Vincent Van Gogh saw a very different night sky than we do today, before we started pumping so much light into the atmosphere and washed it all out. And the craziest thing about it is, every single photon lost to the sky is pure waste, light that was made from electricity that is mostly made from coal, it is a visual picture night view of our planet's carbon footprint. It is as graphic an illustration as one can have of how bad design contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. But wait, there's more.
North of Toronto during the blackout of August, 2003, Todd Carlson
Peter Gorrie, Environmental reporter for the Star, notes that "the profusion of light is taking a great toll on us and the plants and animals with which we share the planet. Their concern has even sparked a new science – scotobiology. Although so far it's more about questions than answers, this budding branch of research argues a simple idea. For Greek speakers, the name offers a clue. Skoteinos translates roughly into "full of darkness."
In short, the theory is this: Plants and animals are programmed to function in a certain pattern of daylight and darkness. Alter it and unhealthy things happen. It applies equally to organisms that are active at night and those, including humans, whose bodies require regular periods with the lights out."
Light pollution disrupts how plants – crops or others – flower and go into dormancy. It interferes with animals' feeding and breeding. Disoriented birds crash into high-rise buildings that are kept lit after workers have gone home for the day.
Gorrie continues: For humans, it's first of all a safety issue, [Robert Dick of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada] says. People don't see well when light shines in their eyes. That problem gets worse as they age.
Stray light pouring into bedrooms can cause mental and physical problems, Dick says. "Our bodies didn't evolve to have light at night."
Without deep darkness, the brain doesn't know it's night and fails to turn on the mechanism that repairs the daily damage our bodies endure. Shift work apparently has the same impact: Studies of those who work graveyards suggest it might weaken the immune system or lead to diseases, particularly cancer, Dick says.
There are few examples as obvious as this about how careful design (can we not have better streetlights that aim all the light down?) minor behaviour modification (do we need all those lights on all the time, can we not just turn them off?) and yes, some intelligent regulation (thats why we have building codes) could make a big difference. And we would all sleep better too. ::The Star