…blog by David Smith, Buglife Social Change and Advocacy Officer
- Light pollution impacts nature, while also adding to carbon emissions and energy costs
- Simple solutions exist to provide sufficient artificial light while reducing impacts on nature
- Governments continue to ignore light pollution
Evidence concerning the impacts of light pollution continues to intensify. Buglife has raised awareness of light pollution’s role in insect declines and its wider impacts on nature for many years. But it is not just nature, human health, energy consumption and of course astronomy are all negatively influenced by light pollution.
New research shows that light pollution is getting rapidly worse, increasing by 10% every year. It confirms that governments’ feeble ‘measures’ to control light pollution are ineffective and it is now vital that urgent steps are taken to curb this trend in pollution.
In the UK, the ‘measures’ the Government say are in place for light pollution are widely not applicable, with most lighting falling outside the planning regime and nuisance laws full of exemptions and focused only on the impact on humans rather than the environment. Cases of nuisance laws being applied are also few and far between and there is no central record of where and when they are used. The Government seem happy to let light pollution spiral out of control and refuse to take it seriously.
The UK Government’s original 25-Year Environment Plan, published in 2018, promised to “ensure light pollution is managed effectively”. Since then, there has been no signal that progress has been made, and light pollution is absent from their target indicators to improve the natural environment in England.
The research, published in Science, also points to the impact horizontal lighting is having on light pollution. Most efforts to curb light pollution have focused on vertical light emissions, however, this does not limit the effects on invertebrates, or other wildlife living beneath lights. Now research is confirming it is not improving our ability to see the stars either.
The shift to LEDs is making our ability to detect light from satellites harder as they are blind to the wavelengths of light LEDs emit. Until we have satellites that can detect visible light in different wavelengths, citizen science studies such as the Globe at Night are needed to fully understand the impact artificial light is having.
Targets must be set to reduce light pollution levels to a point where the lowest impact on biodiversity is felt while still delivering safety and societal requirements. Solutions are straightforward, cost-effective and already exist, offering an easy win in environmental improvement. Shielding, timers, motion sensors and using warmer colour lights would make a significant improvement to the nocturnal environment. While eliminating unnecessary lights, such as advertising, and vanity lighting of buildings, and by simply turning off lights when not in use will save energy and in turn, money.
We can no longer accept wasted light as a given and must now collectively view it as a pollutant in the same way we scorn sewage in our rivers, plastic on our beaches and fumes from burning fossil fuels.
We call on governments to introduce environmental targets for light and treat it as a true pollutant in the same way as air and water pollution, to reduce harm to nature and restore a natural nocturnal environment.