Another viewpoint: Light pollution’s blocking our view of the night sky

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(Anderson) Herald Bulletin

When was the last time your family stepped outside to look at the stars? Could you see anything? For decades, light pollution has been increasing, threatening our ability to look at the wonders of the night sky. For each year from 2012 to 2016, the Earth’s area of artificial light grew by 2%.

The effect hurts public health, as harsh outdoor lights can cause insomnia; ecology, by interfering with how species interact with the environment; and energy use, as more energy-inefficient lights mean more demand on utilities, among other effects, according to the International Dark-Sky Association’s recent “State of the Science” report.

There’s also a note of social injustice in how we light neighborhoods. Some of us may notice more lights in neighborhoods perceived as crimeheavy. In the only study of its kind, researchers reported in 2020 that Americans of Asian, Hispanic and Black descent tended to live in brighter neighborhoods.

Let’s look at ways to better see the twinkle of stars. It begins in parking lots. In Anderson, parking lot lights are to be no more than 25 feet high. Lights mounted on exterior walls are to be shielded. Outdoor lights for businesses are to be directed so they are not directly visible from a public street.

Pendleton’s ordinances regarding exterior lights are perhaps the most stringent by setting standards for maximum illumination based on foot candle (lumens per square foot) and zoning district.

Although the current updating of ordinances doesn’t change light standards, the town might want to review all standards after one plan commission member recently expressed concern that some streets were not well lit, implying more lights might be coming.

The impetus is often aimed at preventing annoying glare, not to avoid light pollution. Glare is indeed a troubling sensation, as intense rays enter the eye and scatter, reducing visibility. LED sources can make it worse by emitting light at angles lower than a streetlight or billboard. LED headlights go right into our eyes.

In Indianapolis, light sources are classified by the lumens they emit. They are to be shielded based on guidelines of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America. There are rules also in the angle of outdoor lights in reducing glare and shining onto neighboring properties.

All cities and towns in Madison County would be wise, even eco-conscious, to review lighting standards.

Current online worldwide light pollution maps, which seem to be updated annually, show that areas of nighttime light are spreading from Indianapolis toward Anderson and Muncie. Other cities such as Lebanon, Danville and Franklin don’t show the same growth.

The idea is not to ban outdoor lighting. However, limits are necessary, and guidelines should be clearly defined in building codes.

We should try to reduce light pollution as one way to protect human health and the environment for future generations. We also want those generations to be able to see the night sky.

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