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Muskoka Light Pollution Solutions
Light Pollution. We have all heard the term many times before, partially because in recent months a plethora of information has been published on topics surrounding this issue. But what really is the problem?
Simply put, light pollution is the wasteful by-product of our society’s seemingly obsessive desire to light up every place and every thing we encounter at night. Light pollution is insidious, even in Muskoka. It creeps slowly into our communities, rural areas and even lakefront retreats with almost every renovation or new building project. It isn’t necessarily the result of people’s negligence but rather their lack of understanding. Once entrenched, light pollution begins extracting its toll on the natural environment, manifesting itself as a negative force on wildlife and reducing our ability to enjoy that which we all work so hard at achieving…a place of calm and serenity at our cottage.
Light pollution is most commonly experienced in the form of glare. Glare is caused by the direct exposure of our eye to an intense source of light. It is what we experience when turning a bend on the road and being met with the high beam headlights of an oncoming car. Glare is also what we experience when we see a plume of reflected light shining right across the surface of the lake, emanating from a simple coach light mounted on the front of a boathouse. Examples of glare can be found in everywhere, from the nightly burning of streetlights in suburban communities, to the numerous “wall pack” fixtures mounted on the sides of malls and warehouses. Glare is most troublesome as it can actually cause momentary blindness when our eyes try in vain to adjust to an extremely bright point of light amidst a background of relative darkness.
Another form of light pollution is light trespass. Light trespass is a term that is now widely used to describe the unwitting act of shining light from one person’s property onto another’s and is probably the most common lighting problem facing residential property owners. Many of us are guilty of causing light trespass without ever having given it any thought. Chances are, if you have a couple of flood lights hanging from the sofit of your cottage directed out into your yard or waterfront, you are causing a condition of light trespass onto your neighbours. Although a very common form of light pollution, light trespass is generally easily remedied. Just take a stroll at night in your yard and look at the effect your outdoor lighting is having on your neighbour’s property. Looking back at your property from their point of view is even more revealing. Once you have made note of any sources of light pollution take the steps necessary to abate it. Re-aim the fixtures, re-lamp the bulbs, install dimmers or even replace the fixtures with ones that are “full cut off”.
A final condition that causes light pollution is simply that of over illumination. Over illumination or over lighting is the result of not understanding the performance characteristics of any given light source. With the vast array of lighting technologies available in the marketplace today it is possible, with a little research, to pick a light bulb which will perfectly light up any given object while at the same time not contributing to light pollution. Amazingly enough, the human eye is capable of seeing a 25-watt light bulb shining at a distance of 10 miles! Keep this in mind the next time you go to the store to replace some burned out lamps. Not only will reducing the wattage of your light bulbs reduce light pollution levels but you will also save on electricity consumption and make your cottage look much more inviting.
So now that we understand what light pollution is what about it’s negative impacts? What are the problems?
Some of the most general issues are: That vast numbers of people living in and around urban centers are no longer able to view the stars. That more and more of our precious electrical generation capacity is being consumed in a wasteful manner, and that glare and light trespass detract from the natural and aesthetic beauty of our neighbourhoods and communities. On the ecological front, light pollution is being noticed because of its many harmful effects. From altering the habitat of insects and animals in our own backyard to completely changing migration and mating habits of entire species, light pollution is being identified by more and more studies to be a serious problem to the natural world.
Most recently, studies have been undertaken to examine the links between extended exposure to artificial light and human health. Some of the topics include studies into melatonin production, links to cancer, the effects of artificial light on stress loads and how human sleep patterns are affected by long periods of exposure to only near dark environments. Although the final results of these studies have not yet been completed, in many cases the outcomes look grim.
Over the next few weeks, take some time outside at night and look around. Take note of any sources of light pollution that exist on your property and take the steps necessary to reduce it. Not only will you find that your home or cottage suddenly looks more inviting but you will also have made a positive step towards improving the environment for your family, for wild life and all of those who surround you.
James Solecki is a lighting designer who owns and operates INTEGRA Works ~ Custom Lighting Solutions, specializing in dark sky friendly outdoor lighting systems & interior lighting design. If you have questions about lighting issues, contact him through INTEGRA’s website at www.integtralighting.com or at 705-385-3000.