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April 2023: Lumens are Calling. Light Pollution News.
Michael Rymer of the International Dark Sky Association.
Bonnie Peng, Youth Advocate.
Is light pollution making darkness a luxury?, Emma Beddington of the Guardian.
In her book, Enchantment, Katherine May surmises that “Our love of electric light is leaching some of the wonder from the world.” As I pointed out when I started this show way back in episode 0, darkness suffers from very poor branding.
Beddington concurs, pointing out how “Scripture and literature” used phrases like “the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light,” or how philosophical awakenings, such as the Enlightenment, disentangled us from the “dark” illiberal thinking of the past.
And what about cultural insinuations, such as “Dark and Scary” and “Safety in the light.” Beddington brings up the British television series, Scared of the Dark, in which eight celebrities enter a “pitch-black reality space for eight days” to face their primal fears.
But is darkness already a luxury? Beddington points to the emergence of “dark-sky communities” and “dark sky” festivals at national parks as a way to “reintroduce us to the pleasures of stargazing and moonlit walks.”
As many of you know, during April, many communities celebrated Dark Sky Week. To confirm Beddington’s inclination to think of Darkness as a luxury I decided to list a few of the many articles focusing on nighttime tourism this month.
Dark skies, bright future: Japan looks to the heavens for tourism appeal in the Japan Times.
Four Nighttime Spots to Celebrate Dark Sky Week in Maryland in Baltimore Magazine. For those who are curious, these include Assateague Island, Greenridge Forest, the former Civil War prison camp of Point Lookout, and Tuckahoe State Park.
Tourism department plans dark sky promotion, Register-Herald. West Virginia. Department of Tourism plans to entice dark sky tourism by offering up 100 dark sky themed prizes to potential tourists, including 15 GoPro Hero 11s.
Here Come the Lumens a blog article by a HAAS School of Business professor Lucas Davis.
To start, I believe Davis sums up the current LED movement in one fell swoop. “LEDs are great even if they won’t necessarily result in large net energy savings.” And by that, he means that the economic value of LEDs outshine all competing lighting technologies. Per Davis, “Replace your incandescent with one of these and your energy consumption goes up, not down.”
“LEDS are the latest example in a long history of humans finding ingenious ways to consume more lumens,” Davis argues. Using the example of the Amazon best seller 120 watt LED bulb that produces 12,000 lumens, a brightness so intense that the instructions actually warn users to not look directly at the light for fear of eye damage.
Let me put this in comparable terms. Compared with a traditional incandescent light bulb, lumens, the measure of brightness, sat at roughly 13 times the wattage. So if you purchased a 60 watt incandescent light bulb, you’d receive 800 lumens. Let’s baseline this against a corresponding 60 watt LED, all calculations being equal, I’d assume we’d expect to see 3,000 lumens, an increase of 2,200 lumens!!
Davis believes that the LED revolution is still relatively juvenile, with outdoor lighting ripe for mass consumption. He posits, “maybe it didn’t make sense to have so many lumens in your backyard before, but now it probably does. And wouldn’t it be nice to have brighter street lighting, particularly in areas with lots of pedestrians and cyclists?”
To sum up Davis’s thesis – LED lights are about to reshape how we experience our day to day life, perhaps in ways we couldn’t imagine. Already, street lights in most cities that convert to LEDs are set to daytime levels of brightness, many using daytime color spectrums.
I don’t believe Davis is arguing specifically for brightness, rather he appears to just be stating the trends as he sees it. On our site, LightPollutionNews.com, you can find links to a series of unique and dark sky compliant lighting fixtures.
In my estimation, the LED revolution enabled everyone and every business to now utilize stadium level brightness in their own backyards. What we tend to see now often jets out unshielded in an aimless manner splattering in windows and windshields.
I know this is speculative, but where do you see the future of outdoor light going? I know last time you were on, Bonnie, you mentioned that gen Z just wants everything lit up.
Scocca discusses many aspects of LED lights that he finds both hopeful and troublesome. From our vantage, this piece contained some interesting tidbits including a discussion on color rendering. At the heart of the discussion was his assertion that obtaining light characteristics derives primarily from two different schools of thought: the engineers and the doctors.
Per Scocca, the idea of modern LED color output derives from the Nobel winning application of gallium nitride to create a standardized blue hue which can be found in everything from streetlights to flashlights to headlights and more.
From the engineer’s perspective, blue light is rational – in line with solar daylight. Offices, malls, and factories came to embody oppressive 5000 Kelvin lighting temperatures.
Conversely, on the medical science end, doctors preferred to peg light colors closer to that of a candle rather than the sun. Overall, better health derives from warmer nighttime lighting. But how do we arrive at warmer lighting?
It should be noted that calibrating LED lights to be a standard color is more difficult than the average consumer would envision. LED lights require coatings. Very delicate coatings as I am led to believe by Buddy Stefanoff, and hopefully future guest, of Crossroads LED.
These coatings do not just inflate the price of LED lights, they often are applied inconsistently by manufacturers. Whereby even though the light technically may be rated warm, say 3000 Kelvin, it still may contain a very sizable amount of blue spectrum due to the coating mixture they utilized.
The ‘Genesis GV80’ Features An Unapologetically Sporty Aesthetic, Rahul Kalvapalle of Trend Hunter.
As we spoke about on an earlier show, it’s an exciting time to be a car maker. For the first time in what feels like ages, we’re seeing car companies pour money into design and aesthetics. The concept of headlights is being completely rethought.
Luxury SUV maker, Genesis, looks to take things to the next level by wrapping the head and rear lights around the sides of the car in hopes of making the car appear visually streaky. Overall, a pretty sharp looking upgrade from a car series that currently looks like grandpa’s Sunday cruiser. Though, I imagine you might get murdered if you take that to a star party and, say, decide to reenter the vehicle at midnight.
In case you were wondering, GV80s currently start at $55k USD.
Shenzhen’s Xichong named first International Dark Sky Community in China, from the China Daily.
Exciting news from our Chinese friends! In the first of its kind in China, the International Dark Sky celebrates Shenzhen’s amazing dedication to the preservation of a natural night. The Shenzhen Dapeng New District, sits toward the southern tip of China, roughly an hour’s drive from the city of Shenzhen.
Michael, congratulations on this, by the way! Anything else you’d like to add, any history you may be aware of for this site?
‘Donegal Dark Sky’ aiming to draw more young people to the world of astrophotography, from the Donegal News
The brilliant northern lights this year have piqued the interest of more than just a few Irish folk. Photography enthusiasts looked to keep the ball rolling by enticing folks of all ages, especially young, into taking photos of the heavens. And with cell phone cameras as good as they are these days, nearly anyone can do at the very least some rudimentary lunar or milky way shots!
Sacramento Kings fans have reason to rejoice. As of the recording time of this show, game 7 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs has just begun. Should Sacramento win, expect a mega purple signal akin to channeling your inner batman, into the sky.
The bright, glowing purple beam, which had to be cleared by the FAA, is lit up following every victory until midnight, as a symbol of unity for the city and the team. Outside of the arena, a giant purple LED board calls out “Light the Beam.”
For those of you who are having trouble visualizing this, take the dual Trade Center Towers’ light beams to nowhere, turn them purple and move them to Sacramento, California.
Many of you are aware that we’re entering our sun’s solar maximum, which provides brilliant nighttime aurora shows in high latitudes. However, how about this?
Northern Lights photographers became mystified when a giant, white galaxy like spiral began appearing in their images.
Elizabeth Withnall witnessed the phenomenon from her home in Northern Alaska. Per Withnall, “I always see strange things in the sky, but this was insane.” Withnall hoped that the mystery spiral signaled the emergence of an alien spaceship. But much to her dismay, it appears that the spiral was frozen fuel ejected from a Space-X Falcon 9 rocket.
Maybe next time Elizabeth.
Why It’s Time for a Worldwide Lights-Out Program, Brian Handwerk of the Smithsonian Magazine.
Per Handwerk, “Lights have allowed us to capture many more hours for work and play. They’ve driven economic growth and social connections. They’ve made us feel safe. Turning out the lights seems unthinkable; yet a lack of thought has produced enormous amounts of unnecessary and misdirected lighting.”
Handwerk continues, “80% of the world’s population” lives under skyglow. And in the US and Europe, make that 99%. Light pollution increased by over half in the past 25 years, growing 2% at a compounding rate per year – currently outpacing population growth.
The article shows side by side night sky images taken in Cambridge, Mass. One, taken on at 2:40am on May 13, 1850, shows roughly 150 stars. The other, taken at 2:40am on May 13, 2020, shows 8. Note, cameras were obviously not as sensitive 170 years prior.
The article goes on to cite numerous examples of how Artificial Light at Night disrupts and endangers nighttime species. As the light goes up, insect populations continue their staggering fall. Take, for instance, the cabbage moth, which only operates and reproduces in the dark. Light disrupts the female moth’s ability to produce pheromones and attract mates.
Per the article, some flowering plants, including bananas and mangoes only open at night to attract pollinating bats and insects, and are thus at risk when the nocturnal environment stops being nocturnal.
In a similar article, Blaine Bronell of Architect Magazine discusses Johan Eklof’s new book, the Darkness Manifesto: On Light Pollution, Night Ecology, and the Ancient Rhythms that Sustain Life in his article The Consequences of Light Pollution.
Bronell recounts that “in many contexts, electric lighting may be altogether unnecessary. Photoluminescent materials can be incorporated into path surfacing to enable effective wayfinding without risking light pollution – or the need for [carbon emitting] light pollution.
Eklof uses a Polish bike path as an example of photoluminescent design. The path glows fully blue across its whole width. Harnessing the power of sunlight to produce nighttime a more natural nighttime light, the path can emit light for upwards of 10 hours.
In the end, Bronell surmises, that any curtailing of humanity’s addiction to increasing and excessive external nighttime light must overcome our very own ‘fear of the dark.’ Bronell goes on to suggest the counter intuitiveness is extra deep for architects, who have long defined their relationship in architecture as the “masterly, correct, and magnificent play of the masses brought together in light.”
On the ecology front, a new study out of Ohio State suggests that light pollution may impact mosquito metabolism. Light Pollution Disrupts Seasonal Differences in the Daily Activity and Metabolic Profiles of the Northern House Mosquito, Culex pipiens, From the Journal Insects.
Given that light pollution affects the circadian rhythms of other insects, it should be no surprise that previous findings indicated that (a) the length of day determines when mosquitos suspend their development in winter months and (b) that increased levels of light at night drove mosquitos to continue being active later into the fall, past day-length hours that normally would have triggered their circadian rhythm to suspend their development (otherwise known as diapausing).
The authors concluded that artificial light at night affected the patterns of mosquitos to obtain the necessary nutrients for surviving the winter. Thereby suggesting a longer mosquito season, bad for humans; but a more challenging environment for mosquito longevity year over year due to inadequate nutrition in surviving their diapause.
The research team used a total of 24 mosquitos in their observations. They are currently looking to test their hypothesis in the field.
How about this, coming to us from the San Francisco Gate.
An unnamed 61 year old woman went missing after she left her Death Valley Astrophotography group to retrieve something from her car. The group, who were headed to Badwater Basin, alerted Rangers when she didn’t return. Park Rangers arrived around 2:30 AM, and commenced searching on foot with the help of bright vehicle lights to light the way. Fearing for the worst, Park Rangers even requested assistance from a California Highway Patrol helicopter. However, the woman was eventually spotted 2 miles past the Badwater Basin parking lot at 8:20am.
Very glad to hear that she ended up safely reuniting with the group. In such environments, I suspect that flashlights don’t provide as much assistance as folks may give credence to. In my experience, light, especially white light, can sometimes make trails and natural areas look two dimensional. However, I don’t want to speak for what occurred here, as it’s obvious there’s any number of potential issues that could have popped up.
And in other news, a rather interesting device out of the CONEXPO, that is a construction industry expo, allows road workers to utilize better lighting when working at night.
Blue Vigil developed a high intensity tethered LED array to a drone to provide more direct and uniform lighting in a road work environment than potentially ever before.
Compared with current set ups that use lighting towers, often poorly angled ones at best, the tethered drone offers both brighter and better directed lighting, potentially negating “dangerous glare and shadows” that affect workers, residential environments, wildlife and motorists.
Keeping with the topic of innovative lighting, this one comes to us from Twitter; a video showing correspondingly green/red glowing traffic signal poles. Currently in use in various parts of the world including South India and Turkey, such uniform light switches harness the lumen power of LEDs to provide a solid color traffic signal – from traffic light down the pole to the curbside. To put in other terms, the whole pole, including the traffic light itself, lights up green or red depending on its signal.
You’re Definitely Suffering the Effects of Light Pollution—But We’re Here to Help, in House Beautiful, by Medgina Saint Elien.
Among the many useful tips in this article, Saint Elien suggests that if your spouse can’t turn that tv off while you’re in bed, it may be time for a sleep divorce!
Quoted in the article, Corbin Philhower of Development for Visual Comfort & Co, “Dark-sky lighting directs light downward and away from the sky,” reducing light trespass. Further to Philhower’s point, he suggests utilizing motion sensor lighting to ensure lights aren’t left on all night.
The article lists six feature products, including two dark sky compliant wall sconces…. and one 7000 lumen unshielded barn light….I’ll just leave that last one right there.
To Saint Elien’s credit, the article does touch on the dangers of blue light at night and implicates lighting in a series of issues ranging from ecology concerns to sleep issues.
It’s time. You thought I forgot about it. Let’s talk policy – and maybe we’ll transition into our Afraid of the Dark segment. Do you remember that idiotically named “Inflation Reduction Act?” Did you expect the money to be used for new street lights? Well, I’ve got news for you. If you said no, well….I’ll just say I admire the optimism.
I guess the issue with street lights really isn’t the fact that streets are lit – that’s not the concern right? It’s the boneheadness of public officials that nearly always accompanies them.
$3M in Federal dollars are headed to Norfolk, Virginia to upgrade all of their 28,000 streetlights away from high pressure sodium. Currently, city officials cite HPS lighting as hindering law enforcement from identifying the color of vehicles and identifying perpetrators. Apparently, their high pressure sodium lights only emit a strong orange spectrum that prevents anyone from seeing color.
The new lighting will no doubt be much whiter, though temperatures were not given, and much brighter.
Per the Norfolk city website, “Although it is recognized that a certain amount of illumination will spill onto private properties as a result of the installation of the streetlights, no shielding or shading of any type will be authorized in order to prevent this from occurring.”
It looks like San Diego has marginally better congressmen than Norfolk, as their guy scored them $3.5M in federal funding for streetlighting repairs.
Unlike in Norfolk, where the city had the common courtesy to use downlighting, instead of parting ways with problematic decorative streetlighting, San Diego is looking to repair, and without a doubt significantly brighten, acorn style street lights that sit atop a pole (kind of resembling a candle) in Pacific Beach, Point Loma, and Logan Heights sections of the city. The current lights are over 70 years old and suffer from sizable electrical failures.
Career tip, if you’re an electrician, your golden age is here.
Frederick, Md plans to update its street lighting to the lumen power of 11. Because, why not, bright lights prevent crimes, right?
But good news for those of you who live there. The Mayor appears to have heard both ends of the story and will look to provide shielding so that light does not enter the home owner’s property.
Rounding out to our Afraid of the Dark segment – the segment where we enjoy humankind’s beloved infatuation with extinguishing nighttime – we take a stroll through two topics before we make it to our final destination this month. Both dealing with light’s apparent safety, never mind the fact that most crimes occur from noon through 9pm.
We start with an article by Maria-Cristina Florian on Arch Daily, The Safety of Light: A Short History of Light in Public Spaces.
Florian attempts to recount the history of lighting, specifically with a bend on safety. Some of the more intriguing points Florian showcases include the following.
The first documented use of light at night used to discriminate and subjugate comes from 18th Century New York City, whereby non-white people were required by law, to carry lanterns when walking unaccompanied at night. Unaccompanied meaning without a white person that is.
Second, American mid-Western towns employed a French idea of light towers, pinning downward facing lights up 150 – 450 feet tall to lighten whole towns at night. A project “more spectacular than efficient,” according to one commentator.
Third, per Florian, modern day city lights can reveal discrimination through both “restricted access to adequate light resources or being imposed harsh and bright lights to impose surveillance and public order.”
We take a look at a story closer to home for, well me, at least. Yet again the media conflates poverty with crime. Per NBC 10, Camden Working to Fix Street Light Outages to Help Make Community Safer.
Camden, New Jersey has been a rough town for quite some time. It’s no secret that Camden is a community that has faced hardship and challenges. However, that narrative of fear and crime falls into place a bit too well in this one, it’s almost as if the politicians and media are colluding here.
Camden leaders cheered on a new initiative to put in functioning street lights in neighborhoods. Camden hopes that once street lights are up and running, gun violence will be a forgotten thing of the past!
Per the Camden police representative, “This is very important, uh, for Crime Prevention in the City, um, there are many studies out there on the benefits of a well-lit community. It’ll encourage people to stay outside later.”
The narrative of fear and crime, especially in a historically disadvantaged community like Camden, is even more perplexing when the numbers indicate that crime has not only fallen flat year over year, but it’s significantly down from where it was ten years ago.
Many things have changed in that time, including deeper community-police integration (hence the new street lights), and outside investment into the general area.
This article essentially says, more lighting equates to safety. However, this study isn’t a crime study, instead, safety was narrowly defined as simply being able to identify the facial features of another person.
Street lights certainly have their place in safety, they help prevent pedestrian death and can help law enforcement identify criminals. However, in the past year, I’ve had no less than four people tell me that, quote “there’re many studies out there,” but not one of those folks has been able to present one study.
The study that often becomes the go to for “many studies” tends to be a University of Chicago study indicating a dramatic reduction in crime when you light up the projects like a prison yard with all of the accompanying noises and smells that come from hearty diesel powered light fixtures. To my knowledge, I do not believe that this study was not peer reviewed, although I may be incorrect on that.
Featured Research Article of the month: “Impact of Solid State Roadway Lighting on Melatonin in Humans,” in Clocks and Sleep.
Now I have to preface this article with the following. I came across this article due to a very boastful Virginia Tech press release that was a bit over the top. I’m not sure for what reason, but the study presents some interesting findings nonetheless. In all honesty, the boastful and excited nature of the press release reminds me in some respects of the aforementioned University of Chicago Crime Labs study’s overview.
In an effort to reconcile an apparent public health threat of vehicle collisions to the American Medical Association recommendation of utilizing less than 3000 Kelvin temperature lighting (that is lighting containing very limited amounts of short wave light, often known as blue light), researchers found that roadway lighting did not impact melatonin levels of drivers, pedestrians or homeowners. Thereby suggesting that health is not compromised by bright and blue roadway lighting.
The article did not take into consideration any ecological impacts, solely focusing on human effects. It appears to be an important step in testing roadway lighting’s health impacts.
It should be noted that the study utilized a very small sample size of 29 individuals. It determined impacts on melatonin levels by use of salivary testing. The article suggests future research could use plasma studies which may offer more “sensitive” results.
This appears to be the first test of its kind to seek a scientific understanding of how street lights directly impact human melatonin levels. Previous studies associated, even dim levels of light, with impacting nighttime melatonin levels.
If Street Lights Go Out When You Pass Them, You May Have A Very Specific Psychic Power. NyRee Ausler, YourTango.com
Wow, now here is a super power I can get behind!
Allegedly, certain people in society possess the ability to turn street lights off simply by walking by them! They are known as “SLIders,” with the root SLI standing for ‘street light interferers!’
You know you’re one of them if the street light turns off as you approach on foot or by car, and then promptly turns back on after you pass!