Light pollution – or night pollution?

Times Square, New York – no place for stargazing

Image: Wicked Delicate Films


I was delighted to attend the European premiere of a remarkable film yesterday – The City Dark. The feature documentary is about light pollution and the disappearing night sky, following the quest of its writer and director, Ian Cheney, to find answers to the question, ‘what do we lose, when we lose the night?’

Ian, who grew up under dark skies in rural New England and made his own reflector to observe the stars, now lives in Brooklyn, New York. The ‘tent’ of light created by the skyglow from the city of eight million people around him was one of the reasons that prompted him to make the film.

The City Dark gives us a really wide range of views about why dark skies are important. We hear from an eclectic mix of amateur astronomers contending with light pollution in New York, professional astronomers who have had to flee the cities to islands like Hawaii, wildlife experts combating the impact of poor lighting on newborn turtles and migrating birds, and doctors researching the links between a lack of darkness and cancer. You can find out more about the film here, or watch the trailer below.

Amusing and informative, the film has a wonderful, down-to-earth feel. It made me wonder why we have allowed ourselves to become resigned to poorly designed lighting, a lot of which goes up into the night sky where it’s not needed, when it makes sense for so many reasons – not least among them financial – to fit well-designed, targeted lighting?

There was an interesting panel discussion after the film between environment lawyer Gwion Lewis, Ian Cheney, Bob Mizon of the Campaign for Dark Skies, Martin Morgan-Taylor from the International Dark-Sky Association, and David Elvin QC (left to right in the image, left). It raised the idea that poor lighting could be planned out of existence by being included in building regulations or controlled by the planning system, protecting dark skies in much the same way that road safety or water quality is safeguarded.

Bob Mizon also pointed out a vivid similarity – that light streaming up into the night sky is like a leaking water main. We wouldn’t stand for the latter, and we should be just as rigorous about the former.

The film’s director also pointed out that perhaps light pollution is the wrong phrase for the luminous fog of artificial light that our cities produce – maybe 'night pollution' is a better way of putting it.

Thanks to Landmark Chambers, environment and planning lawyers, for organising the event.

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