Sierran Masthead

Light Pollution Wastes Electricity, Damages Environment

by Kevin Fleming, Volunteer Director
Indiana Council on Outdoor Lighting Education

Imagine camping in woods that you and others worked hard to save. Twilight fades and you look up. Instead of 2,000 stars in a velvet sky you see a bright haze that engulfs the night. The forest you fought to protect lives under the foggy veil of light pollution.

Misdirected upward light brightens the sky and hides many stars, wasting coal-produced electricity. A typical mercury vapor "security" light burning all night annually requires electricity produced from about 800 pounds of coal. This coal releases about 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide. Nearly 40 percent of the light from this fixture scatters wastefully, invading neighbors' windows and beaming into the sky. About 640 pounds of carbon dioxide per fixture is created to produce this waste light. The International Dark-Sky Association estimates this effect costs $1.5 billion annually in wasted electricity and releases 12,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

Flora and fauna suffer from light pollution. The Indiana Department of Transportation has installed shielding on roadway lighting adjacent to farm fields after observing crop damage from constant light. Birds crash into office towers at night because of confusion created by lighting. Deciduous trees subjected to excessive light exhibit disruption of their cycles. Effective lighting shines down onto your field of view. An unshielded "security" light shining directly into your eyes actually diminishes your vision. Your security is not enhanced by light beamed into the sky or into your eyes. Perhaps that is why studies by the FBI and Justice Department and a University of Maryland report presented to Congress all found that the evidence does not support a finding that outdoor lighting reduces crime.

The Illuminating Engineering Society recommends that lighting be shielded, directed downward, and of moderate brightness. These ingredients, and control of light spillage onto other property, are contained in laws adopted in some areas. Such laws would also help protect Indiana's environment.


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Winter 1998-1999