A confession: I was a teenage astronomy geek. This hobby that gave me an awareness of how depressing it is to live in a city so brightly lit that you can count the number of stars in the night sky.
A documentary, currently streaming on Netflix, called The City Dark details just how many other problems lights cause that you might not have thought of:
- Lighting confuses migratory birds. Millions crash into buildings every year.
- Sea turtle hatchlings walk towards city lights rather than the ocean.
- For us humans? An increased likelihood of breast cancer among women who work at night.
- Depression and sleep problems.
Worst may be the lack of perspective we humans get when we can’t contemplate the vastness of space. One of the astronomers in the documentary noted that when we lose touch with the scale of the universe we don’t appreciate the fact that we will never leave this earth. The distances are just too great. His point is that if we understood the impossibility of space travel, and gave up fantasizing about space colonies, we’d take better care of our home.
Keeping Gardens Dark
Thankfully light pollution is an easy fix and saves money and energy too. We can keep our outdoor spaces dark at night to benefit our well being and as well as the survival of nocturnal creatures. Night Sky concluded with a brief interview with Hervé Descottes, one of the lighting designers of the Highline Park in New York City. Descottes’s lighting design shows how you can balance the need for security with respect of the night sky by simply directing lighting downwards.
The International Dark-Sky Association has a guide to residential lighting that will help you keep our skies dark and nocturnal creatures safe. Some recommendations:
- Choose dark sky friendly lighting fixtures that direct light down, not up.
- Light only what needs to be lit, i.e. create a lighting plan rather than putting up a huge floodlight.
- Switch lights off when not in use.
- Reduce wattage–you don’t need as much as you think.
Here’s another idea: garden with moonlight. Rather than light up your garden with artificial light, include plants with silvery-grey leaves or white flowers. Our white sage glows spectacularly during a full moon. I’m also happy we put in a climbing white rose over our entrance arbor.
By embracing the darkness we can open our eyes to the stars above.