'Access to the night sky should be a human right': How 'light trespass' is harming rural areas

'Access to the night sky should be a human right': How 'light trespass' is harming rural areas
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A New York columnist is illuminating a growing problem that is plaguing rural areas across the United States and other parts of the world. According to Andrea Stanley, light pollution is becoming more prevalent. Briefly sharing her own experience, Stanley voiced her concerns about the negative impacts of artificial light.

"So deep was my desire to connect to the outside, to the night skies, that when the cost of construction threatened to go over my budget, I cut out air conditioning instead of a chance at a view," Stanley wrote in Friday's New York Times. "Since then, I’ve never even thought about curtains. Why would I? The dark skies were a salve."

According to Stanley, the phenomenon has an official title. "More than being a thorn, there is a name for this: light trespass. It is a term to describe a form of light pollution where illumination — from a neighbor or a business or street lighting — spills onto one’s property in a way that creates a disturbance."

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Stanley conceded that while "light trespass" is not a household phrase, it is a common problem.

"In the course of reporting this story, I heard from upstate friends dealing with similar circumstances: a streetlamp erected on an otherwise pitch-black country road, a security light shining through the woods like an alien tractor beam into the person’s windows," she wrote.

Alluding to the results of a past study, Stanley noted how the issue is evolving. "According to a 2016 study published in the journal Science Advances, 83 percent of the world’s population lives under light-polluted skies, with one-third of humans unable to see the Milky Way at all," she said. "Later findings, in the same journal, noted that the amount of light-touched land increases by roughly two percent every year."

Speaking to Stanley, Ashley Wilson, the director of conservation for the light pollution advocacy organization International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), also shed light on the deteriorating nighttime conditions.

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“Light pollution is absolutely growing,” Wilson said. “Not even just our use of light, but the excessive use of it. There was a report published earlier this year by the Department of Energy which stated that 99 percent of the light that we emit has no clear purpose. It boggles my mind. My analogy is with water. You would never want to leave your sprinklers on all night in the hope it is going to water a specific plant in a pot. Why are we doing the same with our light?”

Andrea Bonisoli Alquati, an assistant professor of biological sciences at California State Polytechnic University Pomona, also explained how the pandemic contributed to the influx of individuals moving to rural areas. “Up to one in five genes became activated with a daily or circadian rhythm, with hundreds directly involved in its control,” Alquati said. “If the signals — natural light and darkness — that tie those rhythms together is deregulated, it is potentially affecting many other functions in our bodies.”

While there are options for humans, animals and insects don't have the same luxuries, Bettymaya Foott, the IDA director of engagement, pointed out.

“You can install blackout curtains, but birds can’t, insects can’t, people facing homelessness can’t,” Foott said, adding, “You have a right for your property to be lit in the way you want it to. Access to the night sky should be a human right.”

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