How light pollution impacts us and the environment

Alex Lay from The Australasian Dark Sky Alliance explains the effects of light pollution and how we help fight it – 

If you look up at the sky above you tonight, what would you see? A lucky few of you reading this may see thousands of the twinkling lights we call stars, an opportunity to experience the sense of awe that many before us have felt. But, for most of us today living in urban areas, the sky may simply be dotted with a handful of those stars, sitting above a strange haze. That strange haze is known as light pollution.

With a background in wildlife conservation and biology, my immediate reaction to light pollution is the damaging effects it has on our species and our ecosystems. But, since becoming a youth ambassador at the Australasian Dark Sky Alliance, I’ve quickly learnt that the effects are much broader. Humans have been guided by the night sky for tens of thousands of years as they navigated the earth following a sky brimming with stars. It provided us with inspiration and perspective before we built our brightly lit cities of artificial light that have since been discovered to be harmful to our own health. Research suggests that exposure to artificial light at night has a range of negative effects on human health both mentally, through depression and sleep disorders, and physically, though risk of obesity, breast cancer and more. The effects on wildlife are even more clear. We now understand that light pollution can impact natural processes such as migration, pollination and reproduction in a wide array of animals and even plants. Many of us know the example of the adorable Mountain Pygmy Possum. Their numbers are dwindling and their main food source, the Bogong moth, is being lured away from the alpine regions by artificial city lights. But they are far from the only species falling victim to this damaging pollution. Nocturnal animals have their sleeping patterns disrupted, sea turtle hatchlings distracted by lights don’t find their way to the ocean and migratory birds end up far off course or collide with human made structures.

We are losing our connection with the night sky, many in my generation grow up in bright cities where we never see more than a handful of stars. We have to venture far away from urban centres to see a glimpse of the sky our ancestors once saw. Astronomers and Astro photographers will know just how far away we must go to see the wonders beyond our earth. It took me going half way around the world, to a remote part of Southern Africa to really see the sky in all its glory and to appreciate it and all that it provides us with. These dark sky areas are incredibly important, not just for us, but for our wildlife as well.

The Australasian Dark Sky Alliance (ADSA) is a not-for-profit organisation for the conservation of the night environment. ADSA aims to educate people from all walks of life about night sky conservation, as well as promote environmentally responsible outdoor lighting and provide the tools and resources to bring back the night. At ADSA, we can provide technical knowledge and best practice lighting solutions to encourage more of our region to become dark sky friendly, because, unlike other forms of pollution, light pollution can be easily and quickly reversed if we all make some important changes. Something as simple as switching off an outdoor light or closing household blinds can reduce the amount of artificial light leaking out into our environment.

ADSA has some very exciting projects in the works for 2022! Become a member to keep up to date with our work and help us spread awareness about the little-known but damaging effects of light pollution, because we can and should all make simple changes to bring back the beautiful night sky.

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