Being able to see the milky way is not as common worldwide as it used to be. Half way through the 20th century the majestic view of the stars started to fade away in more and more places around the world. Today, about 60 percent of Europe and 80 percent of North America can’t see the milky way anymore. The reason for this is called light pollution.
With water and air pollution, the elements that are being polluted are, well, air and water. With light pollution it is the opposite, since light is the polluter itself. The darkness at night is being reduced by over-illumination.
Light pollution is caused by excessive and misdirected artificial lights that shine upwards instead of downwards, which is where it’s meant to shine.
This results are called sky glow, the excess of electric light scatter and reflect in the atmosphere during the night. In urban areas, the highest levels of light pollution are now being measured.
According to Falchi, an Italian scientist who leads a group that investigates worldwide light pollution, Singapore is the most light-polluted country. The entire population lives under a sky so bright that their eyes cannot fully dark-adapt to night vision.
The consequences of light pollution reach further than the interference with astronomical observations. It interferes with our circadian rhythm and is being seen as a cause for multiple health issues. Light pollution also has a major effect on the ecosystem, especially the nocturnal life.
Effects on our circadian cycle and overall health
When living in an over-illuminated area, our circadian rhythm, which includes our sleep cycle, hunger pattern, activity levels, hormone production and some other physiological processes, are being disrupted.
Sunlight is a very important factor in keeping the circadian rhythm balanced and so is natural darkness. An excess of artificial light at night can cause our bodies to reduce the amount of melatonin we produce. This can result in the lack of sleep, extreme fatigue and in some cases insomnia.
This is the beginning of a long list of health issues such as obesity, diabetes, stress, certain types of cancers, mood disorders and a decrease in sexual function that all link to this phenomenon.
Effects on the ecosystem
The ecosystem seems to be extremely influenced in many ways by light pollution. Some predators won’t mind seeing their prey better but take for instance the moth, it is drawn by the light but that means often instant fatality when it comes too close, due to the heat.
Nocturnal animals, animals who are only active in extreme darkness, are influenced the most in areas where the night knows no darkness anymore. The over-illuminated areas make it impossible for them to live normally.
Animals that use the moonlight as their navigation get completely disorientated, migratory birds get confused, making them collide into tall buildings or each other. Species lose their natural habitat since they get chased away by other species that are attracted by the light. This all results in a fundamental unbalance in nature.
Reducing light pollution
In 2007 a great initiative was introduced, the International Dark Sky Week, in which events are being organized to spread awareness and how to combat light pollution and over-illumination, highlighting the importance, scientifically and spiritually of dark skies. When you compare light pollution to other kinds of pollution on our planet, this seems a lot easier to reduce. How?
Simply by turning off the lights. Our health and the ecosystem will benefit enormously and it will also save a lot of energy and thus money.
Film maker: Harun Mehmedinovic, project Skyglow