Shedding some light on the value of darkness

I’m kind of a tree-hugger. I honestly have a hard time understanding the mindset of those who think the earth is going to provide some kind of magic safety net for us and we can simply do as we please without consequence. Animals go extinct, the earth warms, weather gets crazy and while things change in measurable and predictable ways, the science and its warning is ignored by many. It sucks, but it’s my belief that in 20 years (or so), subjects like anthropogenic climate forcing (man-made global warming) will be part of common consciousness and pretty much universally accepted as true. We’re human and do human things. We wait to make changes until we have no other option. It will be costly, in every way, and those looking back in the centuries to come with think we’re fools for letting it happen at all. I’m inclined to agree.

With so many issues at hand, one that is near and dear to me (well, they all are, but this is still an astronomy blog) is the gradual loss of our night sky’s darkness. Fortunately, there is an amazing organization out to protect it. The International Dark-Sky Association has one goal: to preserve the enormously valuable natural resource that is our night sky. The thing I like most about them though is that they take an extremely pragmatic approach to their conservancy. They’re not going to picket the outdoor light fixture factory, they’re going to work with the EPA to make sure the light fixtures are  built to meet standards that reduce light pollution. They also do a good job of showing various organizations and facets of government that if you’re creating light pollution, you’re also wasting taxpayer money.

The brighter this map gets, the more money we're figuratively blasting out into space.

This isn’t just an issue for astronomers, this is an issue for everyone. Have you ever seen a perfectly dark sky? It used to be so common, we took it for granted. I’m not here to preach, but is there anyone who truly thinks that losing our ability to see the wonders of the night sky is no big whoop? Let’s also remember that we’re not just looking at pinholes in a black curtain, this is our personal view into the depths of space. I’ll say it another way; when you look up at those stars and planets, you’re not looking at some projected image, you’re looking right into OUTER SPACE. I think we forget that, despite the glaring obviousness. It’s also completely free for anyone, on any clear night, should they care to look.

Even if you don’t care about being able to see the night sky, it should make you wonder why we spend YOUR money to light it up. We absolutely don’t have to sacrifice anything by not doing it and we get to save money too, which sounds like a no-brainer to me. What’s also a concern to every person that lives in an urban area is recent evidence that all this extra light may be VERY detrimental to your health.

I’m not saying that you should give all your money to the IDA or sign any petitions, much less write angry letters to congresspeople. Helping them and reducing light pollution PAYS YOU on its own. Take 90 seconds and visit their site, decide for yourself if this is something you think should be addressed.

But what about public safety? If we make everything darker, won’t the cities turn into the worst kinds of  havens for villainy and scum? Nope! In fact, it’s EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE.

My point here is that preventing and reducing light pollution is a win/win/win situation. There is no downside, besides that we possibly have to do some pretty easy stuff. I think the huge dividends that miniscule effort pays are more than worth it. I can see no reason, at all, we have to let this get so bad we lose the sky before we do something about it. Does that make me a star-hugger too? If so, I think I can live with that.


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