Monday, December 29, 2008

Preventing Light Trespass

1. Light only what needs lighting. This sounds simple, but is typically overlooked. Ask yourself, does this even require lighting? Sometimes a good, old-fashioned flashlight will serve the purpose for a short trip outside.

2. Light only when you need it to be lit. Ok, so you’ve determined that it really requires light. Does it need to be lit at all times? If you only go out to your shed once a week does it really need to be lit dusk to dawn each and every night? Or, again, would a flashlight suit?

3. Use only as much light as is required. Don’t always install the highest available wattage. If you’re not performing surgery on your patio, there’s no need for operating room illumination levels.

4. Use only full cutoff light fixtures. Full cutoff fixtures shine light down onto the ground and prevent light from shining thoughtlessly across property lines or wastefully up into the night sky. With the light shining downward only where it is needed, you can use a lower-wattage bulbs because now 100% of your light is directed where it is needed instead of 50% escaping to the sides and upwards where it is not needed.

5. Shield your existing fixture. If you’re not quite ready to install new, full cutoff fixtures, light shades are available for many fixtures that will convert them into night sky friendly fixtures for a minimal cost.

6. Install motion sensors. These will turn your lights on automatically whenever there is activity outside your home or business. This typically reduces your use of electricity for lighting upwards of 90%, easily paying for the cost of the sensor and its installation. This again is a case of only using your lights when you need them.

7. Install reflectors. Many times, reflectors can be used to outline a driveway instead of putting in a string of lights. These are cheaper to purchase, cheaper to run, and are unaffected by power outages.

8. Get used to the dark. Our eyes are quite good at seeing at night. If you need to take the trash out at night, do you really need to turn your outdoor lights on? Chances are quite good that you’ll be able to find the trash can and make your way “all the way” to the curb. You’re also much more likely to enjoy the beauty of the night sky if you’re not blinded by area lights. Still require a little assistance, try a flashlight.

9. Educate your friends, neighbors and elected officials about light pollution. With just a little bit of thought and effort, this is one environmental pollution that can be cleaned up without any lasting side effects.

10. Harness your spending power -- stay at hotels that conserve energy. Eco-tourism is a booming industry. Stay at hotels, inns and resorts that tread lightly on the earth through energy-conservation measures that enforce strict lights-out or light-blocking measures in bird-migration paths, sea turtle-nesting areas, and other particularly light-sensitive wildlife areas.

11. When camping and cottaging, keep exterior lights off as much as possible as they can interfere with the body clocks of nocturnal creatures like salamanders, giving them fewer hours to scavenge for food. And keep interior light indoors with blackout curtains.

Now that we’ve looked at things we can do in our own homes to help reduce light trespass, what can we do about light trespass that our city creates. How can we help there?

1. Turn the lights off at work. Lights left on in office buildings is one of the greatest wastes of electricity while also causing immense collateral damage to our feathered friends. Collisions with man-made structures are the number one cause of death among migrating birds -- many of which are already facing extinction from habitat loss. Ask your office building's management to turn off the lights during bird migration season in the spring and fall. Visit the website of the Fatal Lights Awareness Program, a Toronto organization that has successfully lobbied to get Toronto's financial core darkened during migration season, for info on its Bird-Friendly Building campaign. If you're working late and the light switch controls only the entire floor, close everyone's blinds or doors -- or, if you don't mind, just use a simple desk lamp. Or work from home. (Or, best option yet, call it a night and be tomorrow's early bird instead.)

2. Boycott clutterbugs. "Lighting clutter" refers to the excessive grouping of lighting, especially illuminated billboards and overly lit-up commercial establishments. You can tell companies why you don't agree with what they're doing (detracting from highway safety, in many locations, cluttering the landscape, and wasting energy -- in all cases), and inform them you're patronizing more eco-friendly competitors until they wise up. Will they care? If you get your friends, family and local environmental organizations involved in the letter-writing campaign, they will. And if all of you start writing to local newspapers and raising awareness of the issue, doubly so.

3, Get involved in municipal politics. Write, e-mail or phone your local councillor, as well as the mayor's office, to talk about city lighting. Suggest ways to reduce lighting consumption in municipal buildings (cooling it with the dramatic -- yet wasteful -- uplighting on building facades and off roofs is one easy way). And lobby for high-efficiency, lower-energy, flat-lens streetlight fixtures. Not only do they produce less greenhouse gases, they reduce glare, increasing driver, cyclist and pedestrian safety. Is your city likely to overhaul its lights overnight? No, but keep plugging away. Eventually, every street-lighting system needs upgrading, and cash-strapped municipalities will look for cost-saving and eco-friendly options. Ask your municipal politicians to visit the City of Calgary's website for info on the Envirosmart streetlights the city installed a few years ago, which have saved an estimated $2 million a year in energy costs.

4. Lobby for a lights-out. The 20,000 lights on Paris's Eiffel Tower were turned off for five minutes earlier in February 2007, in a symbolic gesture aiming to raise awareness about energy consumption and global warming. Start a letter-writing campaign to get your local landmark to follow suit -- perhaps on Earth Day/Night. Also, ask local sports arenas and stadiums to turn off lights when games aren't playing.

Sites to visit:

Starry Nights:

Night Lighting Product Information Program:

International Dark-Sky Association:

Fatal Lights Awareness Program:

City of Calgary EnviroSmart:

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