Orlando Sentinel (Florida)
December 11, 2006 Monday
The glut of artificial light at night takes a toll on health and wastes billions of dollars each year.
Daphne Sashin, Sentinel Staff Writer
SECTION: LOCAL IN-DEPTH; FLORIDA; Pg. B1
Back when Central Florida didn’t have nearly as many roads and buildings that needed illumination, the night sky was dark enough that people could look up and see the dusty bands of the Milky Way.
Homeowners did not have to hang dark curtains to block the glare from the nearby supermarket parking lot. Sea turtles crawled to the water without losing their way.
Day was light. Night was dark.
But each new home and business brought more light bulbs that, while brightening the roads and buildings, also tend to shine into the sky, drivers’ eyes, wildlife corridors and other places where they weren’t intended. The glut of artificial light at night takes a toll on plants, animals and human health and wastes billions of dollars a year in energy, research shows.
“If you look at Florida from a satellite photo, it’s very bright. It’s a quest to find a dark location,” said David Guibert of the Brevard Astronomical Society.
Light pollution has been increasing everywhere. In east Orange County, the acorn-shaped streetlights in a future town-home development on Moss Park Road glare through the night, even though not a single home has been built. From the St. Johns River, the lights of Metro Orlando bathe the sky in such a bright glow that the horizon at 10 p.m. looks more like sunset.
At a deeper level, dark-sky advocates worry what the world will lose if future generations grow up never knowing the wonders of a starry sky.
“It’s the question of who we are and where we are in this universe that’s inspired poets and writers and musicians and historians and scientists alike forever. Without that inspiration, we will lose quite a lot,” said Lee Karalis, writer/editor at the International Dark-Sky Association, a Tucson, Ariz.-based nonprofit begun by astronomers to raise awareness about the problem.
The sky is just one victim of light pollution.
Artificial light causes migrating birds to crash into buildings and interferes with sea turtles’ ability to find the sea from their nests, causing thousands of hatchling deaths in Florida each year. Light at night also interrupts the body’s ability to produce melatonin, which has been shown to slow breast-cancer growth.
Dark-sky advocates also argue that too much light can compromise safety.
“There is a mythology that more light is better,” Karalis said. “If you have too much light, it creates deep shadows and creates areas for people to hide in, and you cannot see out of the bright light into the dark.”
Complaints from astronomers, environmental advocates and homeowners have prompted Central Florida cities and counties to respond with a hodgepodge of nighttime lighting controls.
Volusia’s rule, designed to protect sea turtles, prohibits beachfront lights during nesting season. In Osceola, new businesses must make sure the outdoor light bulbs cannot be seen from the property boundary to prevent glare.
Other governments have gone further, regulating brightness levels and fixture heights. Casselberry requires that lights be angled downward, while Orange dictates the type of bulbs that could be used. But neither covers residential projects, allowing developers such as the one building town homes on Moss Park Road to shine as much light as they like.
“They have these fixtures that are very pretty, but they shine just as much light up as they do down, which is reprehensible,” said Fred Milch, a planner with the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council.
The lights were chosen based on the desire to provide a well-lit, nice-looking community, said Bob Hilliard, president of the Orlando division of Transeastern Homes. How they affected the sky did not factor into the discussion.
He said the lights won’t seem as bright when the houses and trees are in place. The lights are turned on for now to secure the property, he said.
“If it were dark and the roads were open, there’s no telling what might go on there,” Hilliard said.
Commercial projects often are the primary source of light pollution, local officials say. Still, the regional planning council, which reviews very large developments, has begun to recommend dark-sky lighting across the board, Milch said.
The council took its cue from Harmony, a development east of St. Cloud that went out of its way to minimize light pollution in its streets and parks. Harmony uses shielded fixtures with hoods that focus the light on the ground, while low-wattage garage lights controlled by photo cells take the place of any alley lights. Harmony promotes appreciation for the darkness at its annual Dark Sky Festival.
“Being out here . . . it’s naturally dark, so the decision was, let’s try to respect that as a natural resource and protect the night sky,” said Greg Golgowski, Harmony’s conservation director. “We hope it will be a model for other places in Central Florida.”