For this week’s hidden costs video, we’re trying out a new approach. Instead of grading the impact of light pollution, our video team took to Seattle’s streets to capture the brilliance (and the tyranny) of our city’s night lights.
The globe has never been so electrified. Today, most of Europe, the United States, and all of Japan appear as solid blocks of light in satellite photos. Meanwhile, the stars have been all but extinguished from our night sky. The Earth is now readily visible from space, but space is no longer visible from Earth.
The starscapes we see today are a far and faint cry from those that the rest of humankind gazed up to for centuries. This is why the broad bright strokes of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” feel so carnivalesque. And it’s why the term Milky Way doesn’t make much sense to us anymore.
But light pollution can also be a hazard to our health. Just about every organism on the planet lives its life according to the rhythms of daytime and darkness. Excessive light can disrupt an animal’s migratory, hunting, breeding, and sleep cycles. Light pollution’s most talked-about animal victims include migratory birds and sea turtles. Migrating birds often lose their flight paths once disoriented by far-off lights or, more dangerously, misread skies, thus beginning annual migrations too early in the year.
Artificial light disorients sea turtle hatchlings as they make their journeys into the ocean. Normally, hatchlings follow shadows cast by sand dunes, but they can’t follow these natural watermarks when the moon’s light is diffused by the bright lights of a nearby beach town. Several human health problems – from chronic fatigue, migraines, and sexual dysfunction – have also been linked to light exposure.
Fluorescent lighting is common in corporate offices around America. Paired with the perpetual glow of computer monitors, cell phone displays, and tablets, employees subject their bodies to unnatural light exposure on a daily basis, often leaving the office after the sun has taken its respite. Some of the resulting ailments from such a lifestyle include eye strain, leading to vision problems, headaches and migraines, seasonal affective disorder, hormone imbalances, and stress from a lack of cortisol.
As an indirect consequence, Americans require more medical attention, therapy, and medication to offset the effects of light pollution of their bodies. A suitable health insurance plan can help lessen the financial burden of tending to such conditions, but an overhaul on how we utilize light in our everyday lives would be a more permanent solution to the issue of light pollution.
So, what can we do to reclaim the darkness? Minimize your own light waste by opting for low wattage bulbs whenever possible and be sure to keep your lights off when you don’t need them. If you’re interested in learning more about the effects of light pollution or want to get involved with current efforts to curb them, the International Dark-Sky Association is a great place to start.
- Video Transcript
- It's more than one billion cars burning 2 billion headlights It's argon gas and less than an inch of tungsten metal swinging naked from the ceiling. It’s beautiful at a distance and blinding the rest of the time. It's sealed glass tubes, mercury, phosphor powder, free electrons and ions bumping and vibrating and dully humming. It's 1898 to 1959 the discovery of neon to the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. It's the las vegas strip. It's the sunset strip. It's strip clubs and stadiums . It's streetlights and streetcars. It's malls. It's your work. It's outside your bedroom window keeping you from sleeping. It's insomnia. It's the slow extinction of animals and insects dependent on darkness for migration and mating. It's the device you obsessively check as you walk down the street raising your dopamine levels while reducing your melatonin. It's a carcinogen. It's one of the reasons women in developed nations are five times more likely to have breast cancer. It's looking down instead of up. It's 2 thirds of the global population, 5 billion people, unable to truly see the night sky. It's the indifferent blinking out of 200 billion stars.