Light pollution around the world increased by two per cent between 2012 and 2016, according to a recent study.

Light pollution around the world increased by two per cent between 2012 and 2016, according to a recent study.
Photo Credit: NASA

Light pollution increasing around the world

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Scientists were surprised to learn that light pollution is increasing around the world in spite of the greater use of energy-efficient LED lights. Artificial lighting around the world increased by two per cent between 2012 and 2016. This has negative consequences for flora, fauna, and human well-being, says a report published in the journal Science Advances.

Hillary Harris told CBC News that her whole family is awake because her city of Halifax installed bright new LED street lights across from her house.
Hillary Harris told CBC News that her whole family is awake because her city of Halifax installed bright new LED street lights across from her house. © Courtesy of Hillary Harris

More lights everywhere

“We’ve been told that it (LED lighting) saves energy and money, and it does, but we’re putting more of it out there,” says Andrew Fazekas, an astronomy columnist with National Geographic. “Especially municipalities, commercial lighting is increasing tremendously and even for residential areas too. People, around their homes, are lighting it up even more.”

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As countries develop and cities grow, they install more outdoor lighting as well. There have been big increases in artificial night lighting in Asia, Africa and South America.

Scientists concerned about biological effects

Artificial lighting can have a biological effect. People’s sleep can be disrupted which can affect their health. More light can also disrupt migration and reproduction of animals and fish. For example, hatching turtles are genetically programmed to use the light of the moon to guide them back to the ocean. But now they may instead turn away from it and toward the lights of a shopping mall.

Plants may respond by growing for longer periods.

Artificial lights make it harder to see the stars in the sky.
Artificial lights make it harder to see the stars in the sky.

Star-watchers are disheartened

And light pollution makes viewing or studying the night sky much more difficult. “I’m saddened,” says Fazekas. “As an avid sky-watcher all my life, loving the night sky and the stars, it’s really sad to see this ever-present march of, I guess you call progress, this light dome that surrounds a city is becoming wider and wider.

“And we’re becoming more and more disconnected with our common heritage of the night sky.”

Fazekas says municipalities and ordinary people could help by using lights of lower wattage and shielding them so they only shine on the areas where light is needed.

Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, is astronomy columnist with National Geographic and the author of Star Trek: The official Guide to Our Universe.

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2 comments on “Light pollution increasing around the world
  1. Peter Ashcroft says:

    How much of this light pollution is coming from the lights themselves, which are not shielded from the sky above, or from ground reflection, especially from wet surfaces?

  2. ursula wagner says:

    What a coincicence, just two days ago I learned from a study, apart from
    that what you mentioned, what LED lights can do to our eyes.

    The blue light can pass unimpeded our cornea and damage the macula, where we
    got the center of our optic nerves.

    Good to know, that I still use the old fashion, now not on sale anymore,
    light bulbs.