Some of my friends find it odd, but I sleep with an eye mask on at night. Even when I turn out all the lights in my apartment, enough light seeps into my place from the lit-up storefronts, street lights and porch lights outside that I have a hard time falling asleep without the mask.
That’s why Borrego Springs, California, seems like the perfect vacation spot for me. The small town of 2,500 people just became the second community in the world to be named an International Dark Sky Community by The International Dark-Sky Association, a nonprofit with 53 chapters around the world. According to Miller-McCune, Borrego Springs has no traffic lights, fast-food joints, or big-box stores — and just 25 streetlights — hooded and downward-facing so as not to create light pollution! (via Triple Pundit)
If light pollution sounds like a rather drastic term to describe regular street lights, consider the health consequences of too much illumination. According to Miller-McCune, “disrupting the circadian rhythm can cause insomnia, depression and increase the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.” In addition, light pollution can also encourage cataracts to develop. In fact, last year the American Medical Association went so far as to approve a resolution advocating light pollution control.
Too much light is also drastically affecting other species and their ecosystems — so much so that a book, "Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting," has been dedicated to exploring how over-illumination affects everything from migrating birds to sea turtles to salamanders to plants.
And of course, light pollution means wasted energy — something the annual Earth Hour event tries to point out. Miller-McCune reports that “The Dark-Sky Association estimates that wasted light squanders the equivalent of 32 million barrels of oil or 9 million tons of coal each year in the United States alone.”
Many of us tend to equate bright street lights with safer streets, but the International Dark-Sky Association says too-bright lights can do more harm than good (PDF): “Overly bright lighting creates a sharp contrast between light and darkness, making the places outside the area of illumination nearly impossible to see. Bad lighting can even attract criminals by creating deep shadows that offer concealment.”
Interested in making your community an International Dark Sky Community? Any ‘hood’s eligible according to International Dark-Sky Association, though of course, big cities with lots of light life will have a tough time meeting the guidelines. Still, cities and towns can do a lot to reduce unnecessary light pollution — and a new film by Ian Chaney ("The Greening of Southie") called "The City Dark" looks like it’ll shed some more light on the issue when it’s completed later this year.
In the meantime, to reduce light pollution in your home and community, check out the International Dark-Sky Community’s tips in its “Introduction to Light Pollution” brochure (PDF) and get started.