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Theasaurus: Darkness

I'm also curious whether, in the other direction, you could maybe imagine a time where, thirty years from now, we might actually have a nostalgic "light pollution park. Twilley : We could just wall off Las Vegas and declare it a light pollution sacrifice zone right now.

Let There Be Dark by Allen Lee Harris

The Luxor beam in Las Vegas is equal to the light of more than forty billion candles. Bogard : That is such a neat idea. I hope that, in thirty years, or perhaps even less, that would make some sense. As you probably know, for Earth Hour every March, people turn off the lights on certain buildings. When I met with Fabio Falchi, he was trying to get his town, Mantua, to turn off the lights after midnight.

He said that he went to the Leaning Tower of Pisa for Earth Hour, and he suddenly realized how magical it was to see these famous monuments with the lights off.

Dark Shadows Original B/W Opening

He thought that if more people could see these places surrounded by darkness, it would be like a discovery, because no one has seen them like that in fifty years. Of course, he said, even with the lights off, it's not how it was, because there's so much sky glow. There is so much cumulative light from the surroundings reflecting that you could probably never get back to what it was originally like. Light domes from cities at various distances from Mt. NPS photo.

Shadow and Bone

Twilley : In the book you mention that, even in Death Valley, one of the darkest places in North America, you can see the light dome of Las Vegas on the horizon, and the lights of flights heading into San Francisco above. That's the challenge of preserving darkness: you can't do it on your own. The National Parks Service team, in addition to figuring out how to measure darkness in order to put a number to what we have to lose, figures that their best bet is education. Of course, the parks themselves have overhauled their own lighting, but they're also starting to offer all kinds of night programs, whether it be focused on the sensory experience of the land at night or astronomical observation or whatever.

If they can't get the rest of us to care about darkness, they don't stand a chance of preserving their own. There are some positive signs. For example, Acadia National Park in Maine had its first Night Sky Festival in , and now the local community of Bar Harbor has enacted a light ordinance to reduce their sky glow. Poster designed by Tyler Nordgren.

That's the National Park Service idea, essentially. Americans will come and learn about light pollution and darkness and all of the ecological and health reasons why darkness is important and endangered. Then we will go home and, hopefully, apply some of those lessons there. I would imagine that lots of people west of the Mississippi might say, "It's dark where I live. It has all been tainted. One guy on the Night Sky team told me that sometimes people will ask, "What are you going to do with the cities?

You'll never get the cities dark again--that's just impossible. There are too many people and too many lights.

Let There Be Night

You're probably not going to bring the Milky Way back over Manhattan or Chicago. His reply, though, is that if you were able to just reduce the lighting in these major cities you would see great benefits. You could address a lot of the health issues that people in the cities, who are exposed to huge amounts of light at night, are suffering from. The other thing is that, when you draw the lighting down in the cities, the darkness ripples out into the suburbs and the country.

The reason the suburbs and the countryside are so bright is because of the cities. Plenty of suburbs and towns have awful lighting as well, of course, but they could fix that lighting or even turn it all off and their skies would still be bright, because of the nearest city.

The Witches of Dark Root

A satellite view of Earth at night shows the prevalence of artificial lighting. Twilley : To follow up on that, I'm curious about the question of legislation. Some cities, like Flagstaff, have lighting ordinances , of course. But one of the really interesting implications in your book is that, if you think about darkness as a common resource like water or clean air, we have environmental legislation and acceptable levels for pollution for them. Or, if you think about the health side, you could make the analogy with secondhand smoke and the ways in which we regulate that.

At one point you mention the phrase "light trespass," which implies we could treat darkness like property.

Would any of these be effective models for preserving darkness? Bogard : Realistically, I think we have to start with the places that are still dark, and preserve them, because, as with so many things, they are not making it anymore. The pressures are all headed in one direction. Any kind of forward-looking lighting plan that I've seen starts with a solid core of darkness and then works its way out from there. In terms of legislation, in the UK, British astronomers are taking the approach of putting lighting standards into building code.

That way, any new building has to have dark-sky-friendly lighting. Then lower lighting levels become more and more normal, and you don't get that escalation effect I describe, where older buildings look dim next to new ones, and upgrade their lighting to match, and so on. People just get used to it. Gas station in the middle of Nevada, photograph by James Reeves.


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They are just egregiously bright. Manaugh : Of course, there is potential for a huge backlash against that, at least in the United States. If you use even something as universally beneficial as vehicle emission limits in cars as an example, you see people railing against government intrusion all the time. I can easily see someone on cable news complaining, "They want to tell me when I can turn my lights on?

Bogard : My hope is that part of that just takes time, and those voices will eventually fade away. I see this with my students. They've never really been asked to think about lighting and darkness, and they assume that this super-bright world in which we live today is just the way the world is.

If you could shift that and, for example, make a college campus a place where you became sensitive to good lighting, then everybody would leave with at least a sense of what's possible. Roger Narboni , who designed the world's first urban "lighting master plan" for the French city of Montpellier way back in the s, told me that his dream is to have education about light and darkness beginning in kindergarten, as a core part of the curriculum.

House of Dark Shadows

Manaugh : There's a certain poetry to having a conversation about dark sky reserves in the National Radio Quiet Zone. This is a landscape, after all, where, by federal decree, electromagnetic "pollution" has to be kept to a bare minimum. The result is a 13,square-mile radio quarantine zone.

It's one of the few places in the United States where the air is not completely saturated by electromagnetic emissions from cell phones and power lines and radio stations and everything else.

Twilley : What's also interesting is that people move here for that reason --people who feel that they are sensitive to electromagnetic emissions will move here for their health. Manaugh : So, while we were driving here, we were thinking about the idea of a luxury darkness retreat, as a well-being thing. Bogard : I can definitely imagine that. The thing I write about in the book is the question of who will have access to darkness. It's like so many of these other things--green space, trees, quiet, and so on.


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  • It could end up being unevenly distributed; where the only way to get real darkness is to be able afford to live in a community like Aspen or Vail or somewhere like that. This makes me think of when I was in Phoenix. I can't remember the name of the wealthiest suburb, but what I noticed is that when you drive up towards it, all of a sudden, it's dark.