John Gray over at Going Gently was making a point about light pollution yesterday, prompted by his nocturnal navigational arrangements to get himself from bed to the loo and back again.
I had assumed that as he lives in the small Welsh village of Trelawnyd that light pollution wouldn’t be high on his list of gripes, but not so – he would quite like the street lights to be switched off from midnight till 6am.
He has a point. The depressingly orange glow of the sodium street lights outside our house were replaced recently by much brighter white lights.
It was all part of a plan by Stockport Council to install 3,000 lower energy lights to reduce the town’s carbon footprint and thus the ‘green’ tax liability being introduced by the government.
The thing is, they are really, really bright. Coming home at night it makes my front door look as if it’s illuminated by a particularly full moon shining down through a cloudless sky. Except that we usually see the moon at the back of the house.
Our bedroom is at the front and we already had blackout linings on the curtains, but there is certainly no need to switch on the light in the bathroom any more because it is awash with light from the street these days.
We’ve often thought that it would be sensible to at least reduce the number of street lights left on overnight, but this invariably leads to protests about safety, both on and off the road, and grumbles along the lines of ‘what do I pay my council tax for?’
The thing is, we just don’t appreciate dark any more. We don’t even know what it is.
When we were in South Africa in 2011, we stayed in a place called Swellendam at a backpackers. It was at the edge of town, but even so you had to carry a torch if you needed the bathroom in the night and it was during such a trip that I was overwhelmed by the experience of outdoors dark.
I switched off the torch and could barely make out my hand in front of my place, but it was the view above that blew me away. Millions and millions of stars shining more brightly than I’d ever seen them before as they only can when it is truly, truly dark.
The photo at the top of the page isn’t one of those constellations, but the view of Greater Manchester where I live taken from the International Space Station. It shows just how over-lit we are, especially the supernova of the city centre.
If you click to enlarge the image, I think the yellow lump at the bottom is Manchester Airport and we live to the north east of there, almost on the edge of ‘darkness’.
Even if you head for the non-lit Pennines, you are still have to contend with the orange hued horizon of the surrounding conurbations. There is no way to escape it as you can see from the image above right that shows these islands taken again from the ISS.
It would be nice if now and then we could all experience true darkness. If once a month we could switch off all the light pollution for just one hour and enjoy the diamond-studded beauty of the night sky.