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Features, Interviews|August 23, 2015 11:02

Soapbox: To light or not to light?

The Alternative Energy Spcialists poses the question: Is light pollution inevitable and how much of a problem is it?

James Abbott
Member of the Campaign for Dark Skies

‘Is light pollution a problem? Of course it is. Through more efficient sources (e.g. LEDs), and good design and control, we have the ability to significantly reduce it, even if we cannot eliminate it. This will improve the quality of our night skies, reverse artificial light damage to wildlife habitats, reduce carbon emissions, and will save a lot of money in the longer term. It’s a ‘no-brainer’ as the saying goes.

‘Yes, unfortunately a degree of light pollution is inevitable. However good we make lighting design, reflections from the ground, buildings, scattering in the lower atmosphere and other physical processes lead to light pollution. The extent depends on weather conditions; dry clean air produces less glow than humid conditions. So even in an idealised scenario, when all light fittings are fully cut off at zero tilt, there would still be some skyglow.’

Nigel Parry
Technical services manager
Institution of Lighting Professionals

‘Street lighting has often been seen as the main culprit for causing lighting pollution, but this is clearly not the case. Ask any environmental health officer and they will confirm that most complaints about lighting pollution emanate from neighbours. This may be basic security lighting on the house opposite, or new sports lighting installed at the local tennis club. Light pollution in these instances is often caused by the use of poor quality fittings that are poorly installed with little thought about where any spill is going.

‘Street lighting, however, cannot get away scot-free as it is often the cause of orange skies across our towns and cities. The culprit here is old low-pressure sodium lamps that try to emit light onto the road but, due to the design, inevitably release it into the atmosphere. Unfortunately the UK has around three million of these, all of which are past their design life.’

Kevan Shaw
Lighting design director

‘Let’s start with the familiar image of the earth from space, all dark except for massive amounts of yellow light emanating from cities and outlining continents. If it was a real picture, we would be in so very much more trouble than we are now – it would mean the sun has expired.

‘The majority of our light pollution emanates from street lighting. In most countries, this isn’t measured by light landing on the road surface but by the amount reflected back from it. No wonder it looks bright from space.

‘Given that these numbers are achieved under worst conditions (normally a wet black road surface), much of the lighting is over designed, includes equipment that fails to eliminate waste upward-facing light and is at the end of a lifetime of 30+ years, yes, this issue could be solved, but it will take many years to do so.

‘Pollution also exists at a more personal level. The usual niggles of poorly aimed security fittings and streetlights flooding people’s houses with as much light as they do onto the roadway are in the same class as the bigger picture.’

Emma Marrington

Rural policy campaigner
Campaign to Protect Rural England

‘Light pollution is not inevitable and is a problem, one that could so easily be resolved.

‘In recent years, light pollution has become a growing issue, with more and more areas in the UK unable to enjoy a clear view of the night sky. From 1993 to 2000, light pollution in England increased by 26 per cent, which is representative of the huge amount of energy wasted and money burning up into the sky.

‘So how can this problem be resolved? Quite simply by putting the right lighting in the right place, and only having it on when it is needed. There is such a range of technology available and lighting needs can be tailored to the requirement of the location. For example, dimming technology means that entire counties could have different levels of light at different times, on different days. CPRE believes that the Government need to introduce planning guidance so that lighting in any new development, or changes to lighting on existing developments would be subject to planning permission.’

Martin Morgan-Taylor

Martin Morgan-Taylor
Board member, International Dark Sky Association

‘Light pollution is far more than the loss of the night sky affecting a few amateur astronomers.  It is a society-wide problem, resulting in energy wastage, concomitant greenhouse gas emissions and the waste of hundreds of millions of pounds, (of concern in this time of ‘austerity’ and cutting waste).  It has been linked to cancer in humans and can also harm wildlife.

‘It is largely caused by bad lighting on a higher level than is needed, on longer than needed, or extending further than where needed.  It usually comes from poorly controlled lighting, which allows a lot of light to escape, or over-powered or needless illumination.

‘There are even links to night time light and cancer in humans. Brightening the sky at night can also disturb animal life, such as bats’ feeding and breeding regimes.’

To read the full feature turn to page 17 in the August issue or digital flickbook by clicking here.

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