Each night, when darkness falls, I switch on a light and crack open a book. I am currently reading “The Darkness Manifesto: On Light Pollution, Night Ecology, and the Ancient Rhythms That Sustain Life,” by Johan Eklöf.
Eklöf is a Swedish scientist who studies bats. He quickly discovered the extent of light pollution that affected bats and the ecosystems they depend upon for survival.
Our basic human desire is to light the world. The first thing we do when we enter a room is flip a light switch. We install nightlights in our children’s bedrooms, we strategically place lamps about our homes. We say things like, “you light up my life,” and, “the light at the end of the tunnel.” We sleep when it’s dark, we are active in the daylight. Our own circadian rhythm is attuned to light.
Since the beginning of time, light has been the only constant on Earth. Continents shift, species evolve and die out, rivers move, oceans come and go, civilizations rise and fall. Sunset and sunrise are the only constant. No wonder humans desire to keep a light through the darkest hours, a reminder that daybreak will come again. Mary Oliver once said, “Is there anything more loyal than the sun?”
Like everything else in life, moderation is key. We don’t always realize the damage of excess until we can see the damage ourselves … when it “comes to light.”
Eklöf’s goal with “The Darkness Manifesto” is to, ahem, “shine a light” on the other world that we depend upon, but do not always see. We have been blinded by the light, as it were.
Eklöf notes, “A third of all vertebrates and almost two thirds of all invertebrates are nocturnal, and so much of nature’s activity occurs after we humans fall asleep at night.” Artificial light introduces chaos and disrupts these rhythms, resulting in fewer pollinators and fewer food production. We complain about the cost of groceries and electricity, but do nothing on a large scale to address the roots of a problem.
We can integrate easy changes in our own homes: turn off exterior decorative lighting, install downward facing light shades to eliminate horizontal and upward glare, use automatic motion sensors and timers, and pull down shades or turn off interior lights. But our home lights are a small flicker in comparison to community spaces and businesses. We’ve been planning “well-lit” communities for so long, that planning from a “dark” perspective can seem foreign to business owners and town planners. There are model businesses and towns — primarily across Colorado and Texas — who successfully integrated dark sky friendly lighting and preserved both the safety and the beauty of the community.
I will admit, when I lived on a mountainside above Salt Lake City, I looked forward to turning out all the lights at night to admire the city lights like sparkling jewels on a velvet surface. (Side note, that neighborhood recently slipped away in a landslide.) Away from the city lights, you could still enjoy the night sky. At a barbeque with co-workers from a large metropolitan area, people stood for hours that night, necks craned, stargazing with awe. “You can’t see the stars back home,” they told me. One person’s reasoning was not the light pollution, but the elevation. “Home is at sea level. Here, we’re on a mountain. We’re closer to the stars here.” The stories people tell themselves to stay in the dark over light pollution. Ironic, isn’t it?
Eklöf’s book is available at Trail’s End Bookstore. If it is not on the shelf, you can order it on their website, www.trailsendbookstore.com.