Communities Tackle ‘Light Pollution’

About 99 percent of people living in the U.S. and Europe live under light-polluted skies. That is, they are unable to see the true darkness of the sky and, therefore, can’t see the Milky Way or struggle with stargazing, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances, “World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness.”

About 15 towns and cities worldwide are adopting light pollution guidelines to preserve the night sky, most of them in the U.S., according to the International Dark-Sky Association.

That doesn’t mean towns are going completely dark. But they are making more efforts to limit their use of nighttime lights and encouraging residents to do the same. For example, some communities’ outdoor-lighting ordinances are encouraging more thoughtful placements of lights that won’t cloud the night sky. They’re also educating the public on how to promote darker skies.

A new 240-unit single-family-home development called Summit Sky Ranch, an hour west of Denver, seeks to be that state’s first planned dark-sky community. From the creation of the community, developers have weighed how the natural landscape of aspen trees could be used to block out light from other houses, for example.

The entire development will contain only five street lights. The street lights cast their light down, with shields that are designed to radiate as little light as possible, says developer Tom Everist. The development will also feature an observatory with a 20-inch refractor telescope for stargazing. Homes start in the $600,000s.

“Personally, I just love stars and the sky,” says Everist. “I grew up in the Midwest, where you could see the stars and the Milky Way … I find real peace and contentment from being outside in the dark and enjoying the natural sounds of the night. … We’re selling a way of life to our homeowners, and it’s resonating.”

Will more communities follow suit? The International Dark-Sky Association hopes so. The association says that at least 30 percent of all outdoor lighting in the U.S. is wasted because of unshielded light on streets and in parking lots. Thirteen percent of residential electricity used in the U.S. is for outdoor lighting, according to U.S. Department of Energy data from 2011.

Dark-sky policies could conserve energy use, save money, and reduce carbon emissions, advocates note. Putting a shield over outdoor lights, pointing the lights downward, placing lights lower to the ground, and only installing lights where really necessary could greatly reduce light pollution in other cities and help preserve darkness, advocates note.

Source: “How Dark-Sky Communities Fight Light Pollution,” Curbed.com (March 30, 2017)