Working toward legislation to curb light pollution in Illinois.

Illinois Coalition for Responsible Outdoor Lighting

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Ending Harmful Lighting Practices: A Summary

Wasted energy flows from from poor light fixtures like heat from an open window in winter.

Most of us can picture that if all the windows in our homes and commercial buildings were always left open, we would waste large amounts of energy during the heating and cooling seasons; closed windows obviously serve to keep the air which we have paid to heat or cool inside of our structures.

But we are not used to looking at lighting fixtures and stopping to think about how they also consume large amounts of energy, and that each one of them should be operated to illuminate a specific area, to the intensity needed for a specific purpose. Operating fixtures which send some light into a desired area, but also throw away some of their output where it is unneeded (or even harmful) is no less of an irresponsible waste of energy than it would be to leave all of our windows open throughout the winter, putting in bigger furnaces to make up for all of the unnecessary heat loss.

Engineering improvements already exist; lighting fixtures are available which efficiently and responsibly consume only the amount of energy needed to illuminate a given area without spilling light beyond that zone. New technologies continue to be developed to increase efficiencies even more. Still, most of our existing outdoor lighting, and, unfortunately, some of that which is continues to appear in new installations, is extremely inefficient and also potentially harmful to us and our environment.

Lack of public awareness of this issue is a major roadblock to making progress toward more responsible lighting practices. This is somewhat odd, considering that evidence of the problem is literally "staring us in the face"; a trip around any populated area at night will likely provide a multitude of examples of light mismanagement. Yet, we can drive past megawatts of glare, and pull our window shades to keep the brilliant stray light out of our bedrooms at night, and not have it dawn on us that there is something wrong.

Progressive laws put an end to dumping raw sewage into rivers.For hundreds (even thousands) of years, towns and cities dumped their raw sewage into streams and rivers. People were used to it; it was "just the way it is done"; somebody who set the system up was assumed to have known what they were doing; no obvious other technique for handling the waste came to mind. Still, it was often rather obvious that there was something wrong with the method (at least to the people in the next town downstream). When science started showing the ties between exposure to sewage and disease, some attitudes began to change, but not until the beginnings of the environmental movement of the mid 20th Century did the practice of dumping untreated sewage actually start to come to an end in the United States.

The movement for responsible outdoor lighting is currently in the same state which the movement for clean water was in sixty years ago. The problem is actually obvious, but we're used to it; it is "just the way it is done"; we assume that whoever sets things up knows what they're doing; we don't know that better techniques exist.

Poor lighting harms rather than helps.Our coalition's goal is to help advance progress in outdoor lighting practices. Just as research clearly defined the harmful effects of dumping raw sewage, research is now describing many groups of harmful effects which irresponsible lighting has on us and our environment. Just as technology provided methods for responsibly processing sewage, technological advance continues to provide us with more efficient lighting techniques. We hope to bring information on this scientific progress to wider audiences in both the public and political arenas, to help speed the progress toward a future when the energy waste and environmental damage caused by poor outdoor lighting has been ended.

But there is much progress which has to be made. More scientific engineering studies need to be done to determine what levels of lighting are needed to safely and efficiently conduct various sorts of activities at night ("more must be better" being unsupported by evidence, and simply too ignorant and wasteful an attitude to be used any longer as a guideline for lighting installation). Many architects and engineers who design and specify lighting installations need to learn to include environmental and energy concerns in their design plans. Lighting fixture manufacturers need to work at engineering better efficiency and light control, and stop making and marketing outdated, irresponsible fixtures. (In these last two professional fields, there are companies and individuals who are already excelling in changing lighting for the better; unfortunately there are also those who have no desire to even consider doing things differently than they were in the past, and who will throw up every roadblock which they can to progress.) Uniform standards need to be created for rating the efficiency of lighting fixtures, to make the comparison and specification processes easier (no such standards currently exist; the washing machine which you use for several hours a week is rated for energy efficiency by the federal government; the streetlight in front of your home, which operates all night, every night, was subjected to no such rating).

We are confident that in another sixty years, outdoor lighting in our nation (and hopefully in much of the world) will have advanced to the point where seeing glaring, wasteful lighting will be as obviously out of place as it would be today to stroll down by the river and see a large pipe spewing out raw sewage. Just the energy crisis alone will force us to eliminate the huge waste of electricity which currently happens night after night, but as more studies are completed, the list of other harmful effects of over-illumination will continue to grow, too. But since the problems are already obvious, and the solutions already available, we feel that the time to begin to earnestly act on this subject is now.

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