Stepping away from the night light

Street lamps light a deserted street


Tess Vigeland: The Summer Solstice is this weekend, the longest day and shortest night of the year. Many astronomers complain every night feels short when it comes to star gazing, 'cause the night sky is filled with the yellow haze of light pollution. With energy costs up, all those city lights are getting expensive too.

Proponents of darkness, -- not to be confused with lords of darkness -- are on Capitol Hill today to encourage lawmakers to "see the light." Janet Babin reports from the Marketplace Innovations Desk at North Carolina Pubic Radio.

Janet Babin: I get along really well with my neighbors. We help each other out. Collecting each other's mail, water the plants.

But there's one subject I just can't brooch: their outdoor lights. They shine into my house and it makes me crazy.

Anthony Arrigo feels my pain:

Anthony Arrigo: It's a very uncomfortable situation.

At one point, Arrigo had a neighbor's light and a street light shine into his bedroom.

Arrigo: So I had the choice of opening the window and the curtains and getting fresh air, or closing the window and the blinds and sleeping in a dark environment.

Arrigo's frustration led him to create StarryNightLights.com. The Web site sells downcast outdoor lights.

Arrigo says sales have trippled in three years.

Many dark sky advocates are amateur astronomers who want to see the stars. But they're also concerned about costs.

Pete Strasser is with the International Dark Sky Association:

Pete Strasser: The figure that we've calculated is about $10 billion a year in wasted cost, to essentially illuminate the undersides of airplanes.

Many cities have ordinances to prevent light trespass. But they often exempt street lights, the principle cause of light pollution.

It doesn't help that utility companies -- whose mission is to sell kilowatt hours -- own most of the street lights and lease them to local governments.

But some utilities have to follow state conservation mandates, like Pacific Gas and Electric in Northern California. PG&E's Lee Cooper says the company is installing a new generation of LED street lights that are 36 percent more energy efficient. And:

Lee Cooper: They're very directional, so you're only illuminating where you need lights -- so in this case, the street surface.

PG&E estimates that more efficient outdoor lights could save enough energy to power up 3.6 million homes. Cooper and the Dark Sky Association hope to convince lawmakers that we need a federal solution to this glaring problem. They'll make their case today on Capitol Hill.

And I'll be eyeing my neighbors tonight. Maybe they heard this story and we can work out a peaceful solution.

In Durham, North Carolina, I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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I am trying to get my city to remove an annoying street light they placed in front of my house not long ago. It lights up bedrooms and bathes my home in a yellow haze all night long.My eyes have a great problem with the Sodium light glare.
I have tried to get it taken out but have met with the usual resistance.
Does anyone have any suggestions on getting it removed, that have worked.Please contact me if you do.

Seattle is nicknamed the Emerald City for the brilliant daylight landscape draped with green forests and fields. Unfortunately, the uncontrolled outdoor lighting of streets, buildings, billboards and vehicle traffic has created a nightlong, sickly greenish-yellow glow that masks the Pacific Northwests beautiful starry sky. Year by year this glow grows like the perennial moss and ivy until even the brightest stars struggle to be seen and enjoyed.

Houston, where I live is lit up every night like a ball field during a night game. If I want to see the starry heavens, I must travel scores of miles from home. And yet, the TV stations tell me to turn off lights in rooms that I'm not in at the time.
Then why don't they use low power street lamps, since the cars are already equppped with powerful headlights? If bright street lamps reduce crime, when why do we have so much more violent crime now than we did in the years following World War II when street lamps were very dim?

Current power used for streetlights is a 'ballast' to make up for the change from daytime loads to nighttime loads for the generators, which like to work at a very steady load to perform well for a long time. As battery cars catch on, fewer streetlights will be necessary, as the charging batteries will absorb the extra nighttime power. We may have to buy AK-47s to protect ourselves in the dark, but the streetlight will become an expensive commodity in the near future.

I have written articles & letters to the editor numerous times, have had my 10 minutes with the county commission, joined IDA several years ago after learning I was not the only one questioning the bright light at night issue, & have physically suffered my neighbors glaring lights all night losing jobs from lack of sleep, all to no avail in central Florida where I live. But now with everyone upset over energy costs, perhaps people will come in off their self-centeredness & realize it is simply against nature to attack our planet with all of this unnecessary artificial light.

See also info on the newly discoverd link between Breast Cancer and Light Pollution.

The CFL (Compact Florescent Light) is also now being used with reckless abondond. These "Glare Bombs" are being left on all night outdoors and over lighting streets and yards because owners figure they are so cheap to power.

No comment made in the broadcast of the recognized deleterious effects on human and animal health. Consider the true cost of over-lighting on our health and the environment. The number is probably astounding but difficult to quantify.

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