Trying to save the starry sky By CHRIS STESKY Staff Writer A Brockville women's club has awakened an interest across Canada in revealing the night sky to city dwellers while saving municipalities money and improving health for people and wildlife. The Brockville and district club of the Canadian Federation of University Women initiated a resolution on light pollution, calling it a waste of energy and money, and saw it through to passage at the CFUW's annual meeting in Edmonton in August. As a result, clubs all over the country are now following the Brockville group's action plan to make governments and citizens aware of the cost and the dangers of throwing unnecessary light up into the sky at night. The initiative had its genesis in an October 2004 lecture given by noted Canadian astronomer Terence Dickinson at Brockville Collegiate Institute. He asserted that "outdoor lighting is more rampant all the time and some of it is pretty silly." He showed a slide of a pole lamp at a Highway 416 truck stop that cast only a quarter of its light on the ground. The rest beamed uselessly into the sky. The only thing most of that light was good for, he said, was illuminating the underside of an airplane. People laughed, but Virginia Glover, head of the Brockville CFUW resolutions committee, was inspired to do more. At the club's November meeting, Kim Hay, an astronomer from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, spoke about light pollution. After that, Glover asked club members if they wanted to propose a resolution to fight light pollution. Although the club had never before sent a resolution to the national level, they readily agreed. Glover, Carol Gellrich and Joan Sheppard, the resolutions committee, researched and framed a resolution that was presented to all clubs in March this year for discussion. It got the green light to be presented at the annual meeting. Brockville's club paid Glover's way to the conference in Edmonton August 17-21. She had two minutes to show why fighting light pollution was important. No one voiced opposition, although Glover later learned the Ottawa club believed public education on the problem would be more effective than trying to urge governments to pass legislation. Glover gave her closing remarks and the resolution passed. It resolves that the CFUW urge all levels of government "to enact legislation which regulates outdoor illumination, controls light pollution (i.e., skyglow, light trespass and glare), conserves energy, reduces risk to human health and preserves the integrity of the night sky." Light aimed or reflected upward creates skyglow, which reduces our ability to see the stars. Many urban dwellers have never seen the Milky Way. Skyglow confuses birds on their semi-annual migrations and results in birds crashing into lighted buildings or circling them till they drop from exhaustion. Too much light at night interrupts plant cycles and causes a decline in animal populations dependent on darkness at night. Too much light at night harms humans, too. It interferes with our normal circadian rhythms and negatively affects our levels of melatonin. The CFUW resolution points out that American researcher Stephen M. Pauley has found suppression of melatonin by exposure to light at night may be one reason for the higher rates of breast and colorectal cancer in the developed world. Light trespass occurs when light is cast over property lines in an objectionable manner, generating tension in residential neighbourhoods. Glare is excessively bright light that causes visual discomfort or even temporary blindness, especially dangerous for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians at night. CFUW clubs across Canada will be acting on the resolution by visiting their municipal engineering departments to find out what standards, if any, govern lighting in the community. They'll be checking the website of the International Dark-sky Association (IDA, www.darksky.org) for help in lobbying for a bylaw and they'll be raising the issue in municipal elections, checking to see what candidates' views are on the problem. Clubs will also raise public awareness of good lighting by writing letters to newspaper editors, arranging for speakers from the astronomical society and sponsoring light-related science projects in the schools. Some will initiate a light task force to assess the local situation and commend people and companies that reduce light pollution. Clubs will encourage local retailers to stock IDA-approved lighting fixtures. They'll work with local chambers of commerce and promote a Good Neighbour Lighting program. Choosing outdoor lighting that illuminates only the ground below can end up saving municipalities a lot of money. As background material for the CFUW resolution points out, Mississippi Mills, an Ottawa-area municipality, enacted a light pollution bylaw in 2005 after finding that "illuminating the sky with poorly aimed lighting or excessive lighting wastes 30 per cent of the energy, thereby incurring higher energy costs. The bylaw also included indoor lighting that could be seen outdoors." The city of Brockville has been using yellow street lights that have a lot of sideways spill. Glover contacted city engineer Peter Raabe and learned Brockville's new policy on street lights is to replace yellow lights, when they fail, with IDA-approved flat lights, or shoebox lights, such as those that light the WalMart parking lot. She applauds this move, which will save taxpayers a lot of money, as well as the city's use of LED lighting for Christmas decorating. She'd like to see the planning department require new housing developments to use flat lighting. Glover and Gellrich have driven around Brockville at night to find examples of good and bad lighting. "The new fire station's lighting is sensitive and appropriate," they said in a recent interview at Glover's home. "It lights the building from under an overhang and does not spill out into the side. And St. Lawrence College has good lighting at the entrance, without glare, and uses full cut-off lighting (where light can only go down) in the parking lot." The lots of several Brockville car dealerships, on the other hand, are a blaze of light, most of which causes skyglow, light trespass and glare. The CFUW resolution points out that crime has not been proven to be prevented by outdoor lighting at night, and that some research shows it appears to facilitate some of the social factors that lead to crime. "Lighting appears to make people feel safer at night. However, it is a poor substitute for vigilance," says the resolution material. Committee members noted that the counties courthouse has an efficient and costeffective security lighting system. "The rooms are dark until someone enters the room, and the lights turn off automatically when people leave." Homeowners can fight light pollution by buying full cut-off motion sensor lights and driveway and entrance lights. Examples of lights that don't pollute the sky can be found at the International Dark-sky Association website. Glover, Gellrich and Sheppard say their club backs them all the way on this effort to reduce light pollution. "We are aiming to perhaps be able to see the Milky Way in Brockville." Published in Section C, page 1 in the Wednesday, October 25, 2006 edition of the Brockville Recorder & Times. Posted 4:33:07 PM Wednesday, October 25, 2006.
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