How many obvious conditions of the world that we live in allude society’s basic comprehension?
Many. Too many to count, would be my guess. I am sure that we miss a lot of things, both as individuals and as society. I acknowledge there are many things about the world and our existence right in front of me which I ignore, either from lack of observation skills or an ingrained conditioning to avoid.
Light pollution is one of these conditions that society ignores. It does not exist in the minds of most people. But it is such a fundamental premise that it is remarkable we gloss over the matter as we do. It’s all around us, but we don’t see the decay it has wrought to the natural order. We all use light, yet we assume that light is both infinite and practically free of costs. When you flip a light switch, you don’t just assume, you reticently demand that a light turns on. And when the switch does not work, you get angry and frustrated. So powerful is the draw of light, it is almost intoxicating.
Why don’t we see light as a finite thing that should be managed like any other? You don’t let your showers or faucets spray water in all directions in your bathroom. Your chimney funnels smoke in a very specific way and direction for a good reason. Our garbage and waste materials have very discrete locations where they should be placed. Imagine if the gas pipe into your home protruded into your living room open-ended.
These are examples of resources and materials that we collectively understand how to manage. But we, collectively, have no good understanding of how to manage light. So we create all shapes and sizes of omni-directional lighting which emit photons up, down, left, right, sideways. There is normally no need to radiate light in all directions, especially up.
So we light the empty sky above us, wasting photons. Isn’t this a form of pollution?
Further, is not this a waste of energy?
An extraordinary and should-be-obvious effect happens when light is shielded and directed towards its intended target: you end up needing less light to illuminate the target! That’s right, you could actually reduce the brightness of your bulbs if your lights were shielded. Can you imagine how much energy would be saved if every streetlight in the world was shielded towards the ground?
There are fewer easier examples of this problem to note than how nighttime flood lights are used to illuminate sports events. Since the beginnings of night sports, those giant light posts have been wasting both energy and light by not being shielded towards their intended play field targets. Think about all that energy wasted over the last century, if only those lights had been shielded.
Somehow, we need to get the deep pockets – like Major League Baseball and the National Football Association – to realize both the problem of light pollution and the benefits to themselves and their communities for implementing fully shielded lights at their stadiums. For once the heavy hitters make inroads, everyone else will follow.