Nowadays, light pollution keeps many people from experiencing the wonder and excitement of gazing at the blanket of stars that cover the night sky.
Because of our industrial society, 80 percent of Americans have never seen the Milky Way. Not only does light pollution hinder us from admiring the stars and planets above, but it also negatively impacts humans and wildlife.
It can affect our circadian rhythms and serotonin levels, along with animals’ hormone levels and their mating and feeding habits. Light pollution wastes money, lights up places not meant to be lit up (that frustrating neighbor with a glaring streetlamp) and can waste up to 0.5 kWh of energy per house per night (that’s enough energy to power a 50-inch plasma TV for an hour). While many people associate brighter streets with less criminal activity, too much lighting can actually cause a glare, providing the perfect way for intruders to work without getting caught.
Texas has stepped up to commit to protecting our dark skies, and it has 14 dark sky places, granted by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Light pollution is reversible, and even you can make a difference. Here are some practical ways to reduce light pollution and fight for our dark skies:
- Educate yourself. IDA has tons of resources on its website that can help you better understand what light pollution is, its impacts and how to make a difference. They also have a blog on light pollution.
- Only the necessities. Make sure to use light only when necessary, where necessary and as bright as necessary. If you’re concerned about safety, consider buying motion-detector sensor lights with timers. Also, keep your blinds shut at night to keep light inside.
- Shop right. Colors matter! It’s best to minimize blue-light emissions, as blue light brightens the sky more than any other color. Consider purchasing warmer white colors when shopping for bulbs. Additionally, find light fixtures that shield the light and face downward to reduce light waste. IDA also has a searchable database to find fixtures that have an IDA seal of approval.
- Support IDA and dark sky scientists. You can become a citizen scientist and help measure light pollution, all from your fingertips with a smartphone. You can also become an IDA member and receive calls-to-action or become an IDA chapter volunteer to advocate for dark skies. Also, check out an IDA dark sky park and give your tourism dollars toward protecting those areas. Texas’ IDA dark sky parks include Big Bend Ranch, Enchanted Rock, Copper Breaks and South Llano River.
- Educate others. Many people aren’t aware of light pollution, nor do they understand its impact. Consider talking to friends and family, and even kindly addressing your neighbors about their bright light fixture in their front yard. Become an advocate online, set up a table at a local event, give a public talk. Just tell people about it!
Small steps make a big difference — 20 to 50 percent of outdoor residential lighting is wasted due to poor shielding alone. You can help protect our dark skies and everything that lives under them!
Read more about dark skies in state parks in this Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine story.
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