The nighttime environment is a precious natural resource for all life on Earth, which exists in a rhythm of light and dark provided by the sun, moon and stars, quietly guiding all living things since life began. Now, artificial lights overpower the darkness and our cities glow at night, disrupting the natural day-night pattern and shifting the delicate balance of our environment. The glow of excessive outdoor lighting has hidden the stars and changed our perception of the night.
The loss of this inspirational natural resource might seem unimportant, or even be seen as progress, but a growing body of evidence links the brightening night sky directly to measurable negative impacts including increased energy consumption, disruption of the ecosystem, human health issues, crime and safety. This is a big reason why places like Adams County are simply healthier places to live. It still gets dark here, at night.
Modern society uses outdoor lighting for a variety of needs, including safety and commerce. To minimize any negative effects, lighting can be used only when needed, only light the area that needs it, be no brighter than necessary, and be fully shielded (pointing downward). Unfortunately, most outdoor lighting sold today has designed-in waste and light scatter; it takes special effort to find well-designed fixtures. Ask yourself; can I see the bulb? If so, most likely the fixture will waste light and actually reduce your ability to see at night.
We’ve all been blinded by high beams from oncoming cars. There’s a moment of panic when you can’t see where you’re going, and it takes a few seconds for your eyes to adjust once the brightness is gone. The same thing happens when you step from a lighted room out into the night; you’re almost blind until your eyes adjust to the darkness. Outdoor lighting has the same effect on your eyes; seeing directly into the light source actually reduces your night vision. This is one way your “security lights” can affect your neighbors without you realizing it.
Many people believe that more and brighter lighting makes us safer, but there is no conclusive evidence. In fact, glare from unshielded lights can create harsh shadows where criminals can hide, and bright lighting can even make it easier for criminals.
A dark sky does not necessarily mean a dark ground. Smart lighting that directs light where it is needed creates a balance between safety and starlight. Outdoor lighting is intended to enhance safety and security at night, but too much lighting can actually have the opposite effect. Visibility should always be the goal. Glare from bright, unshielded lights actually decreases safety because it shines into our eyes and constricts our pupils. This can not only be blinding, it also makes it more difficult for our eyes to adjust to low-light conditions.
In an effort to preserve the darkness of nighttime skies, organizations like the International Dark Sky Association promote dark-sky lighting fixtures. These fixtures are designed to illuminate walkways, architectural features and other parts of a property without creating light scatter. What’s more, these are some of the most beautiful fixture designs on the market, increasing the curb appeal of your home with their elegant and ambient glow.
Do we have to choose between modern life and the beauty of the night sky? We’ll continue to explore this next week.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are on the “Garden Advice” page at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.