November 8, 2007, - 10:19 am

Dark Skies: Meet the Newest Environmentalist Nuttery

By Debbie Schlussel
Uh-oh. Those darn stores and business with their lights so we can find them are polluting the skies at night . . . with light. and we can’t have that. The skies must be dark . . . just like in the dawn of time. I mean, if cavemen had dark skies, then we must have them, too. Right?
That’s the point of view of the Dark Skies movement, a group of uber-environmentalists who like their skies dark . . . and their ability to see the road and find the store late at night hampered.
The movement took hold in Flagstaff, Arizona, where since 1973, a city ordinance restricts businesses to low-intensity lights. And that’s not all.


Lights must be shielded and directed toward the ground. Any light shining above horizontal “just lights up the bellies of bats,” [environmental activist John] Grahame [co-founder of the Dark-Sky Coalition]. Commercial signs must have opaque backgrounds with little white light. A business’ total amount of outdoor light is restricted.

But businesses are not wimps when it comes to trying to entice customers. Many Flagstaff stores are getting around the ordinance:

The stores hung big round globes inside their front doors that shine bright white light outside on the sidewalk and beyond.

This angers the Dark Sky Draculas.
Yup, let’s go back to the Dark Ages . . . you know, the good ole’ days. We can live like Bin Laden in caves. That’s the ticket.
Beware of the Dark Sky Movement. And hope it stays in Flagstaff. But don’t bet on it. A growing number of cities are looking into it, USA Today reports.
I can understand the need to be in the complete dark when you are stargazing, camping, or “communing with nature”:

“The vast majority of people grow up in a city and don’t know what a dark sky looks like,” says David Crawford, co-founder of the International Dark-Sky Association in Tucson. “I’ve never seen anybody who wasn’t deeply impressed, their souls struck almost, by being out in a really dark place.”

But when we live in the 21st Century, and we want to get on with our lives after dark (which occurs early in the winter), we need light. And criminals don’t go where the bright lights shine.
If you want a completely dark sky, go camping. And stop inconveniencing the rest of us with your anti-technology, Unabomber-esque ways.
**** UPDATE: Reader Sean writes:

The dark skies advocates kill me. You know who best meets the criteria set forth by Flagstaff? North Korea! Maybe Flagstaff should give an award to Kim Jong-Il.

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11 Responses

I jumped out of bed this morning thinking that I’ve seen and heard everything that there is to see and hear. Lo and behold I was greatly mistaken.
This ‘dark skies’ movement is the stupidest damn thing ever concocted by anyone!! Where in the hell do these idiots come from? Maybe it’s time to create the 21st century of a ‘reservation’ for these nutbags. This way they can live in the dark, eat veggies, run naked, befriend wild animals and whatever else that fits into their way of thinking. They could then leave the rest of us normal ‘I would like to see were in the hell I’m going’ folks alone!! I am sooooo sick of phucking morons trying to impose their earth friendly save the whales lifestyle on me.

newinnewark on November 8, 2007 at 12:58 pm

I’m in residential lighting and a lot of the mfgr’s are on board with this. A number of the new catalogs have a section of dark star fixtures. Some outdoor lights have inserts that will redirect the light downward. Some of them use the term “light trespassing” with illustrations showing fixtures illuminating their neigbhors houses. The American Lighting Assoc. is fighting the al whore “everybody (but me)needs to use fluoresent bulbs” but they seem to agree with the dark star stuff.

irishguy on November 8, 2007 at 2:59 pm

It sure is nice to get to a place to see the sky in its true form, but damn – its also nice for us city slickers to live like non-primitives in safe, well lit cities.

JasonBourne81 on November 8, 2007 at 3:42 pm

I lived on the Big Island of Hawaii for many years. There, low amber lighting is used, but for a very good reason. The white light interferes with the numerous telescopes atop Mauna Kea.

sonomaca on November 8, 2007 at 7:49 pm

I think you are overreacting. Do you remember the night sky when you were young? It’s not the same any more. I cannot see the little dipper from my home in Macomb county any more. It’s sad really.

Gorgar on November 8, 2007 at 11:04 pm

Dear Debbie,
Regarding your comments on lightingÔø?
We have a rational tradition of shielding or diffusing indoor lighting to reduce glare. Indoor lighting environments have multiple reflections off of adjacent surfaces that raises average light levels to the point that the iris constricts and protects the retina from over exposure.
However, we have an irrational tradition of not shielding outdoor lighting. Direct light from unshielded high intensity discharge lighting is counterproductive in that it creates disability glare that makes vision more difficult. Against a black night background that prevents the iris from constricting, unshielded HID lighting is unnaturally intense on the retina.
While coming around a bend in the road in my neighborhood one night, my view of the road around the bend was blocked by a brilliant and unshielded post top mounted luminaire that must have just been relamped. The shield of disability glare subsided as I drew even with the light source and I could then see a boy on a skate board about two inches off of my left fender. I would have seen him much earlier if the luminaire had been shielded. This was counterproductive lighting that caused my heart to skip a beat and almost caused a life altering event.
HID lighting emits seven to ten times as much light per watt as incandescent lighting. The three forms of HID lighting are mercury vapor, high pressure sodium, and metal halide. HID lighting was developed to illuminate large areas economically.
The three forms of light pollution are disability glare, light trespass, and sky glow. All three are caused by the same un-shielded lighting.
IDA and IESNA are working to educate the public about the advantages of low glare lighting in improving visibility at night. Unfortunately too many people believe there is not much to know about lighting and that more is always better. I have a power point presentation entitled Smart People Dumb Lighting that explains much of the science of lighting application. I can send you a copy if you would like.
The four rules of good lighting practice for HID lighting are:
1. Shield the source so that it does not reduce our ability to see reflected light.
2. Use the amount of light recommended by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America for specific applications.
3. Keep the light on your property. No one has the right to shine unwanted light onto someone elses property or onto public right of ways.
4. Point the light down. We all have the right to enjoy seeing the stars at night.
My goal and the goal of all lighting engineers is to provide elegant, attractive, and effective nighttime lighting to all communities by reducing light pollution in its three forms.
Larry Boros P.E.
Member the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America
Member the International Dark Sky Association
Former lighting development engineer General Electric Lighting
Welding Engineer NASA Glenn Research
President Alamarra Inc

LightingEngineer on November 9, 2007 at 6:25 am

Is this a joke? These enviro nuts are certifiable.

CarpeDiem on November 10, 2007 at 12:01 am

Hold It. “International Dark Sky Association.” ?? Should read “Progressives for a darker tomorrow” and it would be true.

CarpeDiem on November 10, 2007 at 12:08 am

Apparently some folks mistakenly equate low glare lighting with low lighting levels. Low glare lighting generally emits the same amount of light but increases visibility by shielding the source.
In areas of the country where major astronomical observatories are located, local accommodations are made to limit sky glow by limiting the amount of up lighting from direct emissions and from ground reflections. There are very few areas in the world where astronomy is not affected by sky glow. Directly radiated sky glow from unshielded lights wastes billions of dollars in electrical energy lighting up the sky. That light would do a lot more good pointed down.

LightingEngineer on November 10, 2007 at 5:27 am

I’m the uber-environmentalist you quoted. I’m also an economic development specialist for Coconino County (Flagstaff is the county seat). We hope you will visit sometime and see what we look like at night. By using the right amount of light in the right place at the right time we have not only reduced light pollution and energy costs but increased visibility, safety and security. Tourist and locals both love it. Just ask the Chamber of Commerce or the Convention and Visitors bureau!

John Grahame on May 16, 2010 at 1:03 am

I live in Flagstaff. We’re not the knuckle draggers here. The writer who did no research and went off half cocked with a boatload of nonsense is. We have dark skies to protect our observatories. Our observatory is the one where Pluto was ‘discovered’. As a side benefit our night skies are spectacular. There are many night when I can see the whole Milky Way from my front yard in the middle of town. I realize conservatives hate the idea of individuals and businesses having to exercise restraint because it benefits someone or something bigger than yourself but it works for us here and we love our dark skies.

Janet Shipley on October 16, 2011 at 5:12 pm

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