Fireflies, Rise Up

Light Pollution News August 2023 - Fireflies rise Up!
Light Pollution News Podcast
Light Pollution News Podcast
Fireflies, Rise Up

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August 2023: Fireflies, Rise Up! Light Pollution News.


Jared Flesher, award-winning documentary filmmaker and director of the recent ‘Dark Sacred Night‘ video by the Office of Sustainability at Princeton University.

Bill Green, the other half of the Philadelphia Moon Men, now a Brussels Lunatic, who spends his time as an optics engineer living in Belgium.

Article List:

Let’s start things off with the big news this week. This comes to us from Forbes.

Say goodbye to the incandescent lightbulb! Love or it hate it, with some exceptions, LEDs are becoming the light of the land! On Tuesday, August 1st, The Department of Energy implemented their long entertained rules under the belief that a full switch over to LEDs reduce overall energy costs by $3 Billion, a carbon emission savings of 222 Million metric tons.

Historically, consumers understood wattage as a corollary for brightness. Higher wattage also held a check in excessive lighting as higher wattage meant more expensive electric bills.

However, now consumers must deal with new terms like “lumens,” a lack of uniformity in product development – LED color rendering notoriously varies between models, and questionable LED recycling standards driven by questionable LED manufacturing standards.

I think it’s easy to see how all of this can go wrong. We already witness many situations where users of exterior LEDs do not understand their impact on, not just the environment, but on their neighbors. New lights are almost universally excessively bright and do not consider things like circadian rhythms.

Staying on the big, big stories this month – here’s one from the Daily Beast, The Next Pandemic Might Occur Because It’s Too Bright Out, written by Tony Ho Tran. Tran did something really interesting, I thought.

Tran associated light pollution with noise pollution.

Tran interviewed Erica Walker, who detailed a problem of noise pollution she experienced – namely how an upstairs neighbor’s noise affected her to the point that she took to the legal system to adjudicate the nuisance.

In a similar way to how nuisance noise pollution elevates stress hormones and health concerns in individuals, Tran states “white it might not seem like much, our ability to see the stars at night is actually a pretty good indicator of not only the overall health of a city, but also its surrounding ecosystem.”

Tran goes on to make the case of how light pollution is on par with the other pollutions and notes that the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency did have an Office of Noise Abatement, that was shuttered never to return by President Reagan. 

How about this? Here’s some interesting news out of China! According to the State News Agency in China, a new trend has emerged. Whereas in previous years, driven by robust economic growth, young people migrated in droves to the big cities, now, it appears, that they are returning to those same towns with hopes of seeing the stars and enjoying a natural night.

From this story, “Across China: Dark Sky industry delivers bright future for village,” we learn of how the community of Changhong set out to create a stargazing resort in 2016. The article attributes 30,000 visitors a year to Astro-tourism. Whereas, the previously impoverished community is now witnessing a revitalization.

And stars embody more than just the sky! Star-related concepts extend to star-themed village clusters, to bookstores, bazaars, and even street lamps!

In a similar vein, Western Ontario’s Sheffield Conservation Area showcases more than just great trails and paddling! The area is actually home to a “Dark Sky Viewing Area.” And friends, this is by no means modest.

The L&A Dark Sky Viewing Area features solar power supplied electrical outlets for observers, an opaque barrier fence to prevent vehicle light from directly shining in, and more. Originally opened in 2012 as a glorified concrete slab, the facility now plans to include a large telescope to aid in public viewing events. 

You’ll want to mark your calendar for what we have next!

Staying in Canada, did you know that one of my very favorite places, Jasper National Park in the spectacular Canadian Rockies, hosts a “Dark Sky Festival” every autumn? The agenda typically includes science talks, planetarium shows, solar observing, and model rocket launches. But wait, that’s not all!

Add in First National Native Dances, a Drag Queen named Cedar T, a drone show, and native stories from the indigenous Cree people.

Back to the States, and we have similar events, albeit, more stoic in nature. The Shennandoah sees a Night Sky Festival on the weekend of August 11th, Great Basin has one on the weekend of September 14th, and Joshua Tree rounds out list on the weekend of October 13th. Note, the Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival has the added bonus of overlapping with the annular ‘ring of fire’ solar eclipse this year!

Let’s move our way over to the hobbyist side of things. An article out of Digital Camera World says Do Not Paint With Light when Photographing at Night! Jamie Carter is waving his finger at you, Light Polluting Astrophotographer! Places where Light Painting is now BANNED included Arches, Canyonlands, Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, Yosemite, and the Grand Tetons!

Now before you jump to conclusions about your rights, take a second to imagine this scenario. You’re headed out to photograph the night sky in one of these parks. And some other photographer takes it upon themselves to light up your frame irrespective of your considerations.

But Carter posits an additional reason beyond simple courtesy. Light Painting directly affects nocturnal animals, including kangaroo rats, woodrats, skunks, ringtails, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, bats and owls, to name a few. Instead, Carter suggests simple solution to capturing your foreground, why not use Blue Hour or lunar phases as an alternative, adding a natural shot without oversaturation.

Well for those of you at home who aren’t aware, Unistellar is the maker of several deep sky telescopes that blur the lines between visual astronomy and astrophotography. The claim is that Unistellar scopes are able to cut through light pollution when observing – the operative word observing here actually derives from an algorithmic imaging software the telescope uses.

Unistellar’s product stood out so much that Nikon purchased a financial stake in the company!

On the culture front, Axios put together this amazing map of how far people from every part of the US need to go to find dark skies. Using proximity to Bortle 2 or lower skies as what constitutes a “dark sky,” it’s no shock that folks living between Massachusetts down to Georgia, to Texas to North Dakota all have to travel in excess of 100 miles to find a dark sky.

Per the article, “Residents of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island have the farthest average distance to go while Maine, Utah, and Hawaii residents are the closest.”

This next one comes to us from Catalonia, specifically a press release from the University of Barcelona. It appears that the university has undertaken a plan to balance human uses in a park with ecological need. With hopes of minimizing human impact, the light maintains a bright orange until it detects movement, whereby it turns to white. I’m not quite sure why the light needs to be on at all to be honest.

Since we’re talking about circadian rhythms, I figured now would be a good time to discuss some potential human health impacts that made the news. Amy McDermott of PNAS wrote a piece identifying a connection between low female estrogen levels and prolonged exposure to bright light at night.

Researchers in 2019 noticed that “female mice with impaired estrogen cycling, lost their circadian rhythms after exposure to light at night.” Fast forward to 2023, and researchers completed their work by using two experimental groups and a control set of mice, 17 each to be exact.

The two experimental groups received 24 hours of bright light for 64 days, while the control received the normal day / dark cycle. Following the experiment, researchers examined the parts of mice brains that controls the biological clock. It appears that exposure to constant light directly negatively impacted estrogen levels of the experimental groups only.

In ecological news, as scientists now turn their attention to ALAN’s impact on ocean life, it’s been found that ALAN could be contributing to impairment of seagrass growth. In a study listed in Nature, researchers found that light at night caused the seagrass to promote anti-stress genes, which inhibited growth.

It’s important to note that this study is an early look at potential coastal impacts of ALAN on sea life, and ALAN appears to be playing a role in reducing global seagrass meadows.

Continuing through ecology, a separate article points to the impact of ALAN on glow worm populations, namely that ALAN inhibits glow worm mating. Glow worms, found uniquely in a handful of regions around the world, fall in line with some characteristics of fireflies.

From the Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers discovered that “ALAN not only prevents male glow-worms from reaching females, but also increases the time they take to reach females and the time they spend avoiding exposure to light.”

One last ecological note before we move on, in Europe, an isopod known as a sea slater, an “inch long woodlouse,” forages along the coast for algae at night – changing color to blend in with its surroundings. A study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, found that sky glow negatively impacted the ability of sea slaters to remain camouflaged at night.

Due to their adaptive ability, sky glow actually caused sea slaters to become physically lighter in color at night, thereby allowing predators easier visibility.

So there you have it, just another way light pollution affects ecological behavior.

We start off with an article from Science’s special issue, “Regulating Light Pollution: More than just the night sky.” In this article Martin Morgan Taylor samples some of the current legal applications dealing with light pollution from the EU, South Korea, France and the UK. Light pollution regulation primarily comes in one of two forms: hard laws and bolt on legislation.

Hard laws, such as one enacted in South Korea utilize a brightness framework provided by the “International Commission on Illuminations’ CIE150, which recommends environmental lighting standards. The South Korean law doesn’t ban fixtures, rather it utilizes metric classifications per environmental zone, with E1 being the darkest and E4 being the brightest.

France too, has a hard law in place. This national law “augments existing” environmental legislation to, among other things, place limits on the temperature, type, angle, and timing of light (with the latter mainly aimed at nuisance lighting resulting from billboards).

Continuing along, the UK utilizes a bolt on approach, appending current statutes on the books to provide for guidance on land development.

And thanks to our fractured federal and state jurisdictions, we, us living in the United States, have a mixture of hard and bolt-on regulatory laws depending on your municipality and state. Such laws come front and center, as in the recent Wasatch County / Heber Valley Temple dispute that we covered last month (which is still going on, I might add).

We have a number of articles discussing communities here in the US embracing a natural nighttime environment, including this one from the San Francisco Gate, Connecticut governor Ned Lamont signed into law a “Lights Out” bill to protect migrating birds at night.

And how about this, Groveland, Florida is now the first certified Dark Sky Community in the Sunshine state! To do this, Groveland had to adopt comprehensive regulations on exterior building and nighttime street lighting. Retrofits on all city owned lights must be completed by 2027 per the new ordinance.

And here’s one that’ll warm our good friend Bonnie Peng’s heart, earlier this year, Pennington, NJ, right outside of Princeton, implemented ordinance 2023-5, with the apparent goal of reducing nuisance lighting.

But for those steps forward, we continue to see fear based framing of nighttime lighting issues, mainly as what appears to be a justification for spending large sums of public dollars.

Take this one from the India News, where the Dehli government plans to install over 90,000 smart street lights with the explicit goal to eliminate any shaded regions under the framing of protecting women. According to the article, “the Dehli government is doing whatever it can to strengthen women’s security. Smart street lights will play a pivotal role in eliminating dark spots and instilling a sense of safety among citizens, particularly women.” This policy will see the replacement of 59,572 lights with LED “smart” street lights.

Then we have one from Columbus, OH, where the city approved $2M for street light and additional improvements.

Per the NBC 4 article, “We know that when a neighborhood is well lit, it’s safer for pedestrians, for motorists, for folks to prevent crime, Columbus City Councilmember Rob Dorans said.”

And we have this piece from WBRC in Nashville, through which a resident of an apparently safe community by day doesn’t at all feel safe at night because a street light is out in his neighborhood. Threaded into this story is a horrible tale of a mother who lost her son to a traffic fatality that occurred when a driver hit him, apparently due to a missing streetlight.

Interestingly, we also have one piece from TMJ4 in Milwaukee, where street lights are being knocked down by drivers at an ever increasing level, costing Milwaukee $2.8M in 2022, forcing the city to begin to add a line item due to driver behavior. There’s something to consider.

Finishing up the policy section, I’d be remiss to not highlight tensions on the Southern Arizona border. Between 2019 – 2021, the US government installed 2,000 stadium lights along the Trump Border Wall. Customs and Border Protection planned to switch on the lights, and also planned to install even more lights (because evidently stadium lights just aren’t bright enough). This was until a Center for Biological Diversity report indicated how 16 endangered and threatened species would be severely affected. This impact is even more pertinent considering many of the lands where the stadium lights were fast tracked around environmental safeguards, were placed in environmentally sensitive lands such as National Wildlife Refuges and National Monuments.

In response, the CBP initially said that was nice, but we’ll conduct an environmental assessment prior to installing the next batch. However, it appears now that the CBP will undertake a full assessment of its impact in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, giving hope to some that the lights may remain off.

The CBP did issue this telling statement:

“Lighting, cameras, and detection technology provide Border Patrol agents with domain awareness, which is critical to both remote and urban areas. Domain awareness provides agents with the ability to track and respond to illicit cross-border activity more effectively and minimizes the response times for urgent or emergency situations involving migrants. Additionally, the lighting, cameras, and detection technology that are part of the barrier system will provide awareness when breaching activity is detected, which is anticipated to reduce long-term maintenance and repair costs.”

And lastly today, here are two quick stories to stir the soul.

First up, you never know what you’ll wake up to in Malibu. This one may take the cake. A black bear took an evening stroll recently, crossing three highways to enjoy the nighttime waves!

This became apparent when residents noticed rather large footsteps found in the am sand.

And for this next one, it’s ok to indulge your inner 12 year old here, I’m giving you full permission – raise your hand if you were a fan of the WWE?

Well Oh Hell Yes, Steve Austin became a star gazing attendant for A&E network’s “Stone Cold” takes on America.” Retired WWE Super Star, Stone Cold was treated to shots of Saturn, the Andromeda Nebula, Jupiter and the Ring Nebula.

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