December 20, 2016 | Liz Austin

While light pollution has become a fact of life for urban dwellers, cities must take action to reduce its unsavory environmental effects.

In the face of rising tides, destructive hurricanes, and violent earthquakes, light pollution may not seem the most pressing of our environmental concerns — yet its adverse effects on human and animal populations cannot be ignored.

Most light pollution can be traced to large cities or clusters of residences, which put off a heavy, thick glow at night. From street lamps to light emitted from private residences, the causes of this pollution are also considered necessary to facilitate modern human activity.

Luckily, scientists have proposed a breadth of attainable solutions to this problem that won’t hinder our everyday lives. Light pollution, along with its entire host of troublesome side effects, can be easily remedied with proper education and a few simple action points for individuals and municipalities alike.

How Bad Are the Effects of Light Pollution, Really?

The most visible (or perhaps more accurately, invisible) ill effect of light pollution? It blocks our views of the night sky. It’s estimated that nearly 80% of North Americans and 60% of Europeans are unable to see the Milky Way galaxy at night. But the problem extends far, far beyond just our inability to see the stars. Light pollution has also been linked to poor health, causing disrupted circadian rhythms, which in turn lead to not only insomnia and depression, but also cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

Light pollution doesn’t just affect people; animal populations feel the effects, too. After hatching, baby sea turtles are naturally drawn to the lowest light on the horizon — which under normal circumstances, should be the moon reflecting on the ocean water — after they hatch; following this light leads them to the safety of the ocean’s depths. Light pollution on beaches, however, can disorient the turtles, causing them to head toward boardwalks and other exposed areas, where they’re prone to both human and animal predators.

Migrating birds can become similarly disoriented by man-made light sources. Attracted by bright lights and reflective surfaces at night, they can become stuck in a directional loop, never getting to their intended destination, instead constantly flying until they die from exhaustion. Equally disturbing, the birds may simply crash into the reflective surface or light, with up to 1 billion birds crashing into buildings in North America each year.

How Can Light Pollution Be Stopped?

As an individual, small changes to your daily routine can play a significant role in reducing your light footprint. A few ideas: turn off all but the essential lights both inside and outside your home at night, and aim outdoor lighting toward the ground rather than the sky.

Well-planned, thoughtful urban development policies can further cut down on light pollution. Just like at private residences, industrial or commercial buildings’ exterior lighting should be channeled downward, preventing light from escaping to the sky. Other ways to reduce harsh light emissions: a switch from blue-white lighting to a warm-white lighting option, as well as the installation of motion-activated lights in areas that receive low foot traffic. Some cities are even developing policies to enforce a light curfew, with citywide mandates for all artificial lights on office buildings and storefronts to be turned off between 1am and 7am.

Green Street is dedicated to building sustainable and efficient developments in St. Louis that reduce all types of pollution and waste, including light pollution. With innovative solutions and aesthetically pleasing results, the company has been awarded the highest LEED certification ratings for its buildings in St. Louis.

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