Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Dark Sky

by Dick Mac

A dark sky can be seen only in a place not inundated with light pollution, also known as photopollution or luminous pollution.

Light pollution is defined by the International Dark Sky Association:
Light pollution: Any adverse effect of man made light. Often used to denote urban sky glow.

See, the IDSA Glossary of Basic Terms, Lighting

Having grown-up in a city and having lived all of my life in places no more rural than the Town of Brookline, Massachusetts, and the Borough of Brooklyn, New York, I have rarely seen a dark sky.

As a child, I recall going on camping trips to an island in Boston Harbor and the hills of Northern New Hampshire. I don't remember paying any attention to the stars in the sky. I spend almost all of my time, and except for some vacations, under the urban sky glow.

I was in my late teens when I was camping in the Mojave Desert. It was my birthday, and I was a little buzzed on champagne (cheap champagne), reefer (twenty bucks for a half-pound of decent quality Mexican weed), and chocolate cake. Laying out under the stars was an amazing experience, because the Milky Way covered the sky like a blanket.

In the mid-1990s, I spent a winter weekend in Maine, and the night sky was clear and crisp and filled with stars. The sky seemed alive, it seemed to undulate with the glow of distant stars, and the closer stars and planets pierced the night like bright pinpoints.

When I look up to the sky in New York City, I see the planets, a few of the brighter stars, the moon, and lots of aircraft. I've always known that this is because the ambient light generated in the city washes-out the lights in the sky.

The International Dark-Sky Association:
. . . is the recognized authority on light pollution. Founded in 1988, IDA is the first organization to call attention to the hazards of light pollution, and in 22 years of operation our accomplishments have been tremendous.

We promote one simple idea: light what you need, when you need it. We know some light at night is necessary for safety and recreation. We work with manufacturers, planners, legislators, and citizens to provide energy efficient options that direct the light where you want it to go, not uselessly up into the sky.

Our approach of public awareness and extensive partnerships is improving nighttime lighting on six continents. IDA acts on numerous issues to create a platform as expansive as the sky itself. . . .
See, About IDA

This is a noble undertaking. If we stop unnecessarily lighting the Earth, we might see the universe more fully.

The IDA has created the International Dark Sky Places Program, which designates parks, reserves, and communities as "dark sky" locations. Flagstaff, Arizona, is a dark sky community!

Recently, a small, rocky chunk of land in the English Channel has been named the world's first dark sky island, a distinction awarded because its low levels of light pollution allow stunning views of the night sky.

The IDA recognized Sark Island for its breath-taking night sky. Sark becomes the newest in the group of dark sky places around the world, and the first island.

Perhaps it's because most of us don't see anything but humanity happening in the sky that we fail to have a more global, or universal sense of ourselves. If that massive sky, heavy with the Milky Way, bore down on us regularly, we might be humbled by its majesty and we might see power as something more dynamic than human invention and bigger than God.

Although we seemed to develop a sense of being responsible custodians of Earth in the latter half of the 20th Century, it is now popular to dismiss the impact of humans on the planet, belittle the science and scientists who have made their life work the investigation of conservation, and promote unregulated exploitation of the planet's resources.

We have replaced the movement to "save the planet" with a movement to "secure our way of life" which has come to mean, it seems, the avaricious accumulation of vast riches without regard to anyone or anything around us. It is what many might call The American Way.

Still, do we need to make bad choices at every turn? Can we consider alternatives at any point, and not be called names by those who would call themselves "conservatives" (even though they want to conserve nothing).

Perhaps the IDA's notion that we needn't light every square inch of the planet could be embraced by "conservatives" under the auspices of "smaller government" (a phrase they like to throw around as they expand the government and its intrusion into the private lives of taxpayers).

If we stop lighting everything, using only the light we need to remain safe and enjoy life, perhaps the government would install and maintain fewer lights. That would then save taxpayer dollars that can be funnelled to the military and privatized government services. "Conservatives" and conservationists then might get what they want, and we might make the planet a slightly nicer place to live.

The IDA has a noble mission, and there is no reason it could not be embraced by everyone

Welcome to the Dark Side: British Isle Named Skywatching Paradise

International Dark Sky Association

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