Less than 100 years ago, everyone could look up and see a spectacular starry night sky. Now, millions of children across the globe will never experience the Milky Way where they live. The negatives of excessive night lighting include blinding glare (excessive brightness that blinds you and hurts your eyes), skyglow (brightening of the night sky as light scatter reflects from clouds and haze), and “light trespass” (bright light shining where it is not intended or needed). Is this the price of progress?
Are you a good neighbor? Many of us have had this experience: a neighbor installs a new light on their property. It’s an unshielded fixture that casts a bright light that spills onto your property and perhaps even inside your home. This is called “light trespass” and it can cause a lot of discomfort and frustration. Your neighbor may not even realize that their unshielded lighting is shining on your property, wasting energy and money, and making you uncomfortable.
How do you talk to your neighbors about this situation? They probably don’t realize their lighting is bothersome, so you need to be tactful and understanding about your neighbor’s right to light their property. Don’t dismiss their need to feel safe. Ask your neighbor for their help in solving the problem. Offer to help them move the light, shield it, or add a motion sensor so it’s activated only when needed.
The fact is that much outdoor lighting used at night is inefficient, overly bright, poorly targeted, improperly shielded, and, in many cases, completely unnecessary. This light, and the electricity used to create it, is being wasted by spilling it into the sky, rather than focusing it on to the actual objects and areas that people want illuminated.
Each of us can take steps to combat unnecessary light scatter, once we understand the problem. Wasteful 24-hour lighting, unlike many other environmental harms, is reversible and each one of us can make a difference. You can start by minimizing the light from your own home at night, by following these simple steps.
Only use night lighting when and where it’s needed
Seek out light fixtures that direct light downward, not outward or upward
If safety is a concern, install motion detector lights and timers
Take steps to shield existing fixtures to eliminate wasted light
Learn more, from sources like www.darksky.org
Groups like the International Dark Sky Association have many valuable resources to help you. The Association doesn’t sell dark sky friendly lighting, but their Fixture Seal of Approval program makes it easy for you to find the right fixtures. The program certifies dark sky friendly outdoor lighting; fixtures that are fully shielded and have low “color temperature”. You can then request the recommended lighting from your local electrical supply store.
Dark skies make our county special. A hundred years ago, the Cincinnati Astronomical Society moved their observatory from Mt. Adams to the city perimeter, to escape the city lights. The society is one of several such groups who have set up observation stations in Adams County. Today, suburban 24-hour lighting has caught up to them. Unfortunately our own night skies are dramatically brighter than they were just a few short years ago. Billboard lighting on the Appalachian Highway and a vast increase in 24-hour lighting by residents and businesses threatens to blot out our own view of the heavens.
Most people never think about light scatter or the negative impacts of artificial light at night. Lighting the heavens or your neighbor’s property is needless waste. Explaining the issues to others will help bring awareness to this growing problem and inspire more people to think about protecting our natural night sky. The first step is to appreciate what a priceless, non-renewable resource it is, to see the stars in Adams County.
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.