by Tim Hunter



Amateur astronomers and sky observers worldwide trying to reduce light pollution and improve the night sky in their communities often come across a variety of objections, which are usually based on inaccurate facts, misconceptions or, at times, deliberate falsehoods. I call these "lighting myths."


"The more light the better" is the same type of reasoning as saying the more salt on your food the better, or the more medicine the better. Obviously, there comes a point where you can have too much of a good thing. Nighttime lighting behaves in the same way. We all need well lit main streets, security lights, and parking lot lighting. However, we do not need glare, clutter, confusion, light trespass, light pollution, and energy waste. Excessively bright, numerous, unshielded lights cause exactly these things.


Light pollution deprives everybody of the awesome grandeur of the night sky. Those who grow up in an urban environment may never see the Milky Way. How can someone miss something he or she has never seen? The loss of the night sky desensitizes us to other insults upon the environment. It's the same as saying the loss of a virgin forest is of no concern, because there are plenty of trees elsewhere. The loss of wild flowers, polar bears, wolves, whales, and other threatened species, to be honest, won't affect the average person. After all, mankind has done very well without mammoths, mastodons, and passenger pigeons. The dome of light hanging over most cities blots out the stars, and electricity is wasted to light the night sky -- light needs to be on the ground not up in the sky. The wasted electricity represents needless burning of coal, oil, and natural gas, whose byproducts show up as acid rain, smoke, and carbon dioxide emission.


Just go out of town to see some grass, flowers, or trees. If we can't have enough sense to plant trees, shrubs, and flowers all around our cities, we can at least have enough sense to plan for parks and preserve those green areas left. We are not asking people to turn off their lights. We are asking them to shield their lights, use proper lighting levels for the lighting task at hand, and turn off unneeded lights.


Yes, the problem is enormous, growing in many areas, and very difficult to grasp fully. This doesn't mean it isn't worthy of effort. Only recently have we realized there are solutions to most lighting difficulties. There are now excellent fixtures available for all lighting needs. This is one of those few problems whose solution is eminently sensible, available, and saves money in both the short and long terms. If you expect to rid a large city of its sky glow in the next year, then you will be very disappointed. If you want to get rid of local sources of light trespass, such as a dusk to dawn light next door or an unshielded street light on the corner, then you have a very good chance of accomplishing your goals with persistent but not obnoxious effort. You also have a reasonable chance for changing laws and instituting proper lighting techniques in your community. Over a long period of time, good lights will replace the bad ones. There will be a gradual slowing of the loss of dark skies and then an actual darkening of skies in some areas. This will not happen quickly, but it is possible. It will take incredible amounts of work and determination, but it can be done.


In some cases, lighting seems to deter crime, and it makes people feel more secure, even if they are no more secure than without it. In some cases, nighttime lighting probably increases crime, because it draws attention to a house or business that would otherwise escape attention. Most crimes, violent and otherwise, take place during the day. After all, criminals need light to do their work. Do street lights, parking lot lights, and security lights prevent crime? If they are overly bright with much glare, they may actually make it easier for a criminal to hide in the shadows and encourage crime rather than discourage it. One speaker at a recent lighting symposium recounted how his car was robbed at a local mall. It sat near a store entrance and was directly under a bright light! There are simply no good scientific studies that convincingly define the relationships between lighting and crime. Crime is a very complex sociological phenomenon controlled by many factors, and it will vary considerably from place to place.


tbh IDATim Hunter obtained a BA from DePauw University in 1966, an MD from Northwestern University in 1968, a BS from the University of Arizona in 1980, and an MSc degree from Swinburne University (Melbourne) in 2006. Currently, Dr. Hunter is a Professor in the Department of Radiology in the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona and was Head of the department 2008-2011. He was on the Arizona Medical Board (AMB) 1997-2006.

Dr. Hunter has been an amateur astronomer since 1950, and he is the owner of two observatories, the 3towers Observatory and the Grasslands Observatory. He is also a prime example of someone whose hobby has run amok, spending more time and money on it than common sense would dictate. He has been the President of the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association, Inc. (TAAA) and a member of the TAAA since 1975. He currently is the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Planetary Science Institute (PSI). Since 1986, D. Hunter has been interested in the growing problem of light pollution. In 1987, he and Dr. David Crawford founded the International Dark-Sky Association, Inc. (IDA). IDA is a nonprofit corporation devoted to promoting quality outdoor lighting and combatting the effects of light pollution.



Showing 1 comments
  • 23 January 2016
    Does lighting reduce crime?Where do most crimes happen,in the cities and towns and what do they have lots of ?Steetlights!The modern urban criminal ie/most criminals are brought up under streetlights therefore use them to their advantage.a simple fact is whats safer at night a city centre or the middle of a dark remote meadow?Streetlights allow criminals to size up their potential victims,how big is he,how many of them,does he have a dog,what sex are they,etc..Ofcourse much of its scare mongering by the lighting industry as very few people get attacked and a lot of house break ins occur during the day when people are at work[makes sense really?].Another thing put about by the lighting industry and often quoted as fact is that humans cant see in the dark.Nonsense we can see quite well in the dark admittedly not as well as many of our mammal relations but well enough to identify objects in black and white.I do a lot of after dark hiking and have only stumbled over things in the dark twice in about 30 years.
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