Wind turbine farms in Washington State will be required to turn their blinking red lights off at night when no low-flying aircraft are near after Gov. Jay Inslee signed the requirement into law on Tuesday May 9, 2023.
The bill sponsored by Rep. April Connors, R-Kennewick, will take effect July 1, 2023 for new wind farms.
Existing wind farms in Washington with at least five or more turbines must apply to the Federal Aviation Administration by Jan. 1, 2028, for approval of a lighting system that detects approaching aircraft and have it installed within two years of approval.
Connors was concerned that Inslee would veto it.
“House Bill 1173 will help preserve the beauty of our night skies in Eastern Washington,” Connors said.
The blinking red lights on wind turbines are needed to alert low-flying aircraft, but they cause light pollution and can be an eyesore for people living nearby, said supporters of the bill.
The Federal Aviation Administration has approved Aircraft Detection Lighting Systems that rely on radar detection to turn the lights on when aircraft are nearby and then turn them off after they have passed.
Several states already require the systems.
The Legislature approved the final version of the bill as Scout Clean Energy is seeking approval for up to 244 turbines along the Horse Heaven Hills just south of the Tri-Cities.
Its blinking red lights would be seen along the ridge line of the hills from 20 to 30 miles away, according to those who oppose the Horse Heaven Clean Energy Center.
The bill eventually had support from Energy Northwest, PacifiCorp and Puget Sound Energy, she said. But other clean power organizations and companies were lobbying against the bill, which would increase their wind farm costs, she said.
Inslee told her during a visit to the Tri-Cities last week, at which he signed other bills, that he would call her if there were any problems with the bill, Connors said.
So she was surprised when the governor vetoed two sections of the bill Tuesday without discussing it with her, she said.
Governor Inslee vetoes sections:
One was an emergency clause that would have the bill take effect immediately. Connors said the governor had canceled emergency clauses in other bills this session.
The other section the governor vetoed would have provided counties in the state some local control. It would have given county commissioners authority to establish the amount of light pollution that would be allowed, whether it was with new technology approved in the future by the FAA or deciding that a wind farm in a remote area did not need to reduce its light pollution.
Inslee said as he signed the bill that he was looking forward to discussing options that might be needed to support wind farm developers with retrofitting lights.
“I wasn’t super excited to have those section vetoes, but I am extremely happy we got this passed,” Connors said.
Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald
May 10, 2023
Light pollution is doubling every eight years.
For more than a century, most sources of artificial light wasted energy in the form of heat. LEDs are much more efficient, requiring less than 25% of the energy consumed by an incandescent lamp. By 2020, LEDs accounted for 51% of global lighting sales, up from just 1% in 2010, according to the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization that analyzes global energy data.
It sounds like a clear win for the environment. But that's not how Ruskin Hartley sees it.
"The drive for efficient fixtures has come at the expense of a rapid increase in light pollution," he said.
Hartley would know. He's the executive director of the International Dark-Sky Association, or IDA, and he's one of a growing number of people who say the dark sky is an undervalued and underappreciated natural resource. Its loss has detrimental consequences for wildlife and human health.
And yet the public's embrace of LEDs keeps rising, spilling way too much light into the sky where no one needs it.
"We've taken a lot of the energy savings and just lit additional places," Hartley said. It's a classic example of the Jevons paradox, in which efficiency gains (such as better automobile gas mileage) are countered by an increase in consumption (people driving more often).
In essence, Hartley and others say, we've traded one kind of pollution for another.
That's not the only problem. In addition to making more light, LEDs have altered its fundamental nature.
The light produced by incandescent bulbs had warmer amber or yellow colors, "more in tune with firelight, the only light aside from starlight we knew," said Robert Meadows, a scientist with the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division of the National Park Service. LEDs, in contrast, give off cooler bluish-white tones that exacerbate light pollution for the same reason that the sky is blue.
Sunlight contains the full spectrum of colors, and air molecules happen to be the right size to scatter the shorter blue wavelengths more effectively than any other. This causes blue light to spread more readily in the atmosphere, giving the daytime sky its familiar color.
After the sun goes down, the same thing happens with LED light that spills wastefully into the sky: It gets diffused to a greater extent and increases "sky glow," the combined radiance of city lights.
Travis Longcore, an urban ecologist at UCLA, estimates that artificial lighting causes the night sky in Los Angeles to shine 1 1/2 times brighter than a night lit by a full moon. All creatures are affected by the brighter nightscapes, especially those who cannot close the blinds for a sound sleep.
"There are many, many species who don't go out and forage during the full moon because it's too bright and they know they're going to be vulnerable to predators," he said.
According to the National Audubon Society, 80% of North American migratory bird species fly at night, and they're confounded by city lights.
Even species that stay put are forced to relocate their homes. A recent study led by Longcore found that Western snowy plovers, a threatened species of shorebird, look for safe roost sites in darker areas of Santa Monica Bay when mostly empty parking lots are illuminated with floodlights all night long.
The survival of wild species depends on the variabilities of the natural world—day and night, seasons, the lunar cycle. Take them away, Longcore said, and you inevitably start alienating species from their natural habitats.
Snakes, for example, are most active and hunt prey during new moon nights. The disappearance of the California glossy snake and the long-nosed snake from Orange County has been attributed largely to the increase in ambient light.
Humans, too, are vulnerable to light pollution. Artificial light blocks the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep cycles, and disrupted sleep cycles have been linked to an array of health problems. The American Medical Association warned in 2016 that high-intensity, blue-rich LED lights were "associated with reduced sleep times, dissatisfaction with sleep quality, excessive sleepiness, impaired daytime functioning, and obesity."
A new study published in Science reports that between 2011 and 2022, global sky brightness increased by an estimated 9.6% per year. The study is based upon data collected through the community science project, NOIRLab’s Globe at Night. This rapid brightening of the night sky over large portions of the Earth has serious consequences for all living things. The authors conclude that “existing lighting policies are not preventing this increase, at least on continental and global scales.” The startling increase in light pollution is a clear wake-up call for policymakers that decisive and immediate action is needed to address this urgent environmental threat.
Why is this finding surprising?
In the past few years, studies have estimated that light pollution was growing by approximately two percent per year. These studies use data from earth observation satellites. In other words, they measure the light escaping the atmosphere.
The new study, reported in Science, relies on people recording the number of stars they see on a clear, dark night. In other words, they assess night sky brightness from the ground looking up. These observations measure skyglow, the brightening of the night sky from countless lights. The satellites primarily measure light emitted vertically, either directly or via reflection. They are also blind to light in the bluer, short wavelength. The observations of the night sky from the ground also include light emitted horizontally – such as lit building facades, digital billboards, and light escaping windows. Additionally, the human eye sees the light across a broader spectrum. These observational factors are more causative of skyglow and useful predictors of biological impact.
“Since human eyes are more sensitive to these shorter wavelengths at nighttime, LED lights have a strong effect on our perception of sky brightness,” said Christopher Kyba, a researcher at the German Research Centre for Geosciences and lead author of the paper detailing these results. “This could be one of the reasons behind the discrepancy between satellite measurements and the sky conditions reported by Globe at Night participants.”
Why do the results matter?
Over the past 150 years, we have transformed the natural world. It is becoming increasingly clear that one of the most profound changes is the loss of darkness at night over much of the planet. As the study authors report, “the character of the night sky is now different from what it was when life and civilization developed.” It is clear from this paper that the growth of light pollution is continuing, largely unchecked.
“At this rate of change, a child born in a location where 250 stars were visible would be able to see only about 100 by the time they turned 18,” said Kyba.
Increasing sky brightness is a sign we are doing lighting wrong. It’s a sign we are using energy inefficiently, wasting money, exacerbating climate change, and increasing environmental impacts. Scientists estimated that carbon dioxide, the primary contributor to climate change, is growing at 2% per year globally – doubling every 30 years. By comparison, light pollution is growing at 9.6% per year – doubling in less than eight years.
“The increase in skyglow over the past decade underscores the importance of redoubling our efforts and developing new strategies to protect dark skies,” said Connie Walker of the National Science Foundation's NORILab. “The Globe at Night dataset is indispensable in our ongoing evaluation of changes in skyglow, and we encourage everyone who can to get involved to help protect the starry night sky.”
How was the study conducted?
Thousands of volunteers collect data on how many stars they can see yearly. Using a simple phone app, they compared the number of stars they saw in a well-known constellation to estimate the level of light pollution. Using more than 50,000 data points collected between 2011 and 2022, the scientists compared the data collected to a sky brightness model. The model estimated that globally, light pollution has been growing at 9.6% per year every year.
What are the implications of this study?
As noted in the main study, existing lighting policies have failed to prevent these increases, at least at a continental or global scale. In a companion Perspectives piece in Science, authors Fabio Falchi and Salvador Bara call for a new approach to slow, halt, and reverse this alarming trend. They conclude, “light pollution is an environmental problem and should be confronted and solved.” New approaches could include establishing regional lighting budgets and limits based on sky quality over parks, protected areas, and astronomical sites. In other words, taking a similar approach to how we regulate and control air and water pollution.
This is consistent with the approach we called for in our European policy brief released to support the Brno appeal to reduce light pollution in Europe.
Unlike many other forms of pollution, we can reduce light pollution using existing technology. Once addressed, the results are immediate, and the cost savings, in terms of ongoing energy savings, are significant. Critically, it does not mean turning off all the lights. By following the Five Principles for Responsible Lighting, we can take immediate steps to reduce light pollution while enhancing light quality at night.
How can I help?
Sourced from the Los Angeles Times and darksky.org
A Prescient Warning
Those aged 30 and younger may never have experienced a truly dark night sky. And if no action is taken, they never will.
Every year, the remaining dark patches on this planet shrink as both the amount of artificial light used and the area it covers grow by about 2% per year. And satellite “megaconstellations” add to terrestrial light pollution in even the darkest skies.
The changes go largely unnoticed because it’s difficult to perceive what we’re losing so gradually yet persistently.
Adapted from John Barentine Ph.D.
Dark Sky Consulting, LLC
To confront problems effectively, we must understand them. And to tackle the problem of light pollution around the world, we must become familiar with the knowns and the unknowns of the subject.
In support of that goal, last month the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) released the “Artificial Light at Night: State of the Science 2022” report. It is a high-level overview of the best of our scientific understanding of how artificial light at night affects the nighttime environment. It finds the world transformed by electric light in less than 150 years since its introduction. This document condenses the current scientific consensus on how artificial light affects seven key topics:
The Night Sky
Light emitted into the night sky makes it difficult to see the stars. On the ground, artificial light at night (ALAN) makes the nighttime environment brighter. Weather changes like clouds and snow on the ground can make this impact worse. New and inexpensive light sources like white light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have a growing impact on both the night sky and outdoor spaces at night.
Wildlife and Ecology
ALAN exposure impacts almost every species studied by scientists. It interferes with their biology and changes how they interact with the environment. This harms ecosystems and can make plants and animals less resilient in the face of environmental change.
Scientific evidence establishes a link between ALAN exposure and adverse human health consequences. These include disruptions in chemical signaling in the body, certain kinds of changes at the genetic level, and shifts in sleep/wake cycles set by natural light sources. These effects may contribute to the incidence of certain chronic diseases in some people. These conclusions are largely drawn from controlled studies of exposures to indoor lighting, suggesting caution in interpreting the influence of outdoor lighting on health.
The belief that outdoor lighting improves traffic safety and discourages or prevents crime is common. It may explain in part the rapid growth in the use of outdoor light at night in recent years and decades. There are cases where the careful application of outdoor lighting may improve nighttime safety, but there is no general benefit supported by scientific evidence.
Energy Use and Climate Change
Wasted outdoor light at night is wasted energy. The world remains highly dependent on fossil fuels to generate electricity. Since light pollution represents a waste of energy, it also contributes directly to climate change.
We know very little about how ALAN affects people in social contexts. Light at night may be used in ways that affect neighborhoods according to the race of the people who live in them. That may make light at night use a matter of social and environmental justice.
Earth Orbiting Sources of Light Pollution
The number of artificial satellites surrounding the Earth is increasing rapidly. Satellites reflect sunlight to the ground and change the appearance of the night sky. Because they raise night sky brightness, they are a new kind of light pollution threat.
Scientific interest in light pollution is surging, and the number of scientific papers on the subject published each year is now three times higher than it was a decade ago. Researchers make new discoveries and collect data supporting earlier conclusions. The landscape of light pollution research changes often. As such, we consider this report as a “living document” that will be updated in the future to account for further developments in the various fields of artificial light at night research.
For a closer look at how and why IDA created this report, click here to watch the March 2022 Advocates Meeting presented by Dr. John Barentine.
Light Pollution & Wildlife
Photo Southern Methodist University - phys.org
The brightening night sky negatively impacts behavioral changes in animals and causes decreased plant growth. Both sunlit days and dark nights are essential. Unlike humans, most animals use the varied lighting as cues when to feed, mate and migrate. Too much artificial light confuses their instinctive activity, creating fatigue, and can even lead to a halt in their normal behavior, such as the natural migration of birds, salmon, etc. When they don’t reach their destination at the appropriate time of year, it can cause a decline in their population, and make them vulnerable to harsh weather, starvation and the danger of being preyed on by other animals. Without dark nights, plants slow in their growth as well. Both plants and animals have relied on the predictable rhythm of day and night, and humans have disrupted this cycle with light pollution.
Continue reading here.
International Dark Sky Week
APRIL 22 - 30, 2022
US Department of Energy
Scott Minos, March 28, 2022
When considering the environment and pollution, thoughts usually go to water, air, and the land. But there are other kinds of pollution, including pollution from lighting. International Dark Sky Week aims to bring attention and action to this lesser known type of pollution.
Any artificial light that is not needed is considered light pollution. Light pollution is increasing at 2x rate of population growth and 83% of the global population lives under a light-polluted sky.
Use outdoor lighting responsibly by:
Bulb by bulb, this Bay Area outpost is preserving its dark sky in a quest to join an exclusive club
Point Reyes aims to become an official Dark Sky Reserve, limiting lights in California’s popular coastal playground.
Lisa M. Krieger, San Jose Mercury News
Mobilizing to preserve a celestial view under threat from the Bay Area’s growing glow, the community has applied to become an official International Dark Sky Reserve – a cherished status shared by fewer than two dozen places on Earth.
But going dark is easier said than done, because the light problem is everywhere: in the school that educates rural children, in the restaurants that define California cooking, in the ranches that raise famed grass-fed beef, in the firehouse that protects against a flammable landscape.
“Dark skies are important,” said Sheryl Cahill, who plans to spend thousands of dollars to install downward-facing lights at her two popular restaurants, the Station House Cafe and Side Street Kitchen. “But so is safety and the ability to navigate the town.”
To gaze at the West Marin sky is to see sights hidden to the rest of the Bay Area. If your back is turned to the horizon’s glare of Highway 101, it’s possible to view 2,000 stars. Want to stay out all night? As the Earth rotates, the number soars to 6,000.
On a recent moonless night, stars glittered like scattered diamonds.
“It’s absolutely beautiful – and our whole basis of time and place,” said local astronomer Don Jolley at a recent stargazing event, part of the movement’s effort to boost public awareness. The crowd, wrapped in warm blankets in a circle of lawn chairs and hot drinks, stared up at the inky blackness.
There’s a trio of faint but perfect pairs: Talitha, Tania and Alula. Ancient Arabs described them as the three leaps of a gazelle, startled at the waterhole by the nearby constellation of Leo the Lion.
Nearby is a delicate glow, representing Cancer the Crab, the dimmest of the 13 signs of the Zodiac. In the same neighborhood as the red star of Regulus and showy Gemini Twins, it could be easily missed.
There’s the soft spectacle of the Andromeda galaxy, 2.5 million light-years away and the most distant thing visible to the unaided eye.
Squinting, you can make out a cluster of young stars dubbed the “Beehive.” The Old Testament says that these bees swarmed out of the skull of a lion slain by warrior Samson – recounted in song by Marin’s own Grateful Dead.
“These newly born stars are coming alive and lighting up the remnants of gas and dust out of which they were born,” Jolley told the rapt crowd. “It’s a nursery.”
This display is what makes the region such a strong candidate for official Reserve designation, said Ashley Wilson of the Arizona-based International Dark Sky Association, a group that promotes awareness of light pollution. A reserve must comprise at least 173,000 acres and is much larger than the more common Dark Sky Place. The only other U.S. site in Idaho, stretching from Ketchum to Stanley; required nearly two decades of work and policy decisions. Other applications are underway in Colorado and Texas.
Bulb-by-bulb analysis begins
The process is rigorous, requiring data collection, community education and adoption of light-limiting features, such as timers, dimmers, motion sensors, softer and warmer LED bulbs and shields, so that light shines only where it’s needed. Only about 20% of initial queries make it through to completion, Wilson said. The West Marin effort was initiated by the Point Reyes Village Association, the town’s governing body, but has since been taken over by the National Park Service.
“I think there is a really interesting opportunity here because Point Reyes still maintains good night sky quality and is so close to the metropolitan areas of San Francisco and Oakland,” Wilson said.
The core of the reserve would be the Point Reyes National Seashore, its unblemished heavens on the edge of the vast Pacific. The periphery could include the brighter and busier West Marin villages of Point Reyes Station, Inverness, Olema, Marshall and more. Because conversations with communities have just started, there are no boundaries yet.
For decades, population growth and development in the Bay Area have crept closer to this landscape, bringing more glare and glow. The rise of light pollution has accelerated in recent years with the widespread adoption of powerful LED lights. Night skies have never gained the protection offered air, land and water.
While still an outpost, the region is one of California’s most popular playgrounds, attracting about 2.7 million visitors a year to its trails, beaches, oyster bars, bakeries, restaurants, bookstore and a feed barn that serves organic pastries and coffee.
This makes it hard to banish brightness. Where to even begin?
Bulb by bulb, the Park Service is measuring 1,000 different spots – from its Bear Valley headquarters and staff residences to a hostel, riding stable and 30 ranches – with a $3,000 handheld spectrometer.
On the windswept edge of Drakes Estero, the 800-acre D. Rogers Ranch has installed modern motion-sensing lights, activated only when needed, around its historic white-washed barns, said fourth-generation rancher David Evans.
”I support and enjoy a dark night landscape, closer and more shared proximity to nocturnal wildlife, and the beauty of a more visible Milky Way,” said Evans, who supplies organic grass-fed beef to Marin Sun Farms and Mindful Meats.
But in town, there are far greater challenges. At some sites, such as a PG&E substation, there’s no local control.
“Everybody, in principle, would be for such a move,” said Frank Borodic of the West Marin Chamber of Commerce and owner of Olema’s bucolic Inn at Roundstone Farm. “But it’s a complex issue that would require some effort and strategic planning.”
It is costly to replace fixtures, he said. There aren’t easy substitutes for many lights. With more transients in town, businesses have security concerns. It could also be unsafe if a visitor trips and falls.
“We don’t have normal sidewalks around here,” said Cahill, who was legally liable when an elderly woman fell in her dark parking lot 16 years ago. Walking in the dark between her businesses, “I really don’t want to twist my ankle.”
Lights glow at the Fire Station in Point Reyes Station, Calif., as night falls, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. The nearby Point Reyes National Seashore is applying to earn official designation as International Dark Sky Reserve, one of just two dozen such reserves worldwide, but some area buildings may need to alter their outdoor lighting. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Light conservation underway
Small changes are already underway. Later this year, Point Reyes Station’s illuminated clock will come down. Some streetlights have shields. The fire station’s renovation will add sensors and off switches. The hardware store has pledged an aisle to light-conserving fixtures.
But the town’s only bank is bathed in brightness; while it put up a shield on one light, corporate management wants to protect its ATM and parking lot. The beloved Palace Market, the town’s sole grocery, remains luminous. West Marin School, the site of several recent break-ins, has turned off its brightest spotlights after 9 p.m. But for surveillance, the parking lot is still lit.
Lights also help protect the town’s quaint public safety station, a welcoming but vulnerable place where anyone can stop by for a visit, said Ben Ghisletta, the fire station’s senior captain. The rear parking area is not fenced, leaving officers unprotected. In a fire or medical emergency, rigs rush out at a moment’s notice, so risk hitting pedestrians they can’t see.
But darkness is a lifestyle pledge being shared by more and more local residents in an ever-brighter world, said county Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, who represents the region. The county will draft an ordinance that adopts the initiative, he said. If implemented, it could lead to phased-in future building and design codes that are more restrictive than existing light-limiting rules.
“It’s just step by step. I’m pretty optimistic,” he said. ”It demonstrates the commitment to the environment by the West Marin villages and their sensitivity to the impact of our footprint.”
If successful, safe and secure, a Dark Sky Reserve designation would add another layer of protection in a place once destined to be just another suburb.
“We want everybody to see what we see,” said resident Peggy Day, who helped launch the effort. “If we get this, we can save this beautiful skyscape for all future generations.”
Lisa M. Krieger is a science writer at The Mercury News, covering research, scientific policy and environmental news from Stanford University, the University of California, NASA-Ames, U.S. Geological Survey and other Bay Area-based research facilities. She graduated from Duke University with a B.A. degree in biology. She splits her time between Palo Alto and Inverness, and in her spare time likes wildlife photography, swimming, skiing and backpacking.
By Jacqui Gibson for the BBC
2nd February 2022
The Pacific nation's audacious bid to become the world's first dark sky nation might provide a blueprint for the rest of the world.
If Becky Bateman had to pick just one star out of the 3,000 you can typically see in the New Zealand night sky, she'd pick Arcturus, the brightest star in the Boötes constellation. It shines orange, for one thing. And, because of that, is statistically most likely to have life orbiting around it.
Most nights for the past two years, the astronomy guide has used a green laser pointer and collapsible Dobsonian telescope to show people around the night skies of the Wairarapa, a rural wine region in the south-eastern corner of the North Island. Year-round, the nomadic guide meets people in public parks, backyards and on the wild beaches of the South Wairarapa coast. During New Zealand's clement summer months, as wine tourism peaks, she can be found waving her pointer, like a Jedi, high above the bushy, green vines of the region's popular vineyards surrounded by stargazers sipping pinot noir.
Tours begin with an introduction to the Southern Cross and Milky Way and generally extend to chat about the origin of the universe and the fleeting time in which humans have occupied planet Earth. These days, as one of the Wairarapa's leading voices on the benefits of stargazing, Bateman is just as likely to end up urging guests to get behind the country's bid to protect the night sky. To her, a clear night's sky free from light pollution is one of the last wilderness frontiers facing the threat of extinction – and now is the time to act.
Bateman is not alone in thinking this way. In late 2019, the Pacific nation announced a plan to become the world's first dark sky nation at the New Zealand Starlight Conference in Takapō. Conference delegates from around the world were concerned about the world's increasing light pollution and its proven negative effects on human health and nocturnal wildlife but were heartened by the exceptional quality of starry nights in New Zealand and the country's growing appetite for dark sky conservation. They agreed the plan was audacious but believed if New Zealand could pull off such a crazy experiment, it just might provide a blueprint for the world.
On a recent winter evening, Bateman set up her telescope on the frosty porch of Whitimanuka Retreat. I'd hired her to join me at an off-grid cabin I'd rented in the hills of a working sheep and beef farm about an hour's drive from my hometown of Wellington.
As the clouds cleared, Bateman unpacked and assembled her manual telescope, laid out half a dozen glass jars hand-painted red and filled with fairy lights (to subtly light our way while not obliterating our night vision) and set to work revealing the evening's constellations. Minutes into a description of where to find the Southern Cross (first, look for a kite-shaped constellation in the Milky Way), a shooting star flew across the sky.
To me, the dark skies are humankind's last true natural wilderness. Potentially, they won't be with us in years to come.
"Oh, wonderful. Did you see that?" asked Bateman enthusiastically. "I see 10 or so shooting stars every few hours I'm out here. Lately, though, I'm seeing more and more man-made pollution like Elon Musk's SpaceX satellite. To me, the dark skies are humankind's last true natural wilderness. Potentially, they won't be with us in years to come. It worries me – there's so much to lose in the world's obsession with space tourism and so many reasons to preserve what's here."
When it comes to dark sky preservation on the world stage, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is the organisation responsible. Set up in 1988, it runs a dark sky conservation programme that recognises the quality of the world's dark skies using a five-pronged certification system. Within the system, dark sky sanctuaries rank highest as the most remote and often darkest places in the world, followed by reserves, parks, communities and urban night sky places.
To achieve IDA certification, a dark sky must meet a range of criteria, including protection from light pollution, accessibility to visitors and wide-ranging support from residents.
In 2012, New Zealand's Aoraki Mackenzie community successfully applied to the IDA to become an accredited dark sky reserve. An inland plain region about 180km south-west of Christchurch, where large country sheep stations have been the norm for more than a century, Aoraki Mackenzie is rugged, isolated country dominated by mountain and lake scenery.
Today, Aoraki Mackenzie's 4,300sq km dark reserve is the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and just one of 18 in the world. Two New Zealand communities, Great Barrier Island and Rakiura Stewart Island, have since become sanctuaries, with Wai-iti, a 135-hectare hunk of council land in Tasman District, now an IDA-certified dark sky park. Another 20 New Zealand dark sky communities – including the Wairarapa — are looking to follow suit and gain some form of certification.
In 2019, it was Dark Skies Group Director at the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand, Steve Butler, who daringly announced the country's plans to become the world's first dark sky nation. "It was more of an aspirational rather than a hard-and-fast goal," he told me recently. "The IDA doesn't yet have an official dark sky nation designation. But when it does New Zealand will be first in line."
"Are we obsessed as a people? Probably. We're definitely uniquely advantaged," he explained. "Look, Kiwis are an outdoor people with easy access to the natural dark skies of the Southern Hemisphere. Very few of us have grown up without being awed by New Zealand's night skies, particularly those you see in national parks like Aoraki Mackenzie or Rakiura Stewart Island. Sure, not all of us know how to find the Southern Cross, but we're a far cry from 80% of the world's population who can't even see the stars of the night sky."
That's why when New Zealanders were asked to comply with the IDA's rigorous requirements to restrict outdoor lighting and switch to low-powered yellow lighting in regions such as Aoraki Mackenzie and elsewhere, by-and-large they were up for it, Butler explained. It's why Butler is confident even the country's urban centres, over time, will find ways to limit artificial light spilling into natural areas and reduce light use generally. It's also why more and more New Zealanders are joining the global chorus to save the world's night skies.
Every two years, for example, New Zealand hosts the New Zealand Starlight Conference attracting hundreds of dark sky proponents from overseas and around the country. Dark sky associations eager to achieve IDA status are sprouting from Kiwi townships like weeds. Local mayors are talking about changing national planning and building regulations to keep lighting low. Even government entities like Waka Kotahi, New Zealand's transport agency, are looking to install IDA-compliant lighting on state highways that fall within dark sky areas.
Some New Zealanders, like Kaye and Luke Paardekooper, owners of Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat, have taken matters into their own hands. In 2015, the pair added a wine cellar and observatory to their 66-hectare luxury resort on the clifftop of Lake Pūkaki in Aoraki Mackenzie.
Initially, it was aimed at overseas tourists wanting an intimate, upmarket astrotourism experience to complement the kind of larger group tour they might experience at the Dark Sky Project. Based in the nearby township of Takapō, the Dark Sky Project promotes the dark skies of the region, sharing both Māori and Western ideas about astronomy, and taking visitors to the University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory.
But the couple admit they too love to rug up, open the roof and simply gaze at the quiet blackness overhead. The ability to do that is what they want to hold on to.
The kind of sleep you get here, particularly during the long nights of winter, honestly, is second to none.
On a recent overnight stay, Kaye told me the country's bid for dark nation status, to them, was about much more than the likely boost to tourism. "Dark skies are great for wellbeing – that's what we tell anyone who'll listen. Research by the Royal Society [of New Zealand] on the effects of blue light, for example, shows too much blue light at the wrong time of day can disrupt our sleep, our immunity, our hormonal balance and even our mood," said Kaye, who's spent more than six years on her local dark sky association board.
"We don't have that light pollution here, which is why it needs preserving. Without the dominance of blue light, it's much easier to return to your natural circadian rhythms. The kind of sleep you get here, particularly during the long nights of winter, honestly, is second to none."
For Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve Board member Victoria Campbell, of Ngāi Tahu tribal descent, the country's growing obsession with the night sky is encouraging for other reasons.
"It's made Kiwis curious about their night sky heritage and the cultural traditions that underpin it," she said. "New Zealanders come from a long line of astronomers, starting with Polynesian explorers like Rākaihautū who discovered Aotearoa (New Zealand) in an ocean-going waka (canoe) using the stars, sun and moon. British explorer James Cook used the same night sky to get here. In pre-colonial times, Māori used a unique calendar — one that began each year with the rising of the Matariki star cluster — to reflect on the year that had gone and plan for the year ahead."
On 24 June 2022, thanks to a 2020 pre-election promise by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, New Zealanders will celebrate Makariki – the mid-winter constellation that marks the Māori New Year – as a public holiday for the first time. About an hour before sunrise, people from all walks of life will come together, remember loved ones who have passed and look to the stars for hope and inspiration before sharing kai (food) and a hot cup of tea.
For many, like Campbell, the revival of Matariki may be the country's boldest, best expression of dark sky nationhood yet.
This story first appeared on the BBC Travel website.
Goldendale Does it Right.
We have been critical of the City of Goldendale, Washington – and justifiably so – for its failure to promote or enforce its own lighting code (along with Klickitat County), and failures in fulfilling the promises made decades ago to protect and conserve the night sky of the Goldendale Observatory. But we would be remiss if we did not recognize the City for getting it right with the new Klickitat County Services Building across from the Klickitat County Courthouse.
As can be seen in the photo, full cut-off street lights prevent light spilling above the horizontal and efficiently direct light downward to where it is needed. Additional decorative wall lighting on the building is also fully shielded. Both use what appears to be 3000K LED "warm" lighting elements putting out less blue light than typical LED streetlights, which is an important feature in reducing artificial sky glow, as well as being healthier for the public.
So a job well done demonstrating good nighttime lighting can be efficient, attractive, and help conserve the night sky.
New Dark Sky Ordinance in Pittsburgh
After Diane Turnshek, special faculty in Carnegie Mellon University's Department of Physics in Pittsburgh noticed that many of her students had never seen the Milky Way, it became her mission to bring back dark skies to the Pittsburgh metro area. After giving a July 2015 Tedx talk “De-Light the Night,” she continued to spread the word to local groups, schools and science organizations, and founded the local International Dark Sky Association (IDA) group, IDApgh.org.
Last month (September 2021) the Pittsburgh City Council passed a new Dark Sky Ordinance for all of the city's parks, facilities and streetlights, partly due to Turnshek’s efforts. Stephen Quick, an architect and urban designer and special faculty in CMU's School of Architecture, helped draft the ordinance. The ordinance aims to improve safety and security, reduce light pollution, save energy and advance equity in all Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Communities of color, the ordinance notes, experience over-lighting and light pollution—which can negatively impact mental and physical health—at a disproportionate rate.
The city plans to retrofit existing streetlights to dark sky compliant LED lights. Pittsburgh's current 4,300 LED streetlights glow at 5,000 kelvins and give off a bright blue-white glare. The new LED lights will be at a lower temperature and look much softer and warmer, as recommended by the International Dark-Sky Association.
"The ordinance is about much more than astronomy. Thoughtful, intentional lighting at night, without uplight, glare and harsh blue-white color is safer for drivers and pedestrians," said Turnshek. "Dark sky compliant lighting will improve our nighttime vision, allow us to sleep better, reduce light distraction and glare, and allow the beauty of a soft, warmly lit scene to enhance our enjoyment of the evening."
Hopefully, other cities will follow this city's lead. Look for "after" photos of the night skies over Pittsburgh in a few years. Here's an artist's rendering of that image: