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Making War On Light Pollution 437

Posted by kdawson
from the if-i-could-save-time-in-a-bortle dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Almost thirty years ago I worked in the Middle East helping install a nationwide communications system and had the opportunity to be part of a team doing microwave link tests across Saudi Arabia's Empty Quarter. Something I've never forgotten were the astonishing nights I spent in the desert hundreds of miles from the nearest city where the absence of light made looking at the sky on a moonless night feel like you were floating in the middle of the galaxy. In Galileo's time, nighttime skies all over the world would have merited the darkest Bortle ranking, Class 1. Today, the sky above New York City is Class 9 and American suburban skies are typically Class 5, 6, or 7. The very darkest places in the continental United States today are almost never darker than Class 2, and are increasingly threatened. Read a story from the New Yorker on what we have lost to light pollution and how some cities are adopting outdoor lighting standards to save the darkness."
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Making War On Light Pollution

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  • Women want light (Score:1, Insightful)

    by jeorgen (84395) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @06:33PM (#20523789)
    At least where I live, many women demand more lighting during the night, for reasons of safety. And I think them feeling safer is worth more than more visible stars in the sky. Same goes for streetlights for road safety.
  • Re:Straw Man Alert (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 644bd346996 (1012333) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @06:37PM (#20523813)
    The average supermarket parking lot is much brighter at midnight than necessary. You also don't need the entire parking lot lit all night, when on most nights, the first two rows of lights would suffice for the night-time customers. After parking lot lights, the biggest offenders are billboards and other illuminated advertising signs. These can be turned off without compromising public safety, and with minimal harm to the efficacy of the advertising.
  • by dunkelfalke (91624) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @06:48PM (#20523885)
    it is sad truth that most people prefer feeling safe to actually being safe.
  • Re:Straw Man Alert (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RexRhino (769423) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @07:01PM (#20523971)

    The average supermarket parking lot is much brighter at midnight than necessary. You also don't need the entire parking lot lit all night, when on most nights, the first two rows of lights would suffice for the night-time customers. After parking lot lights, the biggest offenders are billboards and other illuminated advertising signs. These can be turned off without compromising public safety, and with minimal harm to the efficacy of the advertising.
    It would totally suck if we cut the lighting in Time Square or Shibuya or the Las Vegas strip. It is one thing to cut light on a exurban freeway billboard, but there are plenty of places that would lose their character without all the bright lights.
  • Re:Straw Man Alert (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Criterion (51515) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @07:08PM (#20524023)
    Wow, what can I say but that was a seriously uneducated answer. How come people can't think that there might be a way to better the situation than to turn off the lights? How about.. maybe.. just maybe.. use light fixtures that don't blast kilowatts of light energy into the sky where they're not needed? Huh? Can you answer that one? In fact, with the same amount of light energy, but directed where it's useful actually makes a much brighter area where people are walking, parking, whatever. To achieve the same level of visibility on the ground, and make the sky darker would actually SAVE energy.

    Here is a little excerpt from the article (which you obviously are oblivious to else you wouldn't post foolishness) that seems fitting...

    "A burglar who is forced to use a flashlight, or whose movement triggers a security light controlled by an infrared motion sensor, is much more likely to be spotted than one whose presence is masked by the blinding glare of a poorly placed metal halide "wall pack." In the early seventies, the public-school system in San Antonio, Texas, began leaving many of its school buildings, parking lots, and other property dark at night and found that the no-lights policy not only reduced energy costs but also dramatically cut vandalism."
  • Re:morals. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @07:09PM (#20524033)

    She looked down... and saw that her husband was holding a battery-operated pleasure device -- a vibrator -- softer and larger than a real penis.
    Softer?
  • by Lane.exe (672783) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @07:11PM (#20524045) Homepage
    Amen to that. Driving in a city with nighttime lights reflecting off of every surface makes it much harder to see than driving down an unlit country rode where there is little glare.
  • Re:Ah fuck that. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AJ Mexico (732501) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @07:24PM (#20524129) Homepage
    Actually, we can improve lighting on earth, save energy, AND improve our view of the cosmos. Our existing nighttime lighting is enormously wasteful. Good lighting design lets you "see where you're going", without blinding you with glare, or destroying your night vision with excessive light. Please visit the International Dark Sky Association [darksky.org] which has been working to solve this problem for decades. First, realize that lights that shine up into the sky are helping no one. Any electricity used to illuminate the sky is wasteful and causes light pollution. Properly shielded lights direct light at the ground where it is helpful, instead of at the sky.
  • Re:Damn lights (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Criterion (51515) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @07:41PM (#20524251)
    Oh man, I am so with you friend. I moved a few miles out of town, and the sky is a bit better out here, but the skyglow creeps ever nearer. I really can't help but wonder if anyone that has posted a negative remark about this article has ever beheld a truly dark sky... though I would guess any negative remark comes from those who haven't read the article, and have no past education about the issue.
  • by WindBourne (631190) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @08:02PM (#20524385) Journal
    Allow white lights until say 10, and then after that require just the yellow lights. When I was a kid, I grew up in the country and can remember the stars that I saw. It was incredible. Now, whenever I look out there, it is just a fraction. But it is not just Light pollution.

    My father was a pilot on b-49's and other miltary aircrafts, and later on the commercial aircrafts. He was telling me about the stars that he used to see in the 40's (from the ground),50's (from the planes),and somewhat into the 60s, vs what he see now at 35-50K ft.

    Apparently, the view up at 45-55K during the late 50's was stupendous. Now, it is like the ground was in the 60's. Light pollution is easily changed, but it is obvious that it is air pollution that becomes the real killer.
  • by Criterion (51515) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @08:29PM (#20524573)
    Dude.. you really need to work on your headlights. Either that or learn what the phrase "driving too fast for conditions" means.
  • Re:Ah fuck that. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black.Shuck (704538) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @08:41PM (#20524645)

    Would you rather have a nice view of the stars or would you like to see where you're going?
    Ultimately I should hope that the stars are where we're going.
  • Re:Ah fuck that. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gutnor (872759) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @08:44PM (#20524671)

    We can build observation facilities in our orbit. Problem solved.
    Right, like poverty is a problem solved since decades.

    sit in a field and feel like they're floating around the galaxy while viewing stars in a dark night sky"...? Who cares
    Actually, that would be: saving money, improving visibility at night and, as a side effect, 'sit in a field and feel like they're floating around the galaxy while viewing stars in a dark night sky'.

    Your proverbial cloud-watching is insignificant compared to the technological and industrial progress of civilization.
    Progress is improving the quality of human life. Modern comfort + clear sky is actually progress over just modern comfort.
  • by NormalVisual (565491) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @08:55PM (#20524757)
    Streetlights won't help reduce the glare of oncoming cars' headlights in the least, unless you're suggesting that the roads be so brightly lit that it won't be necessary to use headlights at all. Keeping one's windshield clean helps quite a lot with this problem.

    For those walking at night along an unlit road at night, they have these devices called "flashlights" that can help with the other concerns you voiced, and reflective clothing goes a long way towards preventing an unpleasant encounter between pedestrians and traffic. I would say that five dollars spent on a flashlight for one's own safety is a far more efficient solution to the problem than to have everyone else pay thousands of dollars for streetlights and the power to run them, with the attendant light pollution problems.

    And whether Alpha Centauri is visible isn't an issue for the vast majority of residents of the Northern Hemisphere as it's always below the horizon even on a totally dark, clear night for them. :-)

  • by Ninjaesque One (902204) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @09:12PM (#20524883) Journal
    The article does touch upon the subject of crime: The object of security lighting is to see the criminal while not letting the criminal see you, so gigantic bright lights on all the time can only do one. Nobody's suggesting we get rid of streetlights, by the way: just make them illuminate straight downwards.
  • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Saturday September 08, 2007 @09:12PM (#20524885)
    I hate to have to tell you this, but it is much more likely that you father's vision is deteriorating. The atmosphere is very thin at 55 thousand feet, and contains even less particulate matter, so there is no way that air pollution is affecting the view from that altitude.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 08, 2007 @09:28PM (#20524969)

    The object of security lighting is to see the criminal while not letting the criminal see you
    This makes absolutely no sense.
  • by dasimms (644188) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @10:48PM (#20525437)
    I know this is Slashdot and nothing should surprise me but the hostility towards dark sky preservation is kind of scary. I think it is important to understand that being able to see the Milky Way from Times Square is not the goal. Being able to see the Milky Way after a 2-3 hour drive from Times Square should be possible. Putting a little more thought and effort toward how we light our highly populated areas to reduce energy use and cost, improve visibility, and allow us to preserve our night sky seems obviously beneficial to me.

    While I'm sure people in Central Park would enjoy the night sky, I empathize with their concern for safety and well lit areas certainly feel more secure. I am suggesting that they would need to travel for a bit in order to enjoy the night sky. Another words, the people who are trying to preserve the night sky aren't suggesting the cities turn out their lights, just shine their lights toward the ground instead of toward the sky. You can drive an hour or so from a small city to see a somewhat dark sky and still see a mighty glow from the cities direction. While I understand the glow can never be eliminated, it certainly can and should be reduced.

    One aside - I am familiar with the wind farm being erected in one of the few remaining dark sky sites in the eastern United States. A few changes (like moving them a short distance or using red "safe" lights) would have made them astronomy friendly. While this may not seem important to many, the area was obviously a haven for astronomers from all over the area especially since the park has been working hard to make it even more friendly - like installing astronomical domes with electricity and renting them for a nominal fee. so it goes. end aside.

    One final thought - even if there were no benefits like cost savings, energy savings, and better lighting, the idea of dark sky preservation is akin to other environmental concerns. Just because we don't all enjoy sloshing through wetlands or cutting our way through a rain forest doesn't mean those areas shouldn't be conserved. I say the same goes for the night sky. We may not all be awed by the glow of a full moon, a fiery meteor blazing through the sky, or just watching the twinkling of a million stars but we shouldn't take away the opportunity for all of us and future generations from seeing what many of us feel is the most amazing and spectacular thing imaginable: our universe.

  • Re:San Jose (Score:3, Insightful)

    by speaker of the truth (1112181) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @11:21PM (#20525579)

    its really hard to see sometimes, especially when your tired.
    May I recommend not driving while tired regardless of the lighting used?
  • by nacturation (646836) <nacturation@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Saturday September 08, 2007 @11:25PM (#20525603) Journal

    What about people WALKING at night?

    What about them?

    they don't experience glair [sic] (no windshield)

    Maybe if you'd RTFA you would know what glare is. Since you won't, let me help you:

    "glare bombs": fixtures that cast much of their light sideways, into the eyes of passersby, or upward, into the sky

    Nothing at all to do with windshields though I suppose windshields can magnify the effects of glare.

    how do you propose they walk without streetlights?

    You're the one who proposed that. The post you responded to mentioned reducing their illumination.

    Streetlights were intended to reduce crime, and I'd say they do a pretty good job of that.

    From the article:

    Crawford pointed out a cluster of mailboxes across the street from his garage. The lighting near the mailboxes was of a type that Crawford calls "criminal-friendly": it was almost painful to look at, and it turned the walkway behind the boxes into an impenetrable void. "The eye adapts to the brightest thing in sight," he said. "When you have glare, the eye adapts to the glare, but then you can't see anything darker."

    [...]

    Much so-called security lighting is designed with little thought for how eyes--or criminals--operate. Marcus Felson, a professor at the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, has concluded that lighting is effective in preventing crime mainly if it enables people to notice criminal activity as it's taking place, and if it doesn't help criminals to see what they're doing. Bright, unshielded floodlights--one of the most common types of outdoor security lighting in the country--often fail on both counts, as do all-night lights installed on isolated structures or on parts of buildings that can't be observed by passersby (such as back doors). A burglar who is forced to use a flashlight, or whose movement triggers a security light controlled by an infrared motion sensor, is much more likely to be spotted than one whose presence is masked by the blinding glare of a poorly placed metal halide "wall pack." In the early seventies, the public-school system in San Antonio, Texas, began leaving many of its school buildings, parking lots, and other property dark at night and found that the no-lights policy not only reduced energy costs but also dramatically cut vandalism.

    So there you go. Street lights are good, but if they shine light directly in the eyes of people walking at night, then those people will be unable to see into the shadows, which would be a great place for a mugger to lurk. However, if those street lights are subdued to decent levels and designed to be free of glare then not only can you see your path but your eyes will also still be adjusted for the darkness and you're better able to see what's outside of a brilliantly lit area. There are other benefits too:

    Calgary, Alberta, recently cut its electricity expenditures by more than two million dollars a year, by switching to full-cutoff, reduced-wattage street lights.

    Reduce the power output of your street lights and save millions. Additionally:

    Diminishing the level of nighttime lighting can actually increase visibility. In recent years, the California Department of Transportation has greatly reduced its use of continuous lighting on its highways, and has increased its use of reflectors and other passive guides, which concentrate luminance where drivers need it rather than dispersing it over broad areas. (Passive guides also save money, since they don't require electricity.) F.A.A.-regulated airport runways, though they don't use reflectors, are lit in a somewhat similar fashion, with rows of guidance lights rather than with high-powered floodlights covering broad expanses of macadam. This makes the runways easier for pilots to pick out at night, because the key to visibility, on runways as well as on roads, is contrast.

  • Re:Ah fuck that. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by uncqual (836337) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @11:57PM (#20525753)
    Slightly off topic, but... Some of those horrid yellow lights have another little problem which could probably be dealt with but isn't in some places. That problem is that they are so close to the color and intensity of a yellow traffic light that they "camouflage" yellow traffic lights.

    On one major street that I drive on at nights sometimes, you have to learn to remember where you saw a green light and, when you glance back (from scanning the sides of the road and your mirrors like one should), remember where it was - because if it's turned yellow, you can't quickly pick it out from all the yellow street lights - it just looks like suddenly a signal that you recall having seen is no longer there ... that is until it "suddenly" turns red and results in people jamming on their brakes.

    Once you learn to remember where the signals are because you drive the street regularly, it's not so bad - but it's quite disconcerting the first few times and certainly detracts attention from other elements of your driving even once you learn to compensate for it.
  • Re:It's true (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Sunday September 09, 2007 @02:44AM (#20526553) Journal
    Security is the ultimate bad justification, and knee jerk reaction to anything couched as the least threatening. Gated communities, fences around apartment complexes, hostility towards foot and bike trails (because criminals are more likely to be too poor to afford a car), and older cheaper housing, proactive continuously operating computer virus scanning software that makes computers run 10% slower, the invasion of Iraq, airport security measures, locked doors on stairwells so people can't "sneak up" the stairs, the response bank customer service reps too often puke out on why they can't do something or why you must put up with something, DRM, big cars, snooping and spying, and of course lights. It's amazing how all rational discussion of costs and benefits can be short circuited by playing that trump card, "security".
  • Re:It's true (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mr_matticus (928346) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @03:14AM (#20526629)
    Only on Slashdot would someone support such an argument. The perception of safety is what matters to people. The actual statistics on crime (or anything else) are never as important as what people think about them.

    If street lights make people feel safer, then there will be street lights. It doesn't matter that much if it actually works or not. Arguing for a public policy that makes people "feel endangered" is grounded in fantasy. Further, the premise that people feeling more in danger will have a net reduction in crime is a myopic viewpoint typical of this forum. It may well reduce actual crime, but you can bet it will ratchet up paranoia and accidental injuries arising from perceived crimes (you know, like how people with guns hurt and kill more people every year than are saved by having the guns).

    Just imagine yourself listening to someone on TV saying "I support this plan to make you feel less safe, more on edge, and therefore more active in stopping crime." It's ludicrous. People shouldn't be police officers. Citizens shouldn't have to be more careful. That's treating a symptom.
  • Re:the country (Score:2, Insightful)

    by baboo_jackal (1021741) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @04:36AM (#20526979)

    This seems so obvious that it's amazing this is controversial at all.

    It's not that it's controversial. All I see is a bunch of arguing about the relative goodness or badness of it. Hey, I think it's a great idea - I like seeing stars, and if you can alter lighting in such a way that I'm not made more susceptible to crime while walking, and that I can actually see better when I'm driving, then I'm all for it!

    But nobody is asking the "grownup questions" that are at the core of every good idea, social program, and good intention. Too frequently, they never get asked. Anyway, here they are:

    1) How much will it cost?
    2) Who's going to pay for it?
    3) What will we have to give up in order to get this?
    4) Is the tradeoff worth it?
    5) What are the higher-order effects, and can we live with them?
  • by Explo (132216) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @07:56AM (#20527657)

    This is not an issue or a cause to be taken seriously. So it seems that the logic here is: "let us all use "dark sky friendly" lights so we cannot see the real pollution and this will all go away and seem like a bad dream. I believe that we can find better issues to deal with than "light pollution". It is similar to going to an emergency room with a gunshot wound to the chest and complaining about a hangnail. Priorities people... Priorities.


    A couple of comments:

    I don't quite see why trying to reduce light pollution would be mutually exclusive with working concurrently to solve other issues. After all, 'we' (in the more global sense, as I'm not probably living in the same country as you) have been working at the same time on multiple problems of different scopes pretty much as long as the humans have lived in organized societies. As a comparison, it's generally not a good idea to forget completely about some local group of criminals while you're working on the global hunger, war on terror or other grand things.

    It's also not only about being able to enjoy the night sky properly. By using more efficient lighting setups that minimize the amount of light that ends up on the sky and becomes wasted, less energy is used, which in turn has an effect on the amount of other pollution being created. This really is related to the other pollution problems (and even appears to be capable of causing some actual biological harm to humans and other animals, as mentioned briefly in the article as well).

  • Re:the country (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MrNaz (730548) on Sunday September 09, 2007 @11:26AM (#20528615) Homepage
    1) Next to nothing compared to other programs. Use the excess tinfoil around here to make reflectors.
    2) Take a 0.00001% fraction of the defense budget.
    3) Nothing.
    4) Yes.
    5) None, and yes.

    Any more?

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