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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Lights Out!

Did you know the week of April 2-8, 2024 was officially been proclaimed International Dark Sky Week in Washington, DC?   The proclamation notes that “DC’s residents – like 80% of all people living on Earth – live under a dome of light pollution that causes significant ecological harm and threatens the health and well-being of all life.” The Mayor issued the proclamation at the behest of DarkSky DC (www.facebook.com/darkskiesdc/), DC’s non-profit advocate for controlling light pollution. Local organizations City Wildlife (citywildlife.org/) and the National Capital Astronomers (capitalastronomers.org/) strongly supported the proclamation.

The timing of the declaration is important as it coincides with the spring bird migration when as many as 500 species of birds and literally millions of individual birds migrate north through the Atlantic Flyway that runs from Canada down along the east coast of the US (and through DC) and on into the Caribbean and South America.  These birds follow the same route in the fall as they migrate south. Julia K. Stevenson, a DC native and member of Dark Sky DC, advocated for the proclamation, noting, “There are so many compelling reasons to reduce lighting and/or install better lighting options—the disruption to ecosystems, the harmful implications for human health, the energy wasted, and the sums of money expended. Unless reined in, artificial lights at night will wash away the stars, leaving us in a perpetual twilight.”

City Wildlife has been advocating for less intense lighting in DC for years. They led the effort to pass the the Migratory Local Wildlife Protection Act of 2022, requiring bird-safe glass and design on all new and majorly renovated buildings in DC. As a part of their advocacy for that bill, they’ve documented bird death due to collisions with glass windows and excessive lighting.  Anne Lewis, Founding President of  City Wildlife was pleased with the Dark Sky Week proclamation. “Light pollution is hazardous to wildlife.  It confuses migratory birds and is a prime cause of bird/glass collisions.  Light pollution also distorts circadian rhythms in wildlife—including birds—and predator/prey relationships, causing an overall decrease in biodiversity.  Dark Sky Week in DC will bring needed attention to the importance of reducing artificial night lighting in DC and will benefit our native wildlife.”

What Can You Do

How can you celebrate Dark Sky Week DC?

While there’s no mention of specific action that the DC government will be taking as a part of International Dark Sky Week, DarkSky.org has five principles for responsible lighting that you can follow to improve your outdoor lighting, to benefit humans and wildlife—and save money.

Do your lights have a clear purpose? If you have some lighting that does not serve a purpose, disconnect them or remove the lamp/bulb. 

Is the light directed where it is needed? Any light aimed at the sky is wasted light that contributes to light pollution. Consider finding light fixtures that are more focused to eliminate any light going into the sky or onto your neighbor’s property.

Are the lights generating more light than you really need? You might be over-lighting, putting more light into the night environment than you need. Change your light switch to a dimmer or use a lower-wattage bulb.

Are your lights on all night long? If so, why? Consider using timers for porch lights and occupancy sensors for security lights. These controls will save a lot of energy and eliminate unnecessary lighting that contributes to light pollution.

Are you using warmer colored lighting where possible? When purchasing outdoor lighting products for your home, look at the correlated color temperature (CCT) for the lamp or fixture, and make sure it’s 2700K (Kelvin) or lower. Higher numbers contribute more to light pollution.  And, the color of your lighting matters, too.  While science has yet to determine the “best” color of outdoor light for wildlife, there’s gathering consensus that yellow “bug lights—insect deterrent bulbs that your grandma might have used (in the 2000–2700K range) provide a great source of outdoor lighting for insects. And, in general, what’s good for insects, is good for birds.

Don’t forget that April 8, the Earth will be celebrating it’s own “Lights Out” day with a solar eclipse.  While, DC isn’t directly in the pathway, the sun will still be approximately 90% obscured.  What a great way to culminate DC’s Dark Sky Week!

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club DC Chapter and an Admin for her neighborhood BuyNothing group.  Perspectives expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.

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