New NATGEO article: Our nights are getting brighter, and Earth is paying the price

light pollution sky quality meter
light pollution sky quality meter
A Sky Quality Meter measures the nighttime brightness. Images used for educational purposes and copyright their respective owner.

Did you know light pollution is growing each year, faster than any other form of pollution? The invention of the white LED has herald a new wave of energy efficiency that has produced the opposite of what was intended – we are using more artificial light than ever before because LED is cheap and white LED contains a lot of blue light which is harmful to humans and eco systems, including important pollinators.

A new NATGEO article discusses the growing problem of light pollution and how the Earth is paying the price.

light pollution glare light trespass example
Light pollution includes glare and light trespass caused by overly bright and improperly shielded lights. Images used for educational purposes. Copyright their respective owner.

“But if light bulbs have a dark side, it’s that they have stolen the night. The excess light we dump into our environments is endangering ecosystems by harming animals whose life cycles depend on dark. We’re endangering ourselves by altering the biochemical rhythms that normally ebb and flow with natural light levels. And in a primal sense, we’ve lost our connection to nighttime skies, the tapestries into which our ancestors wove their star-studded stories, timed the planting and harvesting of crops, and deduced the physical laws governing the cosmos.”

“The disappearance of the night sky is tied up in our ever more fast-paced world,” says Amanda Gormley of the Tucson-based International Dark-Sky Association. “We lose something essential; we lose a part of ourselves when we lose access to the night sky. We lose that sense of stillness and awe that should be right over our heads every night.”

Of all the types of pollution, light pollution is by far the easiest to fix. Flip the switch to turn off your overnight outdoor lights. Use amber LED (2200K) instead of white 3000K-5000K which are harmful to all living species. Shield lights so that the light is directed where you need it and not up into the night sky. Many stores are now carrying amber LED options and if yours isn’t, then ask the store manager why not and when they can get some of these lights in for you to purchase!

If everyone did their little part, turning off lights, switching to low kelvin LED, shielding outdoor lights, we’d see a meaningful reduction in light pollution and help to prevent climate change further.

To read the full NATGEO on light pollution go here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/04/nights-are-getting-brighter-earth-paying-the-price-light-pollution-dark-skies/

 

 

Ecological benefits of partial lights off overnight

blue rich 4000K LED street lights going up along King Street in Kitchener, Ontario.
PUBLIC RELEASE

Nighttime pollinators benefit from street lights being switched off in the middle of the night

NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY

Switching off street lights to save money and energy could have a positive knock-on effect on our nocturnal pollinators, according to new research.

A study, led by experts from Newcastle and York universities, has shown that turning off the lights even for just part of the night is effective at restoring the natural behaviour of moths.

The important role moths play in the pollination of plants – potentially even including key food crops such as peas, soybean and oilseed rape – is often overlooked. But recent studies show that moths supplement the day-time work of bees and other pollinating insects.

Night-lighting disrupts nocturnal pollination by attracting moths upwards, away from the fields and hedgerows so they spend less time feeding and therefore pollinating. But in this latest study, published today in Ecosphere, the team found there was no difference in pollination success between part-night lighting and full darkness.

Dr Darren Evans, Reader in Ecology and Conservation at Newcastle University, who supervised the study, said that at a time when local authorities are switching off the street lamps to save money, this study highlighted the environmental benefits of part-night lighting.

“Artificial light at night is an increasingly important driver of global environmental change and sky brightness is increasing by about 6% a year,” he explains.

“Understanding the ecological impact of this artificial light on the ecosystem is vital.

“We know that light pollution significantly alters moth activity and this in turn is disrupting their role as pollinators. But what our study showed was that while full-night lighting caused significant ecological disruption, part-night lighting did not appear to have any strong effect on pollination success or quality.”

Street light switch off

Ecological light pollution is increasingly linked to adverse effects on human health and wildlife. Disrupting the natural patterns of light and dark, artificial light “has the potential to affect every level of biological organisation,” explains Evans, from cells to whole communities.

In the last decade, many local authorities have changed their street lighting regime in a bid to cut costs and save energy. This includes switching off or dimming the lights at certain times of the night as well as replacing the traditional high-pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs with energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

In the study, the team analysed the impact of a range of scenarios on the pollination of moth-pollinated flowers placed underneath street lights. These included both types of lighting (HPS and LED), run either all night or switched off at midnight. Results were compared to pollination under natural darkness.

They found that regardless of the type of light, full-night light caused the greatest ecological disruption. There was no difference between LED and HPS bulbs in the part-night scenarios and in both cases, the disruption to the plants’ pollination was minimal compared to full darkness.

Lead author Dr Callum Macgregor, a Postdoctoral Research Associate from the University of York, said:

“Often, as conservationists, we have to make difficult trade-offs between development and environmental protection.

“However, our study suggests that turning off street lights in the middle of the night is a win-win scenario, saving energy and money for local authorities whilst simultaneously helping our nocturnal wildlife.”

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This release originally appeared at: https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-01/nu-ebo011719.php

Link to the research paper: https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ecs2.2550

Philips Lighting webinar on light pollution

On January 17th, 2019 Philips Lighting held a webinar covering the ecological and human effects of light pollution. Two keynote speakers presented their research and findings. This is my own summary and thoughts on this webinar and the information presented.

The presentation was basic but provided a good overview of the problem and some of the impacts to people and wildlife. There were a number of key takeaways which I feel important for considering when it comes to new projects/developments (more light being added to our environment) and how we use/implement light at night as well as UDM updates.  I hope everyone gleaned something useful from it.

Points to highlight:

  • Light at night is not natural – hence why it’s called artificial light.
  • The natural nighttime environment is increasingly polluted by artificial light. LEDs are making this worse. (research/NOAA-VIIRS satellite data).
  • Several studies have linked artificial light at night to negative impacts on human health. In free-living animals, light pollution is associated with changes in circadian, reproductive, social behavior and physiology of species, which includes changes in the daily timing of activity.
  • Light at night can create imbalances; isolate or attract, reduce species population. And shown to create nocturnal and diurnal species competition where none existed previous.
  • Lights should always be down directed (shielded) and not point up into the sky. Dimming is helpful over night, reduces pollution and energy waste. (lights up or unshielded wallpacks and wall washing are still big problems within the city)
  • White light (rich in blue) attracts more insects and more disruptive (mayflies were an example but not limited to. Mosquitoes are another example more attracted to higher kelvin, white light and light pollution has been connected in medical research to increase of west nile virus in humans)
  • Lux levels should be targeted to the minimum possible not the highest. Even 10 lux of artificial light can have adverse impacts on species, including humans. So we should be mindful of not over-lighting.  ( In many developments/projects/retrofits light levels are far to high and it’s not needed. The human eye is very responsive and adaptable when glare and intensity are not over-powering, and if using properly shielded fixtures. Over lighting leads to light pollution and is light waste and energy waste which are associated with climate change. )
  • No higher than 3000K  and lower is better even. (There are a number of manufacturers now producing 1750K – 2500K LED that are near or on par efficacy to now dinosaur 4000K and 5000K versions)
  • Choosing the right spectrum of light is important. (Example, artificial light mimicking daylight within or near residential area would be disruptive to people’s health and urban eco systems. Adding white light near natural areas is disruptive as well and we find this happening with urban sprawl. As we add more homes, more stores and more lights. White light is not safer nor are brighter lights. White light may be more aesthetically pleasing to humans, but it is far worse for the night environment and wildlife where pollution is concerned)
  • Bylaws/ regulation / city urban design manual updates can help reduce light pollution and provide a positive framework for both developers and residents to better understand and mitigate their pollution contribution.

Local Kitchener company reduces its light pollution footprint

LED wallpack light unshielded.

Heroux-Devtek of Kitchener recently switched to LED lights without being aware of the environmental impacts it would have. Then they fixed the problem.

Most are familiar with land, water and air pollution but few know that artificial light at night can also be a pollutant to our environment.

Heroux-Devtek, an aerospace company in Kitchener, Ontario, had changed its outside lights to LED in May of 2018. The new LEDs were much brighter and installed into old style wallpack fixtures that did not properly shield and direct the light down.

Heroux-Devtek LED light pollution - before
An LED wallpack light that is not shieled creates glare, safety issues and contributes to light pollution of our night environment.

Switching to LED is not automatically environmentally friendly. In fact researchers have found LED lights to be harming our night environment. Quite the opposite of what the lighting industry and politicians often promote.

In the case of Heroux-Devtek, the lights are bright white (5000K), rich in blue light, which are the worst type of LED to use. Not only do they pollute our night time, disrupting natural eco-systems, but they also more easily create disability and discomfort glare as well as safety issues. 

Being an advocate for the environment and better lighting, I wrote a letter to the company explaining the problem and asking for their help in protecting our night environment. I also asked for them to be a good neighbour within their community by correcting the lighting issues.

It was a couple months that had passed when I noticed Heroux-Devtek had installed hoods (shields) on all of their outside wallpack lights. This made a world a difference and improvement. In fact, shielding lights is a simple way to reduce light pollution, next to turning off lights over night – which also saves energy.

 I’ve since wrote the company again thanking them for their initiative in fixing some of their lighting problems. Great to see a company acting as a good corporate citizen within Kitchener.

Below are some before and after photos…

LED wallpack light unshielded.
BEFORE: An LED wallpack light with no shielding.
herdev-after-2
AFTER: The same LED wallpack light but now shielded and directing the light down where it's needed.

Businesses should evaluate their light pollution footprint just as they would their energy use and recycling policies. Protecting our night environment and night sky from light pollution (skyglow) and the damage it is doing has become a race against time for many advocates like myself trying to create change for the better.

Once again I would like to thank Heroux-Devtek for making the changes they did to their outside lights. Perhaps more business in Kitchener-Waterloo can do the same. Politicians can help by promoting positive change like this. We all need a healthy night time in order to enjoy a healthy daytime environment.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below!

Light pollution researcher and the ecological impact of artificial light at night

the ecological impact of artificial light at night

the ecological impact of artificial light at nightDr. Christopher Kyba, light pollution researcher at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences talks about the ecological impact of artificial light at night.

In spite of cities trying to reduce energy consumption with LED streetlights, the WHOLE world energy budget is increasing via light pollution – a jevons paradox.

The ecological impact of artificial light at night. Light Pollution
An empty parking lot in Kitchener, Ontario is lit all night long by LED lights when no workers or patrons are present.

There is no sign of accomplishing average energy reduction, which, at the toted 70% for street lights should show clearly by now, but doesn’t. This is because cheap LEDs are used everywhere now with no concern over what energy they could save – just that they are cheap, so “we” can use so much more.

Of course all this added light to our night translates into negative effects for the environment, wildlife, insects, flora/faunal impacts and yes even human health problems.

Dr. Kyba was the lead researcher in a study using satellite data and a paper that was released in January 2018 showing light pollution increasing by more than 2.2% each year globally. In this interview he explains  the ecological impact of artificial light at night.

Energy saving LEDs increasing light pollution globally

energy saving LED increasing light pollution

What was herald by the lighting industry and politicians as a means to combat climate change and save our environment has become the enemy within. Energy saving LEDs are increasing light pollution globally and the latest research science has confirmed it.

blue rich 4000K LED street lights going up along King Street in Kitchener, Ontario.
energy saving LED increasing light pollution

An interesting article (and links to the research within) written by Andrew Nikiforuk was published on TheTyee.ca. Mr. Nikiforuk as noted in the article, is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about the energy industry for two decades https://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2018/02/26/Energy-Efficiency-Curse/. The latest research is showing that people are using more LED lighting because it’s cheap but that is defeating energy savings and increasing light pollution. A Jevons paradox.

From the article:

“LED lights also highlight the economic labyrinth of Jevons Paradox. These marvels use 70 to 80 per cent less electricity than the incandescent light bulbs that illuminated my youth.”

energy waste and light pollution“researchers at Rutgers University recently concluded that the transition from incandescent to LED lights won’t result in any lasting savings: “there is a massive potential for growth in the consumption of light if new lighting technologies are developed with higher luminous efficacies and lower cost of light.” In other words LED have unleashed “new and unforeseen ways of consuming light.”

I actually had brought up Jevons paradox in 2016 discussing LED lighting and light pollution in correspondence with officials and councilors in my area. How cheaper, more efficient technology often has society using more of it. We are seeing it happen all around us as urban environments are reimagined with LEDs, brighter and often more of them.

The often misunderstood and confused pursuit for LED energy efficiency is continuing to brighten our night time.  This poses long term light pollution and negative environmental impacts to ecosystems. Including those that humans depend on.  That isn’t good at all.

The increasing levels of light pollution globably was recently documented in new research data from the VIIRS satellite data which showed light pollution increasing by 2.2% each year. VIRRS is part of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite. VIRRS is not all that sensitive to blue light either, which means it doesn’t “see” it all that well – the problem is most likely worse than 2.2%, taking into account white LED lighting 3000-5000K or higher.

We should be aiming for less than 2700K when switching to LED and low wattage/lumens. It’s also important not to add more lights than necessary or light things up that previously were not just because LEDs are cheap.

 

Richard Huziak, an environmentalist, light pollution abatement advocate and amateur astronomer living in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada commented on this news story and research saying:

“Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle.

  • Refuse is the highest priority. In terms of lighting, we should refuse more, refuse brighter (= more), refuse any if we already have none and are not hard done by in a real, tangible way. “Feeling” safe by adding a light is a complete misrepresentation of the issues. Example, people getting hit at night should be fixed by better sidewalk design and by having pedestrians wear reflective clothing. Crime at night is fixed by better policing and natural surveillance – not by more light or by the bluing of night light, which also, by definition, means “more”.

 

  • Reduce should mean “use less”, not create a technology that invokes Jevons paradox. Use less means removing useless lights, reducing wattage of existing lights or changing time of use of existing lights to shine less, including OFF periods.

 

  • Reuse – there is no need to reuse if lights are allowed to wear out — see the comment under Recycle. In the case of the Calgary Retrofit to save energy, they gave FREE working/retrofitted lights to whomever would take them, INCREASING the number of lights in the communities and now using more power in all communities where Calgary was trying to save. My home town, Yorkton, SK, was a willing victim, since they get free light! Whoopie! Repurpose seems to have little to offer in lighting. I would repurpose lights by turning then into darkness.

 

  • Recycle is interesting … a light should only be recycled when it no longer can be used – i.e. it is simply worn out. Retrofit is an enormous waste of resources since you both throw away a perfectly good functioning light that cost a lot to make, plus you have to use the energy *up front* to make a new one, both of which activities mostly negate efficiency savings. Yet, in society, we all feel good about doing the lowest possible outcome after we have failed everything else – recycling.”

We need to start having meaningful conversations about this problem that lead to tangible results in controlling and reducing the spread of light pollution within our environment.  I believe protecting our night environment is as important as protecting our day time environment.