Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

September 5, 2007

Light Pollution: Energy Wasted by Public Lighting

Category: Big Things,News,Observations,Policy,Save Electricity – Tom Harrison – 11:49 pm

I came back from Deer Isle, Maine where I spent a long week on vacation. When surrounded by natural beauty and the sea, things meteorological and astrological seem more important. The weather was great, with clear skies for our whole visit. We watched the lunar eclipse from our bedroom (good thing, as it happened at 5:28 AM). And near the end of our visit, after the moon had started to rise later, we were treated to a perfectly clear, dark sky.

We lay, backs down on the grass, looking up. I showed my kids where the big constellations were, the Milky Way was clearly evident, shooting stars dotted the scene, and of course, billions and billions of stars. It was stunning, indeed it was awesome, and not in the sense of the word frequently used by my 10-year old and his friends. No, the scene produced a feeling of awe in all of us.

I was especially looking forward to this view, having just read The Dark Side: Making War on Light Pollution in the August 20th edition of The New Yorker. And having now returned, on an equally clear and moonless night in a town outside of Boston, I see a very, very different sky. There are stars, and it’s clear, but it’s nearly impossible to tell that there’s a milky way. Nary a shooting star. And far fewer stars.

As the linked article describes, our skies are permeated with light, even at night. Not a great surprise to anyone, I suppose, but the magnitude of the effect surprised me, even after reading the New Yorker article. There are scores of reasons cited why this is a mostly unnecessary phenomenon — we use light in many cases where darkness would serve us better. So read the article, learn some things as I did, and make your own conclusions.

But just to add one thought: think of how much energy we’re using to light up those skies. If it is true that we can make changes to reduce the amount of unnecessary lighting, wouldn’t that be a good thing? It would be many orders of magnitude better than the simple acts we do as individuals to reduce our use of light to save energy — the pointless streetlight outside my bedroom is on whenever it’s dark, all year long, lighting up a whole road. Is such lighting the biggest source of energy use, or even energy waste? No. But I do wonder why these kinds of things, which must cost boatloads of money for towns and cities, don’t become the most obvious and immediate line items to cut in the annual budget.


  1. You can learn more about light pollution and its insidious “hidden” effects by examining the content of
    Media gurus can read the media pack with linked articles which give some background to a range of neat ideas. How about hooking up your TESLA Sports at night and reduce the energy WASTED at night? How about there being too little energy in our future when “The Lights Could Actually Go OUT?……..”. Politicians simply are mortgaging our future. But then they will be dead in that future, won’t they? You will also find a pdf which can be downloaded to provide a poster which can be stuck beside light switches. It has this plea “Don’t Leave MEEE On”. This is for those who turn lights on and then just go away. I found the first one in a school near where I live. Our kids seem to know the way forward. It’s a pity city fathers do not?

    Comment by Graham Cliff — October 23, 2007 @ 12:56 pm

  2. Have you heard of World Earth Hour?
    Will your city be joining in 29 March 2008?
    Dublin City in Ireland is doing so –
    There is more at –

    You can even join Lights Out America and the WWF global (World) Earth Hour from my home pages – http;//
    Graham Cliff, CfDS LO, Greater Manchester, UK (Home of Man U).

    Comment by Graham Cliff — February 16, 2008 @ 6:55 am

  3. The problem is, our civilisation is addicted to light and this is having an unseen, detrimental effect on the environment. The general public and municipalities are under the erroneous impression that more and brighter lighting = greater safety and security, and this view is exploited by the lighting industry in order to maximise profits. Thousands of cities are cooking the atmosphere with street lighting all night every night, contributing to increased carbon dioxide emissions, global warming and wastage of public money. Consequently a cut-back in this wastage is going to have numerous social and environmental benefits.

    It is also well established that lighting attracts insects, so their numbers decline. This is having a concomitant effect on birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

    All these problems can be reduced by:

    a) better designed street lighting – full cut-off or better, and motion operated security lighting that is aimed downwards.

    b) 11.00p.m. street lighting curfews in suburban and rural areas.

    c) the elimination of decorative lighting such as floodlit public buildings and churches, skybeams, lasers, and illuminated regeneration follies.

    d) switching off commercial lighting when not needed, especially in high rise buildings.

    e) roofed over sports facilities.

    In order to implement the above proposals, a world-wide culture change is needed in our attitude towards outdoor lighting. This is very much a green issue and we should be actively campaigning against this assault on our environment.

    Lighting should only be applied sparingly, when needed, where needed, and in the correct amounts. Only then will the environment begin to recover.

    Comment by Colin Henshaw — February 16, 2008 @ 8:42 am

  4. […] islands”, are poor at dealing with rain and snow runoff, have lights that generate light pollution and look ugly, and are unpleasant places to be […]

    Pingback by Low Hanging Fruit: Solar Panel Parking Lot Canopies | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — May 21, 2008 @ 6:00 pm

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