Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Blinded By The Light

BLDGBLOG's Geoff Manaugh has written a thought provoking piece for Inhabitat about light pollution.

Light pollution seems a particularly interesting topic to me because it is one example of the impact of modern living on the environment that is completely reversible with just the flick of a switch. San Francisco appears to be a relatively low light polluting city, as the starry sky is readily visible from the park right outside my front door. However, I remember DC being a particularly bright city and was always struck by how few stars were visible, even from the rooftops of DC buildings.

The article touches on several effects of man-made illumination, and some efforts by concerned star watchers to stem the "light trespass" of cities and towns. I found this passage particularly interesting:

"The blazing horror of unnecessary self-illumination practiced by gas stations, shopping malls, casinos, cinemas, etc., has been shown to interfere with the bio-rhythmic cycles of local and migratory species (humans included). For instance, in areas aglow with light pollution, "birds [chirp] throughout the night, in anticipation of a dawn that will not arrive." Dung beetles wander in circles. Glowworms lose their ability to mate. Grown men watch television for hours at a time."

Who would have known that flood lighting could destroy the sex life of glowworms?

It is always interesting to think of the unintended and unforeseen impact we have on our surroundings, and light proves to be a particularly compelling example. Its impact becomes almost ironically invisible to us because it dissolves into a sort of visual background noise of living. Geoff gives some great examples of artists who are trying to make that impact visible again in order to raise some of these very issues.

Head on over and read the article, and then maybe you will see your neighborhood surroundings in a new light.

2 comment(s):

  • Now I know why I watch so much TV...

    Chicago's pretty bad when it comes to destroying the visibility of the night sky. Funny since we've got the Adler Planetarium and an ultra-expensive telescope that now can't see anything. Sure the city's installing street lights that point downward, but for every one of those there's an old one not being replaced and a building installing uplights to grace their attention-getting architecture.

    The last time I saw a canopy of stars was a weekend trip to Door County peninsula in Wisconsin. I remember not being able to find our hotel, pulling into an empty parking lot, looking up and not being able to stop looking for minutes. Not only was it amazingly clear, but it was the damn Milky Way in all its glory. It felt like a celestial embrace. I wouldn't mind feeling that more than once every few years.

    By Blogger John, at 10:09 AM  

  • I second the motion. I grew up on the coast of southern FL, and luckily you could always go to the beach to look at the stars.

    Buildings on the beach also had to be cognizant of their light pollution, especially during turtle season, as turtles would lay their eggs on the beach. When the baby turtles hatch, they go towards the moon to find the ocean, so if there are other bright lights, they can get confused and go in the wrong direction.

    Another example of the inadvertent impact we can have on our environment.

    Thanks for visiting the site!

    By Blogger PFC, at 1:43 PM  

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