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“Even as a child, she had preferred night to day, had enjoyed sitting out in the yard after sunset, under the star-speckled sky listening to frogs and crickets. Darkness soothed. It softened the sharp edges of the world, toned down the too-harsh colors. With the coming of twilight, the sky seemed to recede; the universe expanded. The night was bigger than the day, and in its realm, life seemed to have more possibilities.”
― Dean Koontz, Midnight
In June 2016, it was estimated that one-third of the world’s population could no longer see the Milky Way, including 80% of Americans and 60% of Europeans.
Let that just sink in a moment.
If the words weren’t powerful enough, here are 2 images of the Earth at night. One was taken in 1994, the other in 2012.
The consequences of Light Pollution are for more than not being able to see the Milky Way at night- Effects on human health, migratory birds, ecosystems and energy waste are just a few.
The International Dark Sky Association or IDA works to “protect the night skies for present and future generations.” Founded in 1988 they are “dedicated to protecting the night skies for present and future generations.”
One of the features of the website is this approx. 6 minute video called “Losing the Dark” and was created to raise awareness of the effects of light pollution and what actions you can take to mitigate it.
Here is some of IDA’s work, as listed on their website:
International Dark Sky Places »
Our award-winning flagship conservation program recognizes and promotes excellent stewardship of the night sky. We’ve certified more than 65 Dark Sky Places worldwide across six continents, comprising more than 58,000 square km (21,200 square miles).
Fixture Seal of Approval »
Our FSA program certifies outdoor lighting fixtures that minimize glare, reduce light trespass and protect the night sky. Thousands of products and more than one hundred manufacturers have already been approved under the FSA program.
Parks and Protected Areas »
We help parks, nature reserves and similar sites with lighting management plans and provide eco-friendly lighting options for free or at substantially discounted prices.
Education and Outreach »
We educate communities and public officials about light pollution and provide solutions and resources through our public outreach programs and 50-plus chapters on five continents.
Sea Turtle Conservation »
Currently, we are working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to protect endangered sea turtles in the Florida Panhandle. We are also in the process of creating a sea turtle friendly product certification program.
Public Policy »
Working with public officials and concerned citizens, we advocate for smart lighting laws and policies and provide recommendations and model lighting legislation.
Consulting Projects »
We consult with government entities and private businesses to conduct night sky brightness monitoring, lighting surveys and retrofits, sea turtle friendly lighting and lighting ordinance drafting and adoption.
IDA Awards and Recognition Program »
Our annual awards program recognizes the outstanding contributions of our members, volunteers and like-minded organizations in dark sky protection and light pollution mitigation.
If you have some time, please visit their website and learn more about IDA and what you can do to stop light pollution and raise awareness of this issue. Having always lived in or near big cities, I’ve always been routinely aware of light pollution. I knew if I wanted to see a sky full of stars or view a meteor shower, I’d need to go “out to the country”. It was something I just accepted, never giving it anymore thought. Up until a couple of days ago, I was totally unaware of the consequences of light pollution. I was just upset that I couldn’t see the Milky Way. I felt obligated to write this post.
Hopefully this has raised your awareness and inspires you to share this with others as well. The effects of light pollution are reversable, awareness is key. I want to thank the IDA for all they do, it’s comforting to know we have “Guardians of the Night Sky”.
Previously on Photography Zen-
Yesterday, as you may recall, our hero (that would be me), began his quest to photograph the night sky. Gathering the proper equipment, his journey of a 1000 steps ended after about 8. Thwarted not only by the rain, but the realization that living in the city, a dark sky would be difficult if not impossible to find. The Quest for the Milky Way begins.
The night is even more richly coloured than the day… . If only one pays attention to it, one sees that certain stars are citron yellow, while others have a pink glow or a green, blue and forget-me-not brilliance. And without my expiating on this theme, it should be clear that putting little white dots on a blue-black surface is not enough.
— Vincent van Gogh, letter to sister, September 1888.
Drying myself off, I felt a little dismayed. My quest to photograph the night sky was proving to be more challenging than I originally anticipated. Having the proper equipment was only part of the equation, finding a location was a little more problematic. It had been a while since I’ve seen the Milky Way. Living in the city, only the brightest of stars make their appearance. I need total darkness. I need to be able to look up at the heavens and be overwhelmed. Armed with a keyboard, mouse and favorite glass of wine, I began my search.
It wasn’t long before I discovered the International Dark-Sky Association, or the IDA at darksky.org.
From their website:
IDA works to protect the night skies for present and future generations.
Advocate for the protection of the night sky
Educate the public and policymakers about night sky conservation
Promote environmentally responsible outdoor lighting
Empower the public with the tools and resources to help bring back the night
Not only did I find exactly what I was looking for, I believe I found a new cause that I can stand behind and support. I don’t want the importance of this organization to get lost within the context of this article so I will dedicate it to it’s own daily page which I will post tomorrow. Today I’d like to focus attention specifically to the International Dark Sky Places program started by the IDA in 2001. Their goal is “to encourage communities around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting polices and public education.”
The Dark Sky Places program offers five types of designations:
International Dark Sky Communities
Communities are legally organized cities and towns that adopt quality outdoor lighting ordinances and undertake efforts to educate residents about the importance of dark skies.
International Dark Sky Parks
Parks are publicly or privately owned spaces protected for natural conservation that implement good outdoor lighting and provide dark sky programs for visitors.
International Dark Sky Reserves
Reserves consist of a dark “core” zone surrounded by a populated periphery where policy controls are enacted to protect the darkness of the core.
International Dark Sky Sanctuaries
Sanctuaries are the most remote (and often darkest) places in the world whose conservation state is most fragile.
Dark Sky Developments of Distinction
Developments of Distinction recognize subdivisions, master planned communities, and unincorporated neighborhoods and townships whose planning actively promotes a more natural night sky but does not qualify them for the International Dark Sky Community designation.
Dark Sky Parks! Yes! I was finally onto something. With a couple of well placed mouse clicks I found myself on the ‘Search for a Find Dark Sky Place’ page. Using the search bar, I was able to instantly find Dark Sky Reserves, Sanctuaries , Parks and Communities around the World. As I held my breath, I typed ‘Texas’ in the search box and hit ‘enter’.
My query produced four Dark Sky Parks in the State of Texas, three within a 4 hour drive and one that is at least an 8 hour trek. As happy as I was that I finally found a place to photograph the night sky, I also found myself a little unsettled by the fact that in the entire State of Texas there are only four Dark Sky Parks, and dismayed at how few existed in the entire U.S.
I’ve decided that I will journey to Coppers Break State Park near the Panhandle of Texas. Having already made plans to visit nearby Palo Duro Canyon State Park just a few miles Northwest, I can incorporate a stop to Coppers Break. Sadly, my Astrophotography project is now on hold.
Although I am disappointed that I will not be shooting photos of the night sky in the near future, I’ve now become acutely aware of light pollution and its multiple effects on our environment. Have we become so accustomed to not seeing the night sky that we’ve never given it a second thought? How many kids now living in the city have never seen the Milky Way in the night sky? Will we one day lose our night sky where future generations will never see a black sky sparkling with a billion stars?
Food for thought.
I am not a hard-core environmentalist by any means. I do my best to recycle, I keep my car running clean, etc. This has been a very enlightening lesson for me and I hope you come away with a little more awareness yourself.
Tomorrow I will go against ‘all things photography’ tradition and write a bit about the International Dark Sky Association as a show of support.