Why the Night Sky Matters: The Ramifications of Light Pollution
Marks Daily Apple
by Mark Sisson: Just
One Small Change Leads to Amazing Results
I are lucky enough to have a hot tub in our back yard, overlooking
a pretty spectacular ocean and mountain view. We often soak for
a while and talk about the day's activities just before retiring
to bed (I sometimes alternate with a quick plunge
or two into our unheated pool). Last night we were taking advantage
of the break between winter storms to "jacuze" when I noticed that
the cloud cover had so dispersed the city lights of L.A. and Santa
Monica that it lit up the sky even 20 miles out into Malibu. On
an otherwise moonless night, it had become light enough to simulate
dusk all over L.A.. Can you imagine the amount of manmade light
it takes to have that effect? Of course, that got me thinking about
all the ways in which light permeates our lives in ways both good
mentioning the words "pollution" or "environment" raises hackles
in some, perhaps most people. Political blinders go up, knee-jerk
responses engage. Support for classically green renewables like
wind or solar power usually comes with unequivocal and emotional
disdain for any and all variations of nuclear. On the same token,
those who question the legitimacy of anthropogenic global warming
often display a lack of concern for the effects of fracking, industrial
pollution, or rampant use of agricultural pesticides. Now, I'm not
wading into that morass, mind you. This isn't the place for that.
I am, however, calling to attention the fact that both (albeit amorphous,
roughly defined) groups have a major blind spot: light pollution.
And it's not that they reject it as a problem. It's that they are
simply unaware it even exists (maybe it's all the bright lights).
So what exactly
is light pollution?
not light as in mild, harmless, or barely-there. It's not gentle
pollution, and it's nothing like "light to moderate drinking." Light
pollution is characterized by excessive amounts of artificial light.
Light that shouldn't be there, light that you can't escape from.
It's light that fills city streets at night all night and extends
upward to obscure our view of the stars. It's the blinding white
and blue light streaming from big screen TVs, laptops, and lamps,
and it's the little niggling lights that pepper the interiors of
our homes, winking at us from Blu-ray players and gaming consoles
and clock radios even as we (try to) sleep.
In other words,
light pollution exists inside and outside our homes. It affects
both the environment at large and the individual inhabitants within.
It is micro and macro. In the modern world it is, for the most part,
I won't delve
too deeply into the negative effects of artificial light on human
health as it relates to circadian rhythm, because I've already
covered those. Quickly, though, some of the research:
exposure to blue (artificial) light can suppress melatonin production,
thereby disrupting sleep, reducing
quality of sleep, throwing off circadian rhythm, and even promoting
exposure at night affects
circadian rhythm and cognitive performance.
light exposure might hamper our ability to process carbohydrates,
in the liver.
a large review titled "The Dark Side of Light at Night," (PDF)
workers (a proxy for night time light exposure) get more cancer,
heart disease, and are more likely to be obese. They also experience
great oxidative stress loads and have compromised immune
systems. Shift workers might represent the extreme end of nighttime
light exposure, but they show the potential negative ramifications
of even constant low-level exposure for everyone else.
all the measurable, objective, physiologically-harmful effects of
too much artificial light, there are the intangibles. That's what
this post is really about. Who else was lucky enough to spend their
childhood summer nights on the roof or in the open field, gazing
up at the millions of stars set against the backdrop of eternity?
I was, and it's what I still look forward to most of all about camping.
When I sneak away from the fire and catch a break in the canopy,
I stop and stare up above at the stars, those same heavenly mysteries
that got our ancestors thinking, poking, prodding, and striving
for more. Though today I know that they represent far flung galaxies
of eons past and that that bluish "star" is actually Venus, a planet
covered by volcanoes and rocky deserts while thirty thousand years
ago mankind looked up and concocted wondrous tales of gods and celestial
beasts that knowledge is suddenly meaningless once I begin to
gaze. I'm caught up, emotional, dare-I-say
"spiritual" a lot like how our ancestors must have felt when
they looked up at night. I'm lost in the limitlessness. I'm a kid
again, suddenly struck with the realization of just how small I
am and of the extrinsic meaninglessness of it all. Nature, remember,
is neutral, and it becomes evident that we create our own meaning
it's actually intrinsic, it comes from within and set our own
path. It's all on us, and I'm reminded of this essential fact because
of that brief brilliant moment with the stars.
the rest of the article
January 25, 2012
© 2012 Mark's Daily Apple
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