Tonight between 8:30 and 9:30 people around the world are turning off their lights to try to raise awareness about climate change. It’s also an opportunity to think about those lights.
Tonight’s dark-out is called Earth Hour. The movement began in Sydney, Australia, in 2007 when 2 million households and businesses shut out the lights to send a message about overuse of fossil fuels. The gesture grew into this year’s global effort.
Meanwhile the International Dark Sky Association estimates that two out of three people in the United States cannot see the Milky Way because skies have become obscured by light pollution.
In the Adirondacks, astronomers are raising funds to build an Adirondack Public Observatory for stargazing in Tupper Lake. That’s one reason village planners there are encouraging “good neighbor lighting” that doesn’t stray upward or across property lines. The municipal electric department has also been installing more efficient streetlights for several years.
“We are installing full-cutoff lighting throughout the village to help put the light down on the ground instead of out and around,” said John Bouck, electric superintendent. “Our results have been good. We’re continuing on with the process. There are expenses involved so we’re doing it over a three- to five-year period.”
“An added benefit of this type of light fixture is that there is less sky glow that most people are used to seeing as they approach a community,” added Marc Staves, chief lineman as well as president of the proposed observatory. “In fact it’s about 40 to 50 percent less as compared to areas that do not use this type of lighting.”
Tupper is experimenting with photocell lights that turn themselves off halfway through the night when very few people are awake. If they test well, the lights will be installed on every other pole in selected areas, Staves said.
The observatory was originally planned adjacent to the Wild Center, but there was too much glow from the nearby headquarters of Sunmount Developmental Disabilities Services Office, a state agency. So the observatory site was moved to the darkness on another edge of town. But light pollution is a curable problem, as Tupper Lake has figured out. Community awareness there continues to grow, household by household.