As astronomers, citizens of this Earth, there is no more challenging or critical issue facing us than access to dark skies. DarkSky advocates represent the single best way to protect and enhance our knowledge base of the universe while simultaneously protecting the environment.
That is a strong statement; but I don’t know a better way to open my case as a DarkSky grassroots advocate (my term). The aim in this piece is to echo the International DarkSky Association call to arms, AKA, the New DarkSky Strategic Plan. I want everyone to realize that one person can make a difference. Sometimes it is just baby steps, but they all count.
Before I go any further, I implore all of you to support DarkSky International by subscribing to their magazine Nightscape…and then reading it! Especially whenever a light pollution-centered presentation is made at HAS meetings, pay attention!! Those presenters provide us with useful information which invariably has local and global impact.
Let me emphasize…I am nowhere near an expert when it comes to light pollution. In my mind, that is exactly why I should be writing this. Too often the attitude, “I am just one person, what can I do? I don’t have the time or the knowledge to get involved”, takes over the mind. And, dare I say it, puts butterflies in our bellies.
Well, guess what, y’all, as with any challenging endeavor, such as starting an exercise program (bleah!) or a diet (ugh!), the hardest part is taking the first step.
It is obvious that our night sky is under substantial attack. Although there are many victories, we are still losing ground. Our kids are losing. Our grandkids are losing. That is largely because the DarkSky advocates are too often lone voices in the wilderness. Our clan of astronomers, from beginners to genuine experts, can all contribute to an effort where loud, persistent voices are needed.
Voices matter. Organization matters. Money matters. Dedication matters. Just think of the crackpots out there who have a platform for the most idiotic of notions, that somehow gain traction, simply because they make a lot of noise and are well-funded by folks who want to use them to make money for themselves. Earth be damned.
Astronomers are not idiots. But many of us are complacent or lack passion. Science at every level supports our positions regarding the ecological dangers of light pollution. Dark/Sky needs more associates who are willing to provide funding and make a lot of noise (educational presentations, not riots please). To be clear, I advocate at city council meetings by getting on the agenda; HOA meetings, again, by getting on the agenda; and with one-on-one discussions with the politically powerful.
Politically powerful? YES. YES. YES. Locally, they control the purse strings and influence opinions.
Grassroots involvement is an integral part of the solution.
For my part, when my wife and I moved towards Houston 7+ years ago, we settled in beautiful, downtown Fulshear, Texas (that’s a joke), to be near our grandkids (decidedly not a joke). Very quickly, I noticed I could see the Milky Way from my son’s driveway…something I had not experienced in years. His subdivision does not allow ANY outside electric lights that could be in any way obtrusive. Outside lights MUST be natural gas. There are no streetlights…period.
From that realization, it was not a giant leap back into astronomy, something I had embraced as a teenager, but from which I had fallen away. Then, I joined H.A.S.
Let’s talk about opportunities…which brings us to the definition of luck. What is? IMO, luck is the natural intersection of opportunity and preparation.
First among several of my baby step forays into light issues came out of the blue at a HAS outreach at a local Houston school. At the end of the show, as we were packing up, I noticed an individual walking on a sidewalk about 40 feet from my location where I was set up in a sports practice field. That sidewalk was illuminated by a very bright and obnoxious LED security white light whose output had been messing with me and my customers for hours.
As this individual passed in front of the light, she literally disappeared to my eyes in the glare, only to emerge from the other side, plain as day. Opportunity. I knew I had seen something important; I just didn’t know what. (Preparation, however meagre) I hollered out to our outreach team members to come see the “Disappearing Pedestrian” as the event has since been dubbed. Help arrived in the form of Steve and Amelia Goldberg and Debbie Moran, who had just finished packing their outreach gear, and were looking forward to Dairy Queen treats (probably a strawberry thing-a-ma-bob full of smiles and calories).
Steve arrived first with wife Amelia; I asked her to walk down the sidewalk and through the light dome with the rest of us watching from about 40 feet distant; she disappeared as expected; Steve immediately had her do a repeat performance while he recorded the event on his phone, and the rest is history. That little, short clip is now routinely used by DarkSky advocates in videos to effectively illustrate the negative effects of too much “security” light. The opportunity for an object lesson fell into our laps and the team made the most of it.
As Fulshear began to grow, so did my concern with the loss of the night skies around my new home. About three years ago, I went on the offensive. I found one of my Fulshear city council members, and some members on the City Planning Council, who shared my concern. We got our heads together. Then I prepared a presentation for the full city council to sway them from allowing exterior roadside LED signage. I did some research and received help and plenty of guidance, again, from Debbie, Steve and Amelia.
Debbie and the Goldbergs are fountains of knowledge in many areas, the dangers of light pollution and solutions to, being high on their lists. Every time help was needed, a quick email describing my dilemma or lack of knowledge, and they jumped in to provide some much-needed direction. They had the knowledge; I had the big mouth.
An article was provided describing the position of the American Medical Association condemning many types of LED lights as dangers to our eyes. Then I found about a dozen international studies describing the damage LED lights have on humans and wildlife. I referenced all the 12 studies I found, but picked one report from Tel Aviv, Israel, that ended up as the basis for my presentation.
The upshot is that three council members moved from “yea” to “nay”. “No LED signage” became the law of the land. As one drives from Katy to Fulshear, the difference is astonishing.
Flush with this success, I moved on to larger targets. I have been blessed to be a director of the Cross Creek Ranch Community Association (CCRCA) for about 6 years. When completed, Cross Creek Ranch and Cross Creek West (I am a director for both) will contain about 7,000 homes, several schools, beaucoup outdoor venues for both sports and social functions, and thirty-five to fifty thousand residents.
This project I undertook was to get the venue outdoor lighting under control. Typically, 5,000K pole lights were in use or planned for various fields and facilities. By meeting with the architects and the CCRCA Board, I was able to convince them that for sports fields, 4,000K, shielded, with motion detectors and timers, was the way to go. The pickleball and tennis players, swimmers and soccer players could see what they were doing and the rest of us could enjoy the night. Unfortunately, so far, the KISD and LISD school systems have not signed on with their football fields… Lord knows it is tough to fight Friday Night Football and CenterPoint Energy both… but we are getting the lights on timers.
At the CCRCA sports complexes, they even agreed to go back and replace the existing 5,000K lights with the less invasive lights I suggested.
At the social complexes, the outdoor areas are lighted with low-wattage “shepherd’s lights” which are fully shielded, on timers and have on-off switches. Why the on-off switches? I want to have outreach programs for our 30,000 residents, and for that, we need it dark as possible.
These are small victories, but they all add up.
Not all my efforts have borne fruit… yet. Many of us are still doing battle with CenterPoint Energy and their intrusive 5000K LED street lights…. a formidable opponent.
The bottom line, I am just one person with limited knowledge but great support and a little passion, who has been somewhat successful limiting light intrusion in my immediate environment.
Light pollution is a global problem. And everyone needs to jump on the band wagon…now!
Please pay attention and see if this is something you need to support. (Hint: it is!)
The DarkSky Plan
VISION. Natural darkness at night is protected worldwide as essential for people and nature.
MISSION: To restore the nighttime environment and protect communities and wildlife from light pollution.
VALUES: Passionate. Inclusive. Collaborative. Informed. Inspired. Global.
DARKSKY POLICY: Activate advocates to lead movement-building DarkSky policies.
DARKSKY APPROVED: Promote DarkSky best practices through the expansion of certification programs.
DARKSKY COLLABORATION: Integrate DarkSky principles and approaches into global conservation themes.
I am adding: Don’t ignore approaching and enlisting garden clubs, Audubon Clubs, and other conservancy clubs and organizations.
Lofty goals to be sure. Remember, the greatest efforts start with baby steps, perhaps in your own back yard. Find out how you can get involved. Then do it.