Questions With: International Dark Sky Association, Part 1

Dark Sky lighting refers to outdoor fixtures and light plans that mitigate nighttime light pollution. We spoke with James Hanna, policy research intern at the International Dark Sky Association, about the group’s work promoting “Dark Sky” lighting and what that means for home owners.

Q: When was the International Dark Sky Association formed?

A: The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) was formed, and incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, in 1988 by Dr. David L. Crawford and his colleague Dr. Tim Hunter.

The IDA has since grown to become a multinational collaboration of doctors, researchers, scientists, advocates, members, and volunteers who have made it the instrumental association in the fight against light pollution and its detrimental effects on our world.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the association’s work and goals.

A: The IDA’s mission statement is “To preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting.” This may seem like a rather simple statement but it encompasses a vast range of programs.

The association promotes and organizes research, education, legislation, and products that seek to preserve and improve human, environmental, and scientific well being, all of which is negatively impacted by an excess of artificial light at night. Thus, the goal of the IDA is not to turn off the lights of the world, but to put them to better, more meaningful and less impactful use.

Q: What are some of the major impacts, for both nature and mankind, of light pollution?

A: Poor lighting at night can threaten the foraging, mating, and migratory behaviors of a multitude of species in all ecosystems by offsetting the delicate balance of night and day that all living things depend upon for survival and a healthy existence. For plants and animals of all sorts this may mean excess predation or a lack there of, habitat destruction, the inability to successfully reproduce, disruptions in migratory or growth patterns, and in some cases eventual extinction if some sort of intervention is not made.

Humans face a similar situation due to how our circadian rhythm (our biological clock that is evolutionarily set to a 24 hour cycle of light and dark) directly influences our mental and physical health. Disruptions in this rhythm, linked to excess light at a time when our bodies most need darkness for rest and recovery lead to chronic disorders and afflictions.

Furthermore, there is the detrimental impact light at night has on our astronomical and scientific observations as well as issues of safety related to excess glare on roads. All this, in addition to the 2.2 billion dollars and 14.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide expelled into the atmosphere annually due to the electricity wasted by excessive outdoor lighting. (Editor’s note 7-14-09: the above figures have been updated. See comment for more info.)

Q: Describe how your work tries to influence commercial and local government policy.

A: The IDA aims to influence both commercial and local government policy through its programs of light pollution research, education, and dark sky friendly product promotion. The association keeps up to date with all research on the field of light pollution and its effects, as well as sponsoring pioneering new studies.

It then presents these findings to commercial institutions as well as city, state, and national governments in the form of requests for change, proposed legislation, and ordinance applications.

All proposals and requests are closely monitored and continually negotiated to achieve the best possible outcome for all parties involved.

The IDA makes it a point to not only discuss any and all problems, but to also offer solutions by providing information about cost, energy, and environmental savings benefits. Information on where and how to obtain lighting products that meet the needs of both the institution and the environment is also made available. In addition there are examples of how to execute these proposed improvements.

Q: “Dark Sky ordinances” have been passed in municipalities; describe for us how those work and where they’ve been successful.

A: “Dark Sky ordinances” and acts of legislation can and have taken many different forms, and are usually based upon the primary reason a particular locale has decided to adopt them.

In the case of the state of California, the dark sky ordinances put in place there revolve primarily around the need to increase nighttime visibility on roadways by reducing glare from streetlights and advertising. This was achieved through the implementation of fully shielded and strategically located roadway and signage lighting.

In Florida though, the initial concern was the preservation of mating habits of endangered sea turtles. Thus that states ordinances revolve around reduction of nighttime lighting from all sources on and near beaches where hatchlings emerge. There are many more examples from cities, states, and countries available on our website, the International Dark-Sky Association.

Though the reasons for enacting dark sky regulations vary from place to place, in general the results are positive. Furthermore, the enacting of any dark sky regulation has a synergistic effect, paving the way for more and better lighting policies, and acting as an impetus for continued improvement of the quality of our nighttime environment.