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How Light Pollution Can Affect the Environment
We have all heard about water and air pollution. Besides, most people wouldn’t dispute the fact that they are indeed a problem. However, light may be the only source of pollution overlooked by the average consumer. This may be because the average person doesn’t think “light” when the word pollution comes up in the news or in conversation. After all, it’s just light, right? No, it’s actually not that simple. Light pollution is defined as the brightening of the night sky due to artificial light scattered around, also known as skyglow. Unnecessary light not only wastes huge amounts of electricity, but also adversely affects wildlife.
Light pollution, also called skyglow, is defined as light that is wasted in the night sky and causes a glow over urban/suburban areas. It also refers to the light that is
are refracted in the surrounding atmosphere. This refraction is closely related to the wavelength of light. Rayleigh scattering, which makes the sky appear blue during the day, also affects the light that comes from the ground to the sky and is then redirected to become skyglow as seen from the ground. As a result, blue light contributes significantly more to the glow of the sky than an equal amount of yellow light. Skyglow is especially irritating to astronomers because it reduces the contrast in the night sky to the point where it can even become impossible to see the brightest stars.
So what kind of lighting is harmful? The truth is, there are indoor and outdoor lighting that can be harmful in the long run. Research has been done on the subject for years and it is well known that indoor fluorescent lighting can cause many health problems such as migraine headaches, fatigue, irritability and many other health conditions. But when it comes to the outdoor environment, nighttime security lighting poses the biggest threat in terms of light pollution. Additionally, studies show that outdoor security lighting does not reduce crime and uses approximately 800 pounds of coal each year for light. Have you ever looked up at the night sky only to see a haze of faint light? This is the perfect example of light pollution. Researchers have been studying this problem for years and have created actual photographs of land masses, cities and rural areas around the world at night. The results spoke for themselves; night light is definitely a problem.
Light that is considered annoying, wasteful or harmful causes environmental and health damage as well as other forms of pollution. Some indoor and outdoor lighting fixtures are considered harmful in the long term. It is well known that indoor fluorescent lighting can cause many health problems such as migraines, headaches, fatigue, irritability and many other health conditions. Approximately 800 pounds of coal are lost to light each year. Outdoors, light pollution harms nocturnal wildlife.
Constant lighting can destroy crops, trees and even wildlife. Proper plant growth depends on the cycle of light and darkness. The onset of darkness is crucial for the flowering and reproduction process. Birds have been known to fly into towers and windows at night due to the confusion caused by night lighting. The fact that the night should be dark is not always the case these days. In some places like Las Vegas, you can’t even tell
whether it’s night or day because the billions are so bright you feel like you’re in another dimension.
Life has existed in fixed natural cycles of light and dark, so disrupting these patterns affects many aspects of animal behavior. Light pollution confounds animal navigation, alters competitive interactions, alters predator-prey relationships, and affects animal physiology. Studies show that light pollution around lakes prevents zooplankton from eating surface algae, causing algal blooms that kill lake plants and lower water quality. Night light also interferes with the ability of moths and other nocturnal insects to navigate. Night blooming flowers that depend on moths for pollination will be affected by night lighting. This leads to the reduction of plant species that are unable to reproduce and changes the long-term ecology of the area.
Lights from tall structures disorient migrating birds. The number of birds killed after being attracted to the tall towers is estimated at 4-5 million per year. The Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) works with building owners in Toronto, Canada and other cities to turn off lights during migration periods to reduce bird mortality.
Contrary to popular belief, sea turtle hatchlings are not attracted to the moon. Rather, they find the ocean by moving away from the dark silhouette of dunes and their vegetation, a behavior that artificial lights prevent. The lights can also disorient young seabirds as they leave their nests and fly out to sea.
Night frogs and salamanders are also affected. Being nocturnal, they wake up at night. Light pollution causes salamanders to come out of hiding later, giving them less time to mate and reproduce.
So to do your part for the environment, make sure your outdoor lighting complies with regulations. By this we mean that they only illuminate the ground below them and never illuminate neighboring property or the night sky. Second, by making sure your exterior lights are only on when necessary. Dusk-to-dawn lighting should be strictly avoided. Third, turn down the wattage of your light bulbs. The human eye is remarkable for its ability to adapt to the amount of light available. Too much light can be overwhelming and blinding, actually reducing visibility. Even a small power reduction will reduce light pollution.
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