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Blinded by the light
Cradle to the grave
Smarticle

     

 

Blinded by the light
Kick-starting the movement to take
back the night


BY JEN CIALINI


image ©1993. Courtesy of the International Dark-Sky Association and W.T. Sullivan with data provided by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program

Picture postcards of brightly lit cityscapes may attract tourists, but for Bob Gent - and for the wildlife he wants to protect – they’re a turn-off.

“Not only are we burning too much fuel to light the night, and disrupting wildlife, we’re also impacting our own human health,” says Gent, vice-president of the board of directors for the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). “What better reasons do we need for controlling light pollution?  We can see better, live healthier, and protect wildlife while preserving our heritage of dark skies.”

According to Toronto-based charity ­Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), it is estimated that over five million birds hit skyscrapers and die every year. Migratory birds in particular are strongly attracted to and become trapped by artificial light.  Once inside a beam of light, birds are reluctant to fly out of the illuminated area. They’ll continue to flap around in the light until they drop to the ground with exhaustion.

Lights Out Toronto!, an initiative by the City of Toronto, will encourage new buildings in the city to incorporate the needs of migratory birds with respect to lighting, glass and bird-friendly design features. In addition, the city will encourage buildings to turn off their lights at night.

Working with FLAP, Toronto Hydro Corporation, Environment Canada’s Wildlife Service and others, Lights Out!’s intention is to help reduce light-usage in order to save energy and to prevent the loss of migratory birds due to excessive light.
“We have salvaged over 34,000 birds in the GTA.  Wildlife is experiencing population stress. The rate of urban sprawl isn’t giving the environment enough time to adapt,” says Michael Mesure, President and founder of FLAP.

Besides wasted energy and the loss of birds, light pollution is also having an effect on what we see when we look up at the sky. According to the IDA, light pollution is having an adverse effect on professional astronomy.  Many advances of astronomy require observations of very faint objects that can only be studied using large telescopes at specific observing sites where there is no light pollution.  Most observations of cosmological interest involve galaxies at such great distances that their light has traveled for billions of years and then get lost in the last thousandth of its journey to earth due to excessive light.

“We should be able to see 3000 stars in any hemisphere with the naked eye,” says Paul Hejna, member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Recent studies show two-thirds of the world’s population can no longer see the Milky Way.  City dwellers have also lost their view of most constellations, the planet Saturn, a vast number of stars, the Northern Lights, and meteor showers.

“Losing the heritage of dark skies is a tremendous loss to humanity.  Losing touch with the human spirit, the imagination, and the thought of infinity goes way beyond energy conservation, human health issues and all the other problems light pollution causes,” says Gent.

       
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