The negative consequences of light pollution are as unknown by the population as those of smoking in the 80s

Our skies are getting brighter. A recent study found that our planet’s artificially lit outdoor area grew by about 2% each year between 2012 and 2016.


“Global growth in lighting at that kind of level is quite profound”, said Kevin Gaston, a professor of biodiversity and conservation at the University of Exeter, UK. “We know that lighting is getting steadily worse”.


Researchers say that one big problem has been the lack of awareness about light pollution. Prof. Gaston, the principal investigator on the project ECOLIGHT – finished last year- said that “this leads to the conclusion that lighting is having pretty pervasive ecological impacts. The effects are exceedingly widespread and are shaping the way that communities are structured, something that people hadn’t observed before”. He also explained that satellites are colour-blind to the shift to white light, so using the pictures that astronauts take is a good way to track this, with about half a million pictures taken at night between 2003 and 2015.


This work complements the Cities at Night project, a citizen science initiative that gets help from volunteers to classify, locate and georeference these pictures. Also involved in Cities at Night is the STARS4ALL project, coordinated by Oscar Corcho, a professor at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid in Spain, which acts as a platform to raise awareness of the issues involved in light pollution and inspire further research and better planning in lighting programmes. It engages people through methods such as games, broadcasting of astronomical events and a citizen-sensor network of low-cost photometers for people to measure light pollution in their area. “The negative consequences of light pollution are as unknown by the population as those of smoking in the (19)80s”, said Prof. Corcho. “It’s still a very difficult problem to understand. Light pollution does not have the same immediate effects over animals as other forms of pollution”.


Prof. Corcho said that one of STARS4ALL’s main aims this year is to run a petition on its website to ask for more overarching regulation to avoid light pollution at an EU level. STARS4ALL will collect signatures from citizens and hopes to present the petition in Brussels by the end of the year.


He says the good news is that there are easy fixes. “There are good technology options. For instance, there are types of lamps that could be used that are both respectful to the environment in terms of light pollution and at the same time as energy-efficient as white LEDs”.


If we move to solve these issues, there might well be an added bonus for us all. “As an indirect result… our recommendations for public lighting may result in having more populated places where we can see more and more stars in our sky”, said Prof. Corcho.


From: Light pollution is altering plant and animal behaviour by Gareth Willmer.