollution solutions. These LED lamps are built with new light emitting diode technology that uses an amber hue rather than a traditional white hue that imitates fluorescent lights.

LED technology has numerous benefits. Traditional lights actually use a majority of their energy to generate heat with light being a byproduct. LEDs are specifically designed to generate light without generating a lot of heat. Since bats use echolocation alongside a spectrum of light humans cannot see they are more susceptible to light pollution from LEDs. This effect essentially diminishes their eyesight or even blinds them in areas around outdoor LED technology.

However the Dutch Mammal Society has determined that amber colored LED’s can offer some sanctuary for bats and other nocturnal species that are being affected by this issue. Scientists and conservationists are recommending a two pronged attack against light pollution affecting bats and other nighttime species. Replace traditional white LEDs with amber hued LEDs and create special light pollution free zones that will allow bats to travel to and from areas to engage in feeding and pollination. This approach has shown results in a number of American cities and is not hard to replicate. By taking an ecologically friendly approach to lighting we can improve the lives of local wildlife while helping our own ecology at the same time.