Opinion: The sky is disappearing and we must protect it

Stars shine in the sky as city lights can be seen off in the distance on a clear night on the island of North Haven, Maine, on Aug. 27, 2019.

Stars shine in the sky as city lights can be seen off in the distance on a clear night on the island of North Haven, Maine, on Aug. 27, 2019.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

The first outdoor lights were installed around 150 years ago, and our night sky has never been the same. With brighter lights at night, it is harder to see dim stars. As a result, only around 20 percent of Americans can actually see the Milky Way Galaxy with their naked eyes.

Even in the smaller towns of the Greater Danbury area, where I live, it is difficult to observe the night sky. Lights at night increase the brightness of the sky, making light pollution an issue predominantly in urban and suburban areas. While artificial lighting can be beneficial for us at night, it is important that we take the appropriate steps to use it in a way that protects our night sky.

The cosmos is an integral being with deep ancestral roots in our cultures and traditions. Whether it is celebrating a holiday based on a lunar calendar, reading our daily horoscopes, or simply listening to a song about the stars, humans have a profound connection to the universe.

Light pollution affects much more than just our ability to see the stars. The change in brightness has a strong effect on the environment. Without the stars for navigation, birds can get lost in migration. They also struggle with recognizing and avoiding buildings because of the reflected light. Artificial lighting makes it impossible for marine life to recognize depth or direction, causes insects to fly toward the light and die, and can cause trees to bloom out of season. Entire ecosystems become out of balance.

Moreover, light pollution is proven to impact human health. Artificial light, especially blue light, affects our circadian rhythm by suppressing our production of melatonin. As a result, blue light makes it more difficult to fall asleep, causing stress, anxiety, and depression. Some studies show that light pollution may lead to diabetes or cancer.

While larger global policies are critical to saving the night sky, local steps can have a major impact on reducing sky brightness. Luckily, many of these steps will not impede our nighttime functioning very much. The International Dark Sky Association recommends using outdoor lights that have shields and are warm in color. Sidewalk lights only need to light the ground, not shine out to the sides or up at the sky. Shields cover the light to focus the beam on the necessary area.

The same lights that are better for the night sky are also more energy-efficient and therefore cost-effective, making them an easy alternative to the status quo.

Connecticut currently has light pollution statutes in place that focus on these types of lighting fixtures. However, they are only in place for roads and public buildings. While these steps are important, they fail to address the majority of the light pollution within our state. States such as Maine have taken a more aggressive approach, by addressing light pollution on a more local level, with ordinances for outdoor lighting within private and public areas depending on location and circumstances. Whereas most of the United States is losing the night, Maine is working toward preserving the darkness.

Town legislation that focuses on regulating the use of outdoor lighting is crucial to protecting ourselves, our environment, and the night sky. It is imperative that we push for statutes to regulate the color, brightness, and shielding of our outdoor lighting fixtures.

Even without proper legislation, there are steps we can take as a community to help preserve the night. These steps can be as simple as putting outdoor lights on timers or making them motion activated so that they are only on when needed, changing to warmer light bulbs, and making sure to only buy outdoor fixtures that are shielded from the sky.

As we lose the night sky, we are losing our connections to our history and our culture — to art, music, literature. We are literally losing sleep to artificial lighting, and ecosystems are being altered permanently. Our traditions as a humanity are deeply rooted in the night and the stars, and we must act swiftly and forcefully to preserve them.

Bethel resident Cara Krupnikoff-Salkin is a senior at Smith College studying psychology and statistics.