Light Pollution: Our Fear of the Dark

Are you afraid of the dark? To an extent we all are. Although many of us may be past the fear of monsters under our beds, we still associate darkness with danger. We are afraid of the unknown and the vulnerability that comes with it, and for good reason. We, young women in particular, are conditioned to be afraid of the dark. We take extra precautions to avoid dimly-lit areas, sometimes by simply avoiding them. To eliminate this fear, we light up our world with artificial lights.

Throughout the past century, our use of artificial light has increased to the point that our days essentially don’t end. Major metropolitan cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas are considered cities that never sleep. Although this artificial light has allowed us to accomplish more in each day, it has also had some negative effects we aren’t even aware of, some of which are even scarier than the darkness we try to shield ourselves from.

You may be familiar with pollution in terms of air, water, and trash. However, you may not be too familiar with light pollution. According to the International Dark-Sky Association, light pollution is defined as “the inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light.” Have you ever noticed that you can see little to no stars in the sky when in a city? Or the orange glow rising above the horizon far past sunset? That is light pollution.

Although this may not seem like a big deal, it affects all of us. Light pollution has been linked to negative environmental effects including increased energy consumption and disrupting wildlife and ecosystems dependent on the dark. By making night into day, humans have altered the natural world for animals, making it more difficult for them to hunt, stay protected, and navigate. And just like all things in the natural world, once one thing is affected, everything is.

Light pollution has also been linked to negative effects on human health. With the ability to lengthen our days after the sun goes down, we have simultaneously enabled ourselves to work longer hours and stay up later. While this could be seen as a good thing in terms of productivity, it can also lead to higher levels of stress and loss of sleep.

The interesting thing about light pollution is that people don’t realize it exists. We have accepted our illuminated world as reality. We all know the stars are there, but we don’t realize we can’t even see them. Stars used to be a cornerstone of human culture, telling stories, helping with direction, or spurring inspiration. But as humans become increasingly disconnected with nature, the stars are losing their importance. The song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star we all know and love could become irrelevant for future generations.

Studies have shown that one third of the human population around the globe can no longer see the Milky Way, even on a cloudless night! If we continue to increase our excessive use of artificial light, some researchers have suggested that future generations won’t even be able to see stars except for a select few.

Rangers at Joshua Tree National Park (known to have some of the darkest skies in Southern California) comment that many people who visit the park are seeing the Milky Way for the very first time in their lives. It’s incredible that something so beautiful is above us every night, but is something some will never have the chance to see.

Efforts are being made to minimize light pollution, but awareness of the problem is too low for any real change to gain traction. It is difficult to raise awareness about something you can’t see. So if you want to be an advocate for the night sky, go out and see it and bring friends. Instead of going to Las Vegas or Cabo over school breaks, go camping, or on a night hike -- just remember to look up.

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