EYES TO THE SKY: The right to night in the Berkshires

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By Monday, Apr 16 Learning  3 Comments
Harun Mehmedinovic
This can be a Berkshire sky. It's the Milky Way over ancient bristlecone forest. Photo courtesy Sierra Club

April 16 – 29, 2018

Our tri-state corner of Southern Berkshire, Litchfield and Columbia counties is a small green spot on the map. Can we protect our dark skies by preventing light trespass locally and working globally to minimize light pollution?

Mount Washington — House lights, porch lights, floodlights, car lights, store lights, streetlights, stadium lights, ski area lights, illuminated signage, decorative lights. Artificial light at night, indoors and outdoors, is second nature to us. But now that we’ve conquered darkness, we’re learning that darkness is necessary to life on Earth — and becoming scarce. “For billions of years, all life has relied on Earth’s predictable rhythm of day and night. It’s encoded in the DNA of all plants and animals. Humans have radically disrupted this cycle by lighting up the night.” http://www.darksky.org/light-pollution/wildlife/. Considering that circadian (from Latin “circa dies,” meaning “around day”) rhythms regulate our physiology and the life functions of our planet’s plants and wildlife, it’s essential for global health that we rein in our appetite for what is being exploited as an endless resource. We won’t be deprived of artificial light when we join the advocates whose mantra is “not more light, better light.”

The easiest way to prevent light trespass beyond our homes, aside from turning off unnecessary lighting, is to minimize the unintended projection and scattering of light from poorly aimed and poorly designed fixtures. The best way to illuminate walkways, roadways and other designated areas is to employ shielded fixtures that face down, directing light to the ground where illumination is needed; not out or up. Shielded fixtures concentrate the light, making it most effective; they minimize wasted light, which is costly, squandered energy. Wasted light is a hazardous pollutant — “light pollution.”

Light pollution fills towns, cities, industrial and even many recreational areas with ambient light that forms a ceiling of “skyglow” that blocks the view of starry skies, limiting humanity’s experience of our relationship to the cosmos. Like other sources of pollution that have health, environmental and economic costs, we can clean up light pollution one action at a time.

A proposed outdoor lighting installation close to home, in Pittsfield, could have potential negative affects on residents and visitors to the Berkshire region. The group promoting “Let’s shine a light on Pittsfield,” Berkshire Lightscapes, has until Wednesday, May 16, to claim a $50,000 Commonwealth Places matching grant from Mass Development. The plans call for “LED spotlights on the historic Civil War monument and tasteful LED up-lights facing the trees.” Note “up-lights” and “trees.” “City Hall will have tasteful LED lighting to the building façade and the front railings.” The emphasis on “tasteful” does not address the magnitude of the impact of added light! For Dunham Mall, a pedestrian thoroughfare connecting North Street’s commercial district with City Hall, a “corridor of artistic LED light.” Although wishing to do good for Pittsfield, there is no evidence that the promoters and both public and private funders of this massive introduction of artificial light are aware of the negative affects of nocturnal light on trees, birds and people, to name a few of the larger life forms in the city. To express concern, immediately contact Pittsfield’s Mayor Linda Tyer at (413) 499-9321 or mayorsoffice@pittsfieldch.com.

An upcoming local event provides a superb opportunity to educate ourselves about light pollution. In the spirit of International Dark Sky Week and Earth Day, the Bushnell-Sage Library in Sheffield will present the acclaimed film “The City Dark: A Search for Night on a Planet that Never Sleeps” Friday, April 20, at 7 p.m.This definitive film explores the dangers of light pollution beyond our inability to see the stars. Learn from scientists who have researched the effects of light pollution on the health of many different organisms on Earth, including humans.

The showing will be followed by a Q&A with Harold Hastings, astronomy professor at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and Judy Isacoff, member of the International Dark Sky Association, Massachusetts Chapter, and writer-naturalist for The Berkshire EdgeWeather permitting, sky gazing, with telescope viewing through the library’s telescope, will follow. Please join us as your contribution toward Dark Sky Week and Earth Day. https://www.bushnellsagelibrary.org/

The current challenge in municipal lighting is LED conversion. Shown here, negative effects of poor choices when converting streetlights to LED. Before: high pressure sodium, fully shielded, very little glare, warm color (1900K); After: Leotek LEDs, no shield, lots of glare, trespass, much bluer (3000K) than HPS. Images courtesy Smith College

Opportunities to participate/take action

April 17, MIT, Cambridge, 12:30–2 p.m. – Skyglow, Documenting the Affects of Light Pollution – https://calendar.mit.edu/event/skyglow_documenting_the_affects_of_light_pollution#.WsdKSFopCf0

Friday, April 20, 7:00 p.m. Bushnell-Sage Library, Sheffield, movie screening, “The City Dark: A Search for Night on a Planet that Never Sleeps” – https://www.bushnellsagelibrary.org/

April 19 and 20 Northeast Astro-Imaging Conference in Suffern, New York, and April 21 and 22 Northeast Astronomy Forum & Expo http://www.rocklandastronomy.com/neaf.html

Protect the night sky petition, a Sierra Club initiative – https://www.addup.org/campaigns/protect-the-night/petition/protect-the-night-against-light-pollution for anyone who wishes to contact his/her government leader/mayor about a light pollution issue.

Resources

International Dark Sky Association – http://www.darksky.org/
Massachusetts Chapter IDA website coming soon – https://www.facebook.com/DarkSkyMA/

“The City Dark” film review – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/18/movies/the-city-dark-a-documentary-by-ian-cheney-review.html

Negative effects of poor choices when converting streetlights to LED – http://www.science.smith.edu/~jlowenth/lightpollution/NewLEDs_vs_OldHPS_2016nov03.pdf


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3 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Carol Diehl says:

    Thank you for this! Light pollution is another environmental issue to learn more about. This New Yorker article from 2007, “The Dark Side,” is essential reading.

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/08/20/the-dark-side-2

  2. Harriet says:

    Good one, Judy!

  3. Susan P. Bachelder says:

    As a long time supporter of dark skies, and the work International Dark Skies Association has been doing, this concise presentation should be printed up and passed along to everyone in the Berkshires – Great Job Judy!

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