They say summer is over, and while my garden begs to differ, there’s no denying that sunsets are happening a whole lot sooner these days and the nights are getting suspiciously longer. Then again, night isn’t what it used to be, and that’s coming with all kinds of consequences we can blame on light pollution.
Light pollution happens when street and porch lights, signs, buildings, and other sources of evening illumination fail to direct all of their light to the ground and instead send some of it sideways and skyward to create an artificial glow over populated areas. It may seem like a not-so-serious forms of pollution that’s more annoying nuisance than noxious threat, but by creating a kind of artificial day when day should be done, light pollution is disrupting the life cycles of people and animals alike with surprisingly serious consequences.
Science has discovered that animals in light-polluted areas have trouble reproducing, are more vulnerable to predators, and experience difficulties foraging for food. Birds are especially affected. They frequently fly into lit buildings and experience disrupted migrations. 
Human beings feel light pollution’s effects, too. It lowers our production of melatonin, a crucial hormone, and disrupts our circadian rhythms, which can contribute to sleep disorders, depression, weight gain, decreased mental and motor skills, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. 
Then there’s this: Light sent aimlessly into the sky wastes tremendous amounts of energy, an estimated 17,400 gigawatt-hours a year to be more or less exact. That’s like burning 32 million barrels of oil or 9.1 million tons of coal  for no reason except to deny us all the incredible beauty of starlit skies.
Talk about a light bulb going off over our heads—light pollution is something we need to do something about. Here’s how we can help at home:
- The simplest thing is keep our exterior lights off when not in immediate use.
- Place motion sensors on any fixtures you feel you need for security.
- Use lower wattage bulbs or dimmers. When it comes to safety, 60 watts or even 40 will supply all the light you need.
- Shield your existing outdoor fixtures with a light shade. These cheap fixes go around the bulb inside and direct all its light downward. Light shields do the same thing but for the fixture itself.
- When buying new fixtures, choose “full cut-off” types that send their light downward only.
- Kill the landscape lights. Yards don’t need to be illuminated at night.
- Consider reflectors for walkways and driveways. When properly positioned, they’ll outline paths and edges simply by reflecting existing light sources.
- Use blackout blinds so light doesn’t leak from your windows.
- Ask your co-workers and building management to turn off lights in vacant spaces at night.
Together, we can darken the skies and enjoy healthier and more beautiful nights. To learn more visit the International Dark Sky Association. For light pollution prevention fixtures and tools, check out Starry Night Lights.
About the Inkslinger
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America’s most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds.