How much do we rely on lights? If we want to see what we are doing, the answer is a lot. Even during the daytime we need lights in buildings (such as commonly used GU10 LED), warning lights, and so on. At night, we’d be lost without a means of lighting a house, so we can cook and eat in winter, read at night, or go to the bathroom. Do we consider how environmentally friendly our lighting is? We should, and we should be thinking about ways we can begin to reduce the burden we place on the Earth with traditional lighting sources.
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1. The Environmental Impact on Energy Production
The main environmental impact of lighting comes from the energy required to light something. Even the average home consumes vast amounts of energy just lighting rooms and that energy needs to come from somewhere. Lighting homes, businesses, streets, and even cars requires some kind of energy.
This energy tends to come from power stations which traditionally have relied upon the burning of fossil fuels such as coal. Any kind of burning in order to generate energy will pollute the environment. The main question is how much pollution should it cause. It is now possible to limit and reduce the environmental impact of lighting through using more efficient light bulbs such as LEDs. Are LEDs environmentally friendly? Yes, they consume one-tenth of the energy of an incandescent bulb and half that of a CFL bulb.
2. Light Pollution
Light pollution covers a wide range of problems (outlined below), but which can be summarised as the intrusion of unappealing or unnecessary light into areas which should be dark. For some these can be a matter of taste or could have serious effects on the ability to operate, sleep and to have a direct impact on wildlife.
The main types of light pollution are divided as such:
Light Trespass: This is when unwanted light enters a person’s property. For example, bright car lights shining through a window at night or a street lamp illuminating a house and garden. Light trespass has been linked to sleep deprivation. Imagine having a bunch of LED Strip Lights coming on at random times of the night in your bedroom - easy to understand how hard it would be to stay asleep at night! Or, at a smaller inconvenience, trying to watch movies with your children on a Friday night while cars kept shining their lights in your living room window. A not so common thought of light pollution!
Over-Illumination: Excessive use of light, for example when used to light up an important building such as a town hall, museum or castle at night.
Glare: Whereby light from one source reduces visibility and reduces contrast, for example lights in the fog or car lights blinding cyclists.
Light Clutter: Lights being grouped together in such a way it causes distraction and a lack of concentration in people navigating an area. Particularly related to neon and strip lighting such as seen in the Last Vegs Strip.
Skyglow: Where there are so many lights in a built up area that it makes the night seem lighter and reduces visibility of the night sky, making stars and constellations dimmer or invisible.
Light Pollution’s Effect on Ecosystems
Some environmentalists such as research scientist Christopher Kyba believe that the creation of artificial light has been mankind’s greatest impact on the environment. Others may believe that the industrial revolution or animal husbandry and farming, had larger impacts, but it is true to say that light pollution has complicated ecosystems. It has done this by turning night into day in many areas; especially near large urban centres where large populations are centralised into a small geographical area.
Sometimes life can get busy and we forget to turn out the lights at home, but doing a quick sweep before leaving for dinner or heading to bed to make sure that the kitchen and bathroom lights are off not only helps reduce light pollution but also cuts back on your power bill as well.
One example of how this has changed ecosystems is the prey vs preyed relationship. Traditionally, hunting animals used light to hunt and the preyed used the cover of darkness to go about their business in relative safety. The introduction of artificial light has made cloudy skies and night skies thousands of times brighter than before. Light pollution has been linked to disrupted frog mating rituals, misleading hatchling baby sea turtles away from the sea, and cause issues with birds which use moonlight to navigate at night.
3. Cutting Down Our Impact
There are three main ways to cut down on the environmental impact of our lighting. These are to use less unnatural lighting, to use more energy efficient light forms, and to power lighting using green energy. There is cause to suggest that all of these forms should be used in combination just as understanding everything within an ecosystem is interconnected. Based on the above information, it should be possible to:
- Stop illuminating buildings except on special occasions
- Ban neon or electronic street lighting after certain hours
- Limit street lighting during most of the night when people should be asleep
- Improve access to energy efficient lighting such as LEDs especially on all public buildings and street lights
- Increase environmentally friendly energy sources
- Remember to turn out the lights at work! Most offices haven't been converted to environmentally LED panels yet and are still using fluorescent bulbs, consuming lots of energy while left on at night.
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