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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Polluting your environment with light

Polluting your environment with light
National Geographic just finished a story about light pollution that raises some very interesting questions about health and happiness. Environmental sustainability is about working with the natural systems surrounding and supporting our livelihood as humans but often we are polluting our very own living environments without fully realizing the impact.

Certainly people living in cities are missing out on spectacular star gazing and beautiful shadows cast by the moon or even Venus and other bright stars, but beyond that, natural sleeping patterns are being confused which causes stress on the body and mind. As our circadian rhythms and natural sleep cycles are altered new stresses are encountered and several new studies suggest a direct correlation between higher rates of breast cancer in women and the nighttime brightness of their neighborhoods.

In 2001 Flagstaff Arizona was declared the first International Dark Sky City and several other towns have followed suit, usually based on astronomy needs at local universities, but individuals can also fight light pollution, it doesn't just have to remain at the city level. New lighting systems such as this one are designed to focus light downwards and minimize the impact it can have on the community.

While entire flocks of migrating birds are being lost from exhaustion as they tirelessly circle oil rigs in the middle of oceans, and bats become more and more common in cities as they follow their insect swarm food sources to streetlights, baby turtles struggle to find the moons reflection on the ocean as they hatch because beachside properties are lit up with bright white light. The negative impacts of light pollution on nature and animals and us is more drastic than many people would realize. Keep this in mind in your community as city planning takes place and your own neighborhood and home are being expanded to include more and more bright lights. It's amazing to realize the impact of just one metal halide lamp being used in the south Atlantic by a squid fisherman (to lure pray), such light can be seen from space appearing brighter than Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro!

Please consider using the "yellow light" alternatives (also available in energy efficient CFL) often called "bug lights" that emit a soft yellow light that reduces the attraction of bugs and insects. These lights can go a long way in reducing light pollution and unwanted pests at your home but also contribute much less to your city's overall light pollution which may be impacting far more ecosystems than you know. An extensive list of light pollution resources can be found here.
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