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The Student News Site of Elkhart High School

The PENNANT Online

The Student News Site of Elkhart High School

The PENNANT Online

Light Pollution Isn’t A Light Matter



Light pollution isn’t a light matter.

I, like many others, absolutely adore the beauty of big cities. There’s something mystifying about the tall buildings reaching up into the night sky, their windows shining like stars. The bright signs, giant billboards, and street lights not just light up the way but also make the city look alive. There is a certain awe over the city of Chicago at nighttime–especially how the light of its skyscrapers reflect into the Chicago River. These lights were like the city’s heartbeat, showing its energy and excitement. 

But,while caught up in this beauty of urban architecture and attractions, something far more wonderous is missing in the night sky: stars. In the midst of all the artificial glow, night skies have turned practically pitch black, devoid of the celestial bodies that have inspired countless generations. It’s a strange trade-off—the very lights that make cities so magical also steal away the natural wonder of the starlit sky.

Diving into the statistics reveals a startling picture: A significant portion of the world’s population lives under skies so bright that the Milky Way is virtually invisible to them. According to recent studies, more than 80% of the world–and more than 99% of the U.S. and European populations–live under light-polluted skies. This means that the twinkling stars, once a universal spectacle, are now a rare sight reserved mostly for those in remote, rural areas far removed from the glow of city lights.

This widespread light pollution not only dims one’s view of the stars but also highlights a global issue that extends beyond mere sights and aesthetics. One of the most concerning effects of excessive artificial light is its impact on human health, specifically on sleep patterns. The blue light emitted by many outdoor LEDs and screens can significantly decrease the production of melatonin, a hormone crucial for regulating sleep. Lower levels of melatonin don’t just make it harder to fall asleep, they’re linked to various health problems, including depression, obesity, and even an increased risk of cancer. 

The consequences extend far beyond humans. Wildlife is profoundly affected by light pollution in ways that disrupt entire ecosystems. For example, many species of birds use the stars to navigate during their nocturnal migrations. Bright city lights can disorient them, leading to fatal collisions with buildings. Similarly, sea turtles hatching on beaches rely on the natural light horizon over the ocean to find their way to the water. Excessive artificial light can confuse them, drawing them toward dangerous urban areas instead of the sea. Even insects, which play essential roles in pollination and as part of the food web, are negatively impacted. Artificial lights attract and trap them, disrupting their life cycles and reducing their populations, which in turn affects the species that rely on them for food.

So, what can the world do to remedy these issues? While it isn’t possible for cities to become “undone” and plunge into absolute darkness, it’s crucial for cities and individuals alike to take steps towards reducing light pollution. One effective measure is adopting lighting that minimizes sky glow and glare. This includes using fully shielded fixtures that direct light downward, where it’s needed, rather than scattering it into the sky. Switching to warmer-colored LED lights, which have less impact on our circadian rhythms (the physical, mental, and behavioral changes experienced over a 24-hour cycle) and the environment, can also make a significant difference. On a larger scale, communities can implement “dark sky” initiatives, which aim to preserve and protect the night sky through responsible lighting policies and public education on light pollution. Moreover, individuals can contribute by being mindful of their own lighting use. Simple actions such as turning off unnecessary lights at night and using motion sensors or timers can reduce light spill into the environment. 

My wish is for the stars to remain a common sight in the night sky, not to become something as rare and distant as the Egyptian Pyramids, requiring one to travel across the world just for a glimpse. The night sky, filled with its infinite wonders, has been a constant source of inspiration, guidance, and beauty throughout human history. It’s a shared heritage that connects each generation with past generations and should be accessible to all, not just those living in or traveling to remote areas.

The thought of future generations looking up and seeing nothing but a dull glow fills me with a sense of loss for what they might never experience: the awe-inspiring beauty of a clear, starry night. By raising awareness and advocating for changes in local lighting ordinances, mankind can collectively work towards a future where nights are once again filled with stars, benefiting  their health, their ecosystems, and their connection to the universe.

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About the Contributor
Dania Razaq
Dania Razaq, Staff Writer
Hi! I'm Dania Razaq. Even though I am now a senior, this is my first year to be on The PENNANT staff. However, I love to use my communication skills to share information with my peers, so this is just a natural extension of that! One of my other passions is being a part of the Speech Team, which also provides me with a platform to connect with others about topics of importance. As you read my articles, I hope that you will share my enthusiasm!

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    ReonnaMar 22, 2024 at 11:01 am

    When you visit other states that have a higher elevation, you realize how much clearer the skies look at night. I completely agree with this article, but I do think some places are taking this initiative like how many malls use skylights and only using lights inside of individual stores. If some places that use motion sensed lights or warmer lights help the environment and ecosystem, then I think people should learn more about this!