Rajesh, a TreeHugger reader, asks "why people in the US are not taught to turn off the lights when they leave the room. This is especially evident in all the businesses (offices and stores) across the country that have most of the lights (computers and other electric appliances) turned on, even at night". Good question. For many of us it's the 'cobwebs in the corner' syndrome. Once ignored, the webs become invisible until a visitor points them out, or, in a lucid moment, they intrude through the web pages we have set our gaze upon. Like perennial Teenagers, we aquired the lights-on habit during a time of dirt cheap electric bills, when climate change shown only on the brows of a few eccentric scientists -- and we continue walking away Zombie-like from the consequences. America's public spaces and commercial centers are purposely lit all night: rationalized as a weapon in the "war on crime", but showing, really, a rigid child-like fear of darkness. "For every X number of parking lots, said building shall have Y number of lighting standards..." Office towers with unrented spaces are kept lit through the night as an advertisement of availability. In stores tracked by immigrant janitors, there are a million silent shelves lit long after passage of their vacuums. Cobwebs of fear clog our zoning codes, architectural and civil engineering guilds, and our local officials who remain convinced, with no weighing of alternatives and no evidence of effect, that crime can be detered with mere light. We are deer in our own headlights, creating a climate future capable of putting our lights out for good. Rajesh's question suggests that our relationship with darkness must be changed, not only through technology and by increased reliance on renewable energy, but by altering our expectations of public spaces and the laws which shape their design. These changes are predetermined. They will come with escalating cost of electricity, and be brought to us by critical thinkers. Thanks Rajesh for your lucidity.
==== UPDATE #1 =====
Apparently many readers of this post did not appreciate that it was written in response to a question by a US citizen about the US. We never meant to imply that what isn't okay in the US is okay elsewhere. In response to a flood of comments, here is a similar view of much of the rest of the globe. Obviously the metaphor we intended by posting the US image applies to most developed areas.
Additionally, several readers have been kind enough to point out lack of image attribution: UN staff members put these together as composite images using US satellite imagery.
We are sure that similar things are going on elsewhere, and if you want to share your experience in your country with us, feel free to do so in the comments.
Finally this. Nowhere in the original post did we suggest, nor do we now infer, that people should do without adequate lighting. Safe, attractive, more efficient, productivity enhancing, and more affordable means of lighting and working are readily available. Many of these are discussed in the TreeHugger archive under "lighting". We hope that other nations, businesses, and citizens will examine these possibilties and even invent their own solutions, which they might share with citizens of the US.