Sunday, March 13, 2005

Light-Pollution - Friend or Foe?

Light pollution. One more made-up name allowing busybodies and local media yackity-yacks to get worked up and bemoan progress.

The real kind of progress of course. The kind that produces jobs, increases lifespans, and provides more disposable income. This must be distinguished from the goal of "progressives," which seems to be some combination of luddism, malthusian pessimism, enviro-whining, and yearning for the heady days of stagflation. Plus the desire for all people everywhere to be distributed in the proper combination of hues and colors, but never ever significantly differ in ideology from prevaling "progressive" orthodoxy. All set to the soundtrack from "Hair" and live recordings from Woodstock of course.

Anyway, back to light pollution. It's a term applied to the shocking phenomenon that occurs when you're in an area with a lot of lights that cause the stars to be more difficult to see clearly. Lucky us, the Star Tribune discovered this burning issue today. Fortunately and reliably the article presents us with plenty of material to dispassionately ponder this pressing matter:

"I think it's a quality-of-life issue," said Maline Fish of Ham Lake, who with her husband, Dan, owns a telescope shop in Mounds View. Both are avid amateur astronomers. "If you can maintain the visual connection to the sky, I think people are more connected to their world. I think it's soothing to people."

Whenever a Minnesota newspaper or politician utters the words "quality of life," the rest of us have learned to grab our wallets. And who'd have thought the telescope shop lobby had such powerful influence in local Big Media?

When Dan Fish was recently talking about the Milky Way to a group of gifted and talented elementary schoolchildren, he got blank stares in return.

"And I realized, these kids have never seen the Milky Way," Fish said.
Dude, they thought you were talking about the candy bar. Work on your public speaking. Besides, until I read a study showing school kids have finally mastered the ability to place Mexico on a map, I'm not not worried about their mastery of the locations of objects in the heavens.

Artificial night light, particularly when it beams into the sky, is called "light pollution" by dark-sky advocates. Its impact was notable during last year's blackout in the northeastern United States, when New York City residents could suddenly see the Milky Way and meteors.
Could any of you utter the phrase "dark sky advocates" without giggling? Apparently unlike Bill McAuliffe who wrote this article, I notice that prevailing public opinion during the northeastern blackout was to get the d*mn lights back on, no matter how pretty the Milky Way or meteors happened to be.

Others in the discussion talk about "light trespass" -- unwanted light from residential, public, commercial and industrial neighbors. There's also plain old "glare" -- bright light in the eyes that can blot out backgrounds.

Prior generations just observed this stuff and learned how to cope. It took hundreds of generations to perfect the proper response - whining.

None of it is poisonous. It doesn't smell bad. It doesn't dirty the water. But that doesn't mean it should be ignored, some say.
There is no problem here. So let's fix it!

The article then goes on to describe actions many local municipalities are taking to combat this problem. And as long as it stays at the most basic and local level of government, I don't really mind. Though anyone who thinks this stuff comes without a price-tag ought not be allowed to make civic decisions. You want to pay more taxes for the city to replace streetlights with new ones that give off less "glare" (i.e. light), I'm not going to stop you.

But once the media grabs their latest "crisis," especially one that "isn't poisonous, doesn't smell bad, doesn't dirty the water, and simply cannot be ignored!" these decisions never seem to remain local. I thought perhaps the article was heading to some sort of state legislature activity. I'm so naive:

Now astronomers, lighting engineers and highway and traffic safety consultants are coming together to try to develop national lighting standards.

National standards means well get one and only one decision mandated from the Federal government that binds all of us. I believe "progressives" call this "diversity."

I'm all for research into lighting and safety. But why are astronomers involved? We know why. Because the priorities of this are all screwed up with moonbattery out of the gate. I don't want my driving safety at night weighed against the visibility of the Orion constellation.

The rest of us have a shorter name for light-pollution: "Light." We also have a sollution. Get out of the city once in a while. Of course that would require some sort of automobile. Possibly even an SUV. So this sollution has radical right-wing written all over it.

Yet once any person decides the government needs to protect us from the perils of freaking light-bulbs, the proper response is not government action. It's intensive therapy - up to, but not limited to, a serious butt-kicking by someone shouting "snap the hell out of it!"


Blogger Kurt (aka Noodles) said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Kurt (aka Noodles) said...

As I work in the commercial lighting industry I am very much aware of the "Dark Skies" push.

What the environmental nuts don't realize is that in order to meet the criteria for dark sky friendly lighting installations lighting designers must limit the height of outdoor poles as well as restrict the spread of light to only the area to be lit. The net effect is that you need substantially MORE lighting fixtures to do the same job which of course means substantially more electricity to power those fixtures. It follows that that the additional power requirements cause more "real" pollution from the power plants that need to generate that power.

Many of our local municipalities have very restrictive outdoor lighting requirements already, (Bloomington being among the most strict) and more and more are jumping on the bandwagon.

Ironically this moonbattery has had a POSITIVE effect on my business by forcing us to sell a higher quantity of higher priced fixtures to meet the Dark Skies requirements.

10:34 AM  
Blogger LearnedFoot said...

So to extrapolate:

"Dark Sky" advocates undoubtedly see North Korea as the Utopia that Kim purports it to be.

Great piece, Doug.


11:40 AM  
Blogger R-Five said...

"Ham Lake" explains it all. A number of people settled years ago in then-tundras like Ham Lake, Woodbury, and Apple Valley. They wanted to get away from the city and they succeeded.

However, the guarantee that the city would not expand to meet them is NOT in the Book of Genesis as these urban pioneers seem to think.

If that's so important, why didn't they just move to, say, Mora, in the first place? Because they wanted urban culture and/or employment.

They just need to move further out. You can live by the seashore, but the ocean decides where the shoreline is, not you.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Nicko McDave said...

There really is nothing new about "light pollution". Twenty years ago in Pittsburgh, a major downtown skyscraper development project known as "Renaissance II" (because it had been done before in the 1950s) changed the city skyline and was accentuated by the installation of bright, beautiful lights at aesthetically pleasing points on and around the tops of the buildings. Everyone thought it was brilliant (in every sense of the word)...except for the Allegheny Observatory, located on the North Side of the Allegheny River. The astronomers couldn't get a clear view of the skies past the glare from one of the new buildings, so the lights had to be dimmed. This calls into question the wisdom of maintaining a 160 year old observatory in a crowded urban area with a lot of tall buildings. Perhaps a relocation to a more remote spot in southwestern PA would be in order. We like the stars, but we also like the light.

10:42 AM  

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