The most recent data on the amount of world light pollution was compiled in 1997 by Dr. Pierantonio Cinzano, in the First World Atlas of Artificial Night Brightness Health. In areas where 97% of the US population, 96% of the European Union population, and half of the world’s population live, the sky is always at least as bright as it is when there is a half moon; for many others, “night” doesn’t really come at all and the nighttime sky is in a perpetual twilight state. And, as for the Milky Way, more than two-thirds of Americans and half of all Europeans cannot see it with the naked eye.
In this country, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) in Tucson, Arizona, estimates that $1.7 billion is wasted each year by unnecessary or excessive lighting, which is poorly designed and consequently misdirected into the sky. Wasted lighting releases 38 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually.
Although many communities are taking proactive steps to reduce light pollution, it remains a struggle, says Johanna Duffek, IDA’s section coordinator and community liaison.
“When cities bring up Dark-Sky friendly regulations, citizens often assume this means turning off the lights,” she explains. “IDA is not anti-light. We are pro-quality lighting. This is a very important distinction. Dark-Sky friendly lighting is safer than most existing lighting because it points the light on the ground where it is needed, not into the sky where it is not needed.”
Eighteen states have instituted light pollution ordinances and, although they differ in range and in scope, they all contain, at the very least, provisions for outdoor, non-residential lighting. The IDA advocates using fully shielded lighting, which means no light above the 90 degree angle, and have a maximum lamp wattage of 250 watts for commercial lighting, 100 watts incandescent, and 26 watts compact florescent for residential lighting.
The New England Light Pollution Advisory Group (NELPAG) , a volunteer group founded in 1993, helped Connecticut pass the most sweeping regulations in New England. Besides more shielded streetlights, communities are dimming their lights, changing them or, in some cases, turning them off completely. Last month, local officials in Groton, Massachusetts voted to turn off 199 of the town’s 719 streetlights. The Long Island Power Authority has replaced hundreds of floodlights at its operating yards with full cut-off fixtures. Kansas is taking action due to complaints from military personnel that issues such as glare and light trespass (light from neighboring sources) were impeding night vision training. In Boston, participating building owners and managers are turning off or dimming architectural and internal lights between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. during the spring migratory bird season which ends on May 31st.