light pollution is largely the result poorly designed lighting, which wastes energy shining outward to the sky, where it is unwanted, instead of downwards to the ground, where it is needed. billions are spent each year on unshielded outdoor lights, though they are directly responsible for 14.7 million tons of carbon dioxide waste in the u.s. alone.
our overlit cities and suburbs have radically altered the light rhythms to which many forms of life, including diurnal animals such as ourselves, have adapted, disrupting the migratory, reproductive and feeding cycles of nocturnal creatures in potentially devastating ways.
light, for example, makes nocturnal animals easier prey, and acts as a magnet for birds, with the latter effect so powerful that scientists speak of some birds being literally “captured” by searchlights, circling in the thousands until they drop. the effect was notably observed in new york’s tribute of lights.
the effect on humans is just as profound. darkness is not only essential to our biological welfare (with light pollution linked to breast and prostate cancer), but the light of the stars and the rhythms of day and night is part our collective evolutionary and cultural patrimony. yet, two thirds of humanity live under skies polluted with light, while one fifth of the planet can no longer see the milky way.
photos by jim richardson from his series “death of night,” to consider during earth hour, which is saturday, march 29 at 8:30pm.