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FAQ: What is Light Pollution?

Our biggest endeavor with lighting technology has been striving for energy-efficiency along with the decreased use of greenhouse gases.  As a community, both corporate and at an individual level, we have been increasingly successful at our goals.  Whether it’s new State policy or a company wanting to sport some “green” practices, the care is still growing.  Though this is a great path to be on, the most overlooked environmental problem today is light pollution.  Artificial light has only been around for about 150 years.  Compared to the amount of time we have inhabited the Earth, that’s nothing!  In relation to our technological advances, we are already seeing a decline in the number of nocturnal and light sensitive species in our ecosystems.

Light Density in North America

What is Light Pollution?

So how does light have the ability to actually pollute our environment?  You can’t touch or feel light, and this is why it has been consistently overlooked.  Light pollution is simply excessive artificial light during night time hours that shines in areas where it is not needed.  A by-product of light pollution is sky-glow.  This is how we are most familiar with light pollution as humans.  If you live in the city, you can step outside during the darkest time of night and look up to see how yellow or bright the sky is above.

“As of 2006, artificial lighting consumed 19% of total global electricity, accounting for greenhouse gas emissions of 1900Mt of CO2 per year.  Artificial lighting is said to consume up to 25% of global electricity in 2015.”

Why does Light Pollution Need to be Addressed?

Effects on Human Health:  

Numerous studies have verified that light pollution affects human health.  For quite some time, humans have stayed up past the daylight hours with the help of fire, gaslights, and light bulbs for years. With the increase in studies, we have found more and more the effects of different types of lighting on our general health and our sleeping schedules.

There is essentially a type of pollution for each of our five senses, directly affecting human health:

Sight – Light Pollution
Hearing – Noise Pollution
Taste – Water Pollution
Smell – Air Pollution
Touch – Trash Pollution

Effects on Ecology:

Every time you go outside at night, no matter where you are, there’s always bugs flying around hopelessly amid the light bulbs.  Am I right?  Our first reaction is that they are creatures too dumb to realize it is a simple light bulb creating artificial light.  On the other hand, and what we fail to contemplate, these insects are following their instincts.  They are doing what their nature tells them is natural.  The amount of migratory insects and other bugs that fall victim to the illusion of light on our front porches will surely increase, thus effecting our ecosystem.

Effects on Environment:

The most obvious effect that light pollution has on our environment is the loss of the world’s aesthetic values. Stargazing and astronomy is on a steady decline related to visibility of the stars.  As the human race, we have the advantage of appreciating what is around us, including the world’s awe-inspiring views into the universe.  Every one of us has been on that night time road trip through the old farm to market roads gazing into the sky above us.  You’d be lying if you told me you’ve never made a comment on how amazing the stars looked out where there were no lights to ruin the view.  Hundreds of years ago (which is a relatively short amount of time given how long our Earth has existed) people didn’t have to worry about not being able to see the starry skies.  Sky glow can be enhanced on foggy nights, but overall our artificial lighting is the cause.

Sky Glow Chart

Effects on Wildlife:

Insects, birds, and bats are those who are among the most affected.  Artificial lighting has the ability to disrupt growth and development, normal activity, and animal’s internal clocks.  The most extreme and disturbing effect on these animal species is positive phototaxis.  Phototaxis is by definition when an organism moves towards (+) or away from (-) stimulus light.  Phototaxis is by all means natural, and is naturally advantageous.  But with the introduction of artificial light sources and the exponentially abundance of them, it is causing many adverse effects on migratory birds, bats, and insects.

30% of all vertebrates and more than 60% of all invertebrates world-wide are nocturnal.

Migratory Birds use both visual cues and an internal magnetic compass for orientation.  All animals depend on the wavelength characteristics of lights for direction.  Birds require light from the blue-green part of the spectrum for orientation.  “A promising alternative would be to change light color, as lab studies show that birds are only disoriented under specific wavelength conditions.” Already there are alterations being done at places like offshore rigs to be equipped with a greenish tinted light, which has already seen improvement in the death or disorientation of birds.

Lastly there are the nocturnal bats of the world.  Lights are guaranteed to have a fatal impact on insects. Though there are no hard statistics on the amount of insects that are killed annually, we find that minimal reductions in the population of local insects caused by unnatural lighting can reduce opportunities for bats to feed.  As a conclusion, lighting near bat’s homes should be avoided completely. Bats are able to function normally around lights that have no UV content and are generally warm white.

Why Should I Care?

What most people don’t know is that lighting pollution is one of the key biodiversity threats our Earth’s ecology faces.  It is among the “top 10 emerging issues in biodiversity conservation and has important implications for policy development and strategic planning.  Lighting has the potential to affect entire ecosystems through changes in trophic interactions, which may in turn affect ecosystem services.”

“Managing darkness has to be an integral part of future conservation planning and illumination concepts.”

Dark Sky Association

What Can You Do To Make Light Pollution A Lesser Impact on Wildlife, Ecology, and the Environment?

From both a commercial and personal standpoint, everyone has the ability to help with decreasing light pollution.  Making sure you turn lights off when they are not needed, particularly those in the outdoors, is a good first step.  When planning to build new developments, make sure there are no nocturnal bat roosting areas in the near vicinity.  This will help preserve the population, thus helping our ecosystem.  We could eventually take measures to changing the color of outdoor lighting when it’s the time of year birds migrate so they are not thrown off-track.

A popular decision among outdoor commercial centers, businesses or otherwise, is installing lighting controls.  Lighting controls provide you the ability to dim your lighting, turn off a particular set of lamps, or simply to monitor your outdoor lighting.  For example, dimming your lights at night would not only save you energy, but it would reduce your impact on light pollution.

Conclusion to Lessen Light Pollution:

★ To promote lighting options that are low-impact, energy-efficient, and still visually pleasing.

★ Directing light more accurately outdoors.

★ Timers and sensors to adjust to when lighting is actually needed.

★ Consideration for light-sensitive environments.

Advantages of Lighting Controls

Not only do wireless lighting controls save you money and energy, they play a great role in our steps to reduce light pollution.  An advantage of LED lights is that you have more options to dim than any other type of lighting.  With whiter LED lights, you will attract less bugs, thus improving the effects of light pollution in your local area.

Interested in learning more about lighting controls? Check out netLiNK Wireless Controls here.

If you’re interested in learning more about outdoor wireless controls for your center, you can contact one of our lighting professionals today. Call us at 1-800-633-8711 or email us at  [email protected]

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