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The Blinding Realities of Light Pollution

CATEGORY: In the News |
On Jul 16, 2023


Something I’ve always found special about Griffith Park is how dark the city can feel at night even as you gaze out at its thousands of lights from the deck of the Observatory. While the flatlands of city below present a spectacle, it is the immediate foreground of complete darkness that provides the true perspective. And although the twinkling lights speak to the results of great human endeavor, it’s the draping darkness that provides a blanket of serenity as well as a sense of the infinite mysteries that are only found when the lights are out.

I recently learned that the night sky is getting 9.6% brighter every year. And as one with a lifelong reverence and fascination with the night sky, learning this was heartbreaking. I can’t imagine the next generation deprived of experiencing the grandeur of a dark sky lit only by stars and planets.

We can see this phenomenon at work right here in LA. If you had taken a photo of the brightness of Los Angeles from Griffith Park’s Mt. Hollywood in 2009, you’d likely have seen the yellowish glow of incandescent street, shop and house lights.

Now, hike up to that same spot today, and take a picture from that same view. That brightness is magnified, cranked up to a new blinding level. Why? Right after 2009, the city replaced street lights with Light Emitting Diode or LED lights. These powerful lights blanket wider areas and spew harmful lumens into unintended places or areas that don’t benefit from being lit. More light is not better and sometimes it acts as a counteractive force. Think about the experience you have in a dark place when you face the glare of an exceedingly bright light and you’ll recall that it commonly makes it more difficult to see : it’s ironic.

Another irony is that we developed LEDs to solve the problem of energy efficiency and curb fossil fuel emissions, but this solution is creating the new devastating problem of light pollution.

For most people, especially urbanites, light pollution isn’t on our radar, but it impacts us in ways both large and small. Artificial light interferes with our circadian rhythms, which in turn affects our hormonal balance and is often linked to a vast array of maladies including mood disorders, high blood pressure and even cancer, to name just a few.

Additionally, our friends in the outside world are affected negatively by unnatural light; bats, coyotes, mountain lions, lizards, rodents, turtles and many other fauna have been studied and shown to exhibit deviations in mating, hunting, feeding and navigating. Plant cycles are also affected directly by artificial light and indirectly by the disruption of their pollinator’s lifecycle.

Remember the goose at last year’s Dodger-Padres game landing on the field? While it was funny to see grown men befuddled by a bird, the truth of what was happening was sobering. That bird was likely disoriented as a result of the blinding stadium lighting, which is often the case for migratory birds encountering city lights. Light pollution affects each member of an ecosystem differently but its impacts are detrimental for our local ecology and biodiversity.

Can we dim the lights?

Many cities across America have opted to darken their streetscapes and return to traditional incandescent lighting. I did a double-take as I drove west on the I-40 past Flagstaff, Arizona on my way to the Grand Canyon last fall. All of the city lights, including those on the exterior of residences, were pointed downward illuminating the immediate space below with a dull yellow light. The result was wonderful. You could see the sky and clearly identify the constellations. I discovered later that Flagstaff was the first to be designated an International Dark Sky City which is now shared by dozens of cities, National Parks and reserves across the globe. Proving it can be done!

As individuals we have the power to make small changes which do add up. Consider outdoor home lighting that projects the light into a specific area or setting up a motion detection system or join the citizen scientist campaign to record the brightness of night sky from your home or become an advocate for the International Dark Sky Organization and learn how you can educate others on the importance of preserving the night sky for our next generation.

~Anna Josenhans, FoGP board member

What else can I do?
— Support California Assemblymember Alex Lee’s continuing efforts to dim the lights on state properties
— Call your representatives and ask them to support International Dark Sky Week
— Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper outlining the many harmful impacts of overly-bright street lights

Also see: Shedding Light on Griffith Park



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