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Light Pollution: Are You A Culprit?

Learn why the night sky isn't as dark as it used to be.

Before you go to bed, do you switch on your outdoor lights?

If the answer is “yes”, you may want to rethink your lighting strategy. Excess light is causing light pollution, a serious problem compromising our view of the universe, interfering with astronomical observations, as well as wasting billions of dollars a year, among other adverse effects.

What Causes Light Pollution?

Light with insects.

Light pollution is caused by many types of lights, including street lighting, security lamps, advertising and display lighting, floodlights for sporting events and building illumination, and more.

Essentially, all these lights cause 1) sky glow over urban/suburban areas, blotting out our visibility of the sky as well as 2) glare that shines dangerously into peoples’ eyes as they drive (or walk by). Other big problems, including threatening some forms of nocturnal wildlife, are caused as well.

By some estimates, billions of dollars are wasted with these efforts to needlessly light up the sky.

Are You A Culprit?

Answer these questions to find out.

1. Do you light only what needs lighting? Or do you have outside lights all over your yard that go on automatically every night?
Tonight, take a look outside and ask yourself “do I really need all of those lights on out there?” You may find out that you are a culprit.

2. Do your outside lights stay on all night?
If you’ve decided that the lights are necessary, is it necessary to have them on from dusk to dawn?

3. Do you think the “more light the better?”

Think again. Average 60-watt lighting is probably all that you need to find your way to your front door. You are not performing brain surgery or anything that requires bright intense lighting. The idea that “more is better” doesn’t apply to lighting.

4. Do you own or know what cutoff light fixtures are?
Full cutoff fixtures shine the light down rather than up. This avoids excess light shining into the sky, where it’s not usually needed. Cutoff lights also help keep the lights on your property, rather than shinning into your neighbor’s yard.

5. Do you own any motion sensor lights?
Nighttime lighting can help you feel more secure. Studies have shown, however, that we’re still in the dark as to whether or not nighttime lighting really helps keep criminals out (some suggest it makes it easier for people to steal or vandalize). However, if you feel better having a light by your garage or back door, why not install motion sensor lights. That way the lights will automatically go on only when there is activity, then shut off automatically.

6. True or False: Light Pollution doesn’t affect you.
False. It does. Look at your electric bill. Look at your night sky. Can you make out the big or little dipper? Is there a glow from the next town over? Light pollution affects all of us and there are easy ways to reduce this type of pollution and conserve energy and money.

Make a difference this year. Shut off some of your lights or learn how to install more night-sky-friendly ones. To learn more about Light Pollution visit the International Dark Sky Association.

This article was published by the staff at Farmers' Almanac. Interested in becoming a guest author? Contact us to let us know!

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Pamela Conklin

I have night lights but don’t need them as the lights from neighboring buildings keep my home lit all night. A few of them are blinding when I look out my window. I live in town in a small town.

Hines

Recently 2 neighbors on my street had the power company install street lights. They are on either side of my house on opposite side of the road. The whole front of my yard and half of my backyard are lit up all night. I live on a dead end street in a safe neighborhood. Do I have any control over this situation. I miss the dark sky at night. I am concerned about the nocturnal wild life.

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