Responsible use of outdoor lights at night is critical to our lives and to our futures. There is an urgent need to redress this global problem sooner rather than later.  The wide ranging damage these lights are doing across the board in our lives is beginning to make is its way into our consciousness and our worlds.

From the serious human health problems artificial light creates, to the problems astronomers have long known about, to the damage it wreaks on biodiversity and the environment, artificial lights at night, both indoors and out, is changing our lives.  And not for the better.

The mystery of gazing up deeply into a sky filled with billions of twinkling stars, constellations, planets and shooting stars, has been lost to a majority of the population living in both the U.S. and Europe.  Light pollution is growing at twice the rate of the population.  That means that each and every person is using more lights per person than at any other point in time in the history of the world.

The advent of LEDs with their lower lifetime cost to operate has created two serious issues which are now only becoming well known.  One, many more lights are being installed outdoors, whether by municipalities, businesses, or homeowners. An unintended consequence of the lower costs, and because many humans have become adapted to over illumination, and then carry that out with them to new places, is that many more lights are being used.

And two, the LEDS most commonly used are taking a devastating toll on all of our lives. The higher kelvins, color temperature, and the higher lumens, brightness, well exceed anything needed by humans to navigate safely throughout the night.

More lights do not mean safer, as has been commonly advised for years by so many.  Even security companies are now realizing that illuminating a property all night long is not the more effective, nor a cost effective way to deter criminal activity.  This area is now being carefully studied and those involved in public safety are even beginning to understand that smart lighting can provide the benefits sought, without creating the problems most current lighting does.  Targeted, dimmable, programmable lighting exists, and is being adopted by many cities and towns. 

Electric lights have not long been widely in use, only a little more than 100 years.  A significant portion of the existing population, even in very developed urban areas like Washington D.C., still do remember a night sky full of stars, even from the city.

That no longer exists.  Generations are now growing up having never seen the stars, much less the Milky Way.  As artificial outdoor lights steadily continue their creep further and further out into the suburban, and rural areas, even more humans are losing their connection to the night sky and to the night.

Migrating bird populations are being devastated by all of our artificial lights in the cities and regions they must traverse on their annual migrations.  Fireflies, baby hatching turtles, moths, and more are all having their populations decimated in the same fashion.

Education for everyone about the responsible use of outdoor light at night is urgently needed now.  Master lighting plans for every locality, state and region is no longer wishful thinking, they must be written and adopted.  Fixing lighting mistakes and problems after the fact is expensive and simply unnecessary with educated foresight.

This year is shaping up to be the year of responsible use of outdoor light at night, with the ROLAN 2022 global conference wrapping up May 13, World Migratory Bird Day on May 17 focusing on light pollution this year and IDAs International Dark Sky Week in April. And multiple proclamations were issued for IDSW across this region, and across the country, including one from Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin. 

Closer to home Turner Farm Park Observatory, a Fairfax County Park Authority park, is well along in its application process as an Urban Night Sky Place, one of the designations awarded by the International Dark Sky Association.  It will be only the sixth one of these designations given to date globally. Along with Fairfax County having the largest on-campus observatory in the mid-Atlantic region at George Mason University, Northern Virginia has many reasons to protect its precious night skies.

The national security element of using energy wisely and minimizing waste is especially important in light of current world events. The renewed interest in and examination of where our energy is originating and how much it is costing will only continue to become a larger factor  in how we choose artificial light.

Light pollution is simple and easy to eliminate with careful, thoughtful, creative designs and integration at the outset of projects, not as an afterthought.  Now, is the time to begin thinking about responsible use of outdoor lights at night.


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