I miss daylight. It’s hard to get up before the sun rises to exercise,
or to leave work in the afternoon darkness. One of my favorite
celebrations of the year is of the Winter Solstice, which marks, within
a few days of each other, both the earliest sunset and the shortest day
of the year.
But I do appreciate the seasonal rhythms of darkness and light, day and
night. And I love a night sky, its vastness awash with stars or lit up
by a big harvest moon. And so I was moved by Verlyn Klinkenborg’s cover
story in National Geographic’s November issue, “The End of Night.” It’s
not often one reads about light pollution and its effects on living
things. Light is a powerful biological force, according to scientists,
acting for many species as a magnet, drawing seabirds, for example, to
the light from gas flares on marine oil platforms, and prompting swans
to migrate earlier than is optimal for nesting. Sadly, nesting sea
turtles, which prefer dark beaches, find fewer and fewer of them on
which to nest. Their hatchlings, which would normally move themselves
toward the brighter sea horizon are confused by artificial lighting
beyond the beach and are lost by the hundreds of thousands every year.
“In most cities,” Klinkenborg writes, “the sky looks as though it has
been emptied of stars.” New York City scores a nine on the nine-point
Bortle Dark-Sky Scale, according to the International Dark Sky
Association, which has pushed for city and state legislation to turn the
New York has, in fact, begun to dim down. The State Assembly passed
legislation in June requiring that new outdoor lighting have shields
that reduce glare and waste. Other measures — to require full
streetlight shields and motion detectors in all commercial and
government buildings, and to mandate more efficiently lighted billboards
– are now under consideration. The business community may be a bit ahead
of the politicians on these matters. Several of the city’s newest
skyscrapers incorporate cutting-edge technologies that appeal to both
environmentalists and those eager to keep energy costs down. Landlords
have also found that meeting stiffer energy-efficiency standards in
their new and refurbished buildings is a selling point with tenants,
especially those that pay their own electricity bills.
For our part, Green Guide just moved into a space with just one light
switch for the whole floor. It’s not that large a floor, but it feels
strange to not be able to turn the light off in my office when I leave.
Worse still, what an awful waste for me to have to light the whole floor
when I am the only one in the office. I have an LED desk lamp, which
helps on these late-fall afternoons, as my desk is in a dark corner (LED
lamps are particularly energy efficient). And hopefully we’ll eventually
be able to afford a lighting retrofit that would allow for zone
lighting, motion sensors, timers and more.
In the meantime, I’m encouraged to see New York join the many other
cities that are taking steps to save energy and cut down on light
pollution. It may be a long, long time before we get to see Venus from
our rooftops, but perhaps if we’ve got it in our mind’s eye we’ll keep
working toward reaching that goal some day…or night.