Ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt symbolically “turned on” the lights for major league baseball’s first night game on May 24, 1935, artificial outdoor lighting has been an increasingly prevalent part of our lives.
But the very fact that it has become so ubiquitous makes it that much easier for people to overlook many of the adverse effects light pollution can cause. Not only does it impact our ability to see the stars and other heavenly objects at night, but it directly affects the health and behavior of wildlife and humans alike.
Disrupting natural patterns.
Artificial light can dramatically impact natural body rhythms in both humans and animals. It interrupts sleep and confuses the circadian rhythm — the internal clock that guides and defines our day and night activities. It can also impact migration patterns, wake-sleep habits, and even the formation of habitats for animals. For instance, sea turtles and birds, who otherwise would be guided by the moon during migration, are confused by artificial lighting — losing their way and sometimes dying. A report released by the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Council on Science and Public Health confirms these impacts and outlines significant implications if changes aren’t made.
On top of all this, there’s also a financial impact. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) — the recognized authority on light pollution worldwide — estimates that one-third of all lighting in the U.S. is wasted, at an annual cost of about 30 million barrels of oil and 8.2 million tons of coal — a total of roughly $2 billion.
The good news is light pollution can be as easy to resolve as screwing in a lightbulb.
Step one – embrace the BUG.
The BUG rating refers to how much light “trespasses” from a lighting fixture. The system outlines a table of maximum light output for a series of different zones — once the proper zone is determined, the lighting designer or contractor checks the BUG rating to determine if a particular fixture is suitable for that zone.
BUG is more comprehensive than the “cutoff system,” which it replaced around 2005, in that it takes three critical factors into account: Backlight, Uplight, and Glare (hence, B-U-G).
Backlight – This describes light that spills from behind the fixture into areas where it is unwanted.
Uplight – This is light that spills above the top of the fixture. It is one of the most significant contributors to light pollution, making the stars less visible at night.
Glare – This is light that’s properly directed but which is too intense or concentrated. (Think of an overly bright streetlight.) It can create a safety issue as well as a light pollution issue.
Step two – make the right choices.
Outdoor lighting is necessary for modern society. But there are some simple steps one should follow to use it wisely and limit the harmful effects of light pollution:
- Only have the light on when needed
- Only illuminate the area that needs it
- Have the light be no brighter than necessary
- Be fully shielded (in most cases this means pointing downward)
- Minimize blue light emissions
Color is the key.
Lighting with a higher color temperature has more blue in its spectrum, leading to the designation “blue light.” Lighting with lower color temperatures has less blue in its range and is referred to as being “warm.”
Blue light brightens the night sky more than any other color of light — increasing glare and compromising human vision. So it’s vital to minimize the amount of blue light emitted. Blue light also impacts wildlife behavior and reproduction negatively. As a result of these and other issues, the IDA recommends that only warm light sources be used for outdoor lighting.
We can all flip the switch on light pollution.
At Digital Filaments, we firmly believe we can each take steps to reduce the negative impacts light pollution has on our health and environment. Following the above guidelines is an excellent step in that direction. At the same time, we recognize that it can sometimes be confusing to navigate the various ratings and lighting styles available.
That’s why we’re here to help.
Please visit us at www.digitalfilaments.com or call us directly at 215.600.2024 to find out how we can help you address your light pollution concerns.
And together, let’s brighten our future by turning down the lights.