Two weeks ago I reflected on twilight. This week I’m going to venture into the dark—but probably not in the way you’re expecting.
Tucson, Arizona, where I live, theoretically has the darkest night skies of any city its size in the US. Light-pollution ordinances were passed in 1972 to conserve energy and preserve the clarity of the dry desert air. One resulting benefit is that astronomers love the Tucson area because we are still intentional about keeping our night lighting efficient and well-focused.
The Dark Sky movement—whose international headquarters are located in Tucson—focuses on how light pollution negatively affects five sectors:
- Wildlife—light pollution disrupts the cycles of nocturnal animals, including feeding and reproduction, and disorients migratory birds and newly hatched sea turtles.
- Health—our use of artificial light at night has disrupted our circadian rhythms, messing with the melatonin that regulates everything from sleep cycles and cholesterol levels to our own reproductive rhythms.
- Energy Consumption—poorly aimed outdoor lighting wastes about 35% of that light energy—at an annual cost of $3.3 billion across the US.
- Heritage—ships used to navigate by the stars, and Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” would not include the Milky Way if he painted it today. (Would those Wise Men have been able to see the star over Bethlehem today…?)
- Safety—the glare of nighttime lighting is a driving hazard, while lighting illuminates victims, not criminals.
Our love affair with light has a long history, and we’ve taken it too far. This is especially true in our language and metaphors. One of the gifts of my attendance at the CAC’s recent Conspire 2018 conference was learning more about how people are now more openly wrestling with the terms “light” and “dark.”
Dark has for so long been associated with evil, fear, and wickedness, while light is associated with God, goodness, and grace. This was addressed at the conference, where Barbara Holmes talked about the need to reinforce the good in black/dark images—for the sake, and safety, of all black bodies. For example, dark matter is the substance of the universe and black holes are birthing places. We all begin our life’s journey in the dark, inside a sheltering womb.
Personally, I rest more easily in the dark. (Perhaps this is because I’ve never been assaulted on a dark street—I admit that.) The seeds in my garden begin their journey in the dark earth. Without dark, my photographs would have no contrast, no depth, no interest.
Dark is as essential to our wellbeing as light. As cultures and nations, we must somehow find our way back to a balance of dark and light. Like with climate change, our focus on the light has put us in danger of wreaking irreparable harm on our planet and all beings who dwell here.
What acts can you take to decrease your contribution to light pollution—both literal and metaphorical? Spend some time reflecting on your language and thought patterns regarding darkness and light. What words or phrases do you need to wrestle out of your everyday vocabulary?