“Poet Ezra Pound must have been very impressed by the electric lights in Manhattan in 1910: “Here is our poetry, for we have pulled down the stars to our will.” In 1943, Antoine de Saint-Exupery made a similar comparison about a street lamp and a lamp lighter in “The Little Prince”: “When he lights his lamp, it’s as if he’s bringing one more star to life, or one more flower.”
In the clear night sky of Seoul, you can see about 20 stars. It became rather awkward to use the expression “as many as stars” to describe countless quantity. Light pollution does not just interfere with visibility. Some observatories have shut down as the glow of artificial light make it impossible to study the stars. The Mount Wilson Observatory in California, where Edwin Hubble studied the expansion of universe, shut down its observation operation as the glare from nearby Los Angeles made the night sky six times brighter.
Light pollution has adverse effects on the ecosystem as well. The natural sleep cycle is disturbed, and the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer is increasing, studies show. Migrating birds mistake the artificial light as the moon and get disoriented. Cicadas are singing throughout the day as the night light confuses their sense of time. The artificial lights make creatures great and small go against the laws of nature.
The city of Seoul has recommended rules to prevent light pollution in order to reduce unnecessary lighting. Exterior lights on buildings would not be allowed until 11 p.m. and illumination from street lamps would not reach the windows of residential structures. However, the rules are not legally binding. Observing the stars in urban areas may be as difficult as reaching the stars in the sky.”
If only Ezra Pound and Antoine de Saint-Exupery could see how much light blankets our skies today.
According to a 2007 census report, The Seoul National Capital Area, by all accounts, is a megacity and Seoul proper itself, contains over 10 million residents. As with any megacity, economic, social, and environmental challenges exist. Though many would not consider this a problem, but rather a consequence or virtue of living in a city, light pollution continues to grow everyday around the world. Light pollution contributes to all three challenges listed above.
Economically, communities waste an exorbitant amount on adding new and performing regular maintenance on inefficient light fixtures. If cities continue to waste more money on supplying energy to these light fixtures, then you, the resident or taxpayer, ultimately feel the burden. Hence why many communities around the globe have recently begun to reevaluate their lighting purposes, as well as their lighting ordinances. Some have chose ‘shutting off redundant light fixtures’ as the solution, which is a fine solution, but there’s a better long-term solution. Shielded light fixtures direct the light downward, rather than upward. Directing the light downward concentrates the light, thus creating a more well illuminated area. Unshielded lights can accomplish this, though at the expense of a higher wattage bulb. Think of shielding as ‘more, for less.’ But it doesn’t stop there. To fully maximize the potential of a shielded light fixture, one can couple it with an energy efficient light bulb and a motion sensor. Overall, this ‘lighting trinity’ would save communities the most money due to requiring less energy, fewer light fixtures and light when you need it.
Socially, megacities possess large populations. I think it’s fair to say that some, if not most megacities have a problem regarding crime. The common belief, regarding light and crime, has been to use more light to deter crime. Here’s the truth: more light, actually encourages more criminal activity. Here’s why: excessive light can cause glare. Glare is light that can obscure our vision while driving or walking. Criminals can actually use glare to their advantage, to thwart the authorities. If communities wish to increase safety and reduce crime, I would suggest utilizing motion sensors. Consider the following: if you walked into a dark area where you shouldn’t be and all of a sudden, a bright light illuminated your position, how would you react? The fear of being ‘caught’ in the dark, is enough for potential or real criminals to abandon their efforts. Certainly, crime will continue to occur, but utilizing motion sensors as a deterrent would yield better results than the ‘accepted’ light ordinance most communities utilize.
Environmentally, numerous studies have shown how our bodies, as well as pratically all life on Earth, are adversely affected by light pollution. Nearly all life on Earth functions on a day-night cycle aka circadian rhythm. When something upsets this natural balance, our brains have difficultly coping with the outcome. For example, insomnia, depression and cancer have been linked to light pollution. Certainly, other factors such as stress can affect insomnia, depression and cancer, but the fact remains: light pollution causes health problems. In fact, many animals migratory, feeding and reproducing patterns have been negatively affected. For example, sea turtles populations are on the brink of extinction.
Globally, light pollution is increasingly becoming more and more widespread. What needs to change is how we fundamentally perceive lighting. If all lights utilized proper shielding, then much, if not all of the world’s light pollution would be eradicated. I can not stress the importance of proper shielding enough. Without it, all attempts to curb light pollution will be in vain.
Let there be night!