Light pollution obscures more than the Milky Way. Human-produced light pollution disrupts ecosystems, affects human circadian rhythms causing health risks, and wastes energy to the tune of $2.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone.
Bob Parks is the Executive Director of the International Dark-Sky Association, a worldwide organization with a mission to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting.
Light pollution is growing at a rate of four percent annually—faster than the population due to urban sprawl and degradation of natural habitats. As developing countries embrace the use of electric light, the problem promises to only get worse. The lost view of the stars extinguishes a connection with the natural world and blinds us to one of the most splendid wonders of the universe. Children who grow up without the experience of a starry night miss invaluable opportunities to speculate about larger questions of and learn about a greater world.
But, the effects are more than philosophical and cultural. A growing body of evidence links the brightening night sky directly to measurable negative impacts on human health and immune function, on adverse behavioral in insect and animal populations, and on a decrease of both ambient quality and safety in the nighttime environment.
In humans, Parks explains that light interference with our 24-hour day/night cycle (circadian rhythm) causes a disruption that can result in insomnia, depression, cancer and cardiovascular disease. The National Institution of Health sleep deprivation leads to a decrease in cognitive and motor skills. The American Medical Association, with IDA assistance, passed a resolution to support light pollution reduction and limitations on glare.
In nature, artificial night lighting harms species directly by triggering unnatural periods of attraction or repulsion that lead to imbalance in reproductive cycles, fixation or disorientation, and interference with feeding and predation. Light pollution has been shown to disorient migratory birds and hatchling turtles, disrupt mating of fireflies and frogs, and cause miscommunication in animals from glowworms to coyotes.
The cost of light pollution goes beyond mere billions of dollars. Nearly 4 million tons of coal or 13 million barrels of oil are wasted every year by improper outdoor lighting.
Parks explains that, in refreshing contrast to some of today’s complex and lingering environmental problems, many existing solutions to light pollution are simple, cost-effective and instantaneous.
Prior to becoming Executive Director of IDA, Parks started its Washington, D.C. Office for Public Policy and Government Affairs to work with federal agencies and Congress to understand critical research and mitigation. He is the co-founder of the Virginia Outdoor Lighting Taskforce, a grassroots advocacy group since 2000, which has helped enact lighting ordinances and state laws to reduce unnecessary light.
He is an avid amateur astronomer and founded the Almost Heaven Star Party at Spruce Knob WV, one of the darkest observing sites on the East Coast. Parks lives in Washington, D.C.