Have you noticed a big glow in the sky as you look at the horizon while driving towards a city or large town? Have you tried unsuccessfully to find a favorite star when standing near a lighted building or parking lot? These are consequences of light pollution, a term describing the effects of outdoor lighting. As New Hampshire continues to be developed, these effects are increasing.
Outdoor lighting has many benefits. Appropriately designed, and properly installed, outdoor lighting can increase safety and security, advertise businesses, provide recreation, and allow for nighttime work. However, inappropriate outdoor lighting results in dangerous glare, over-lighting, skyglow, energy waste, and in some cases, adverse effects on wildlife.
Light pollution affects us in many ways. Not only has stargazing become difficult for professional and backyard astronomers, but the "rural character" of our New Hampshire communities has been altered with brightly lit skies.
Artificial night light also impacts wildlife. For example, observers have reported for years that migrating birds are attracted to towers with light and, while circling in large numbers, they often collide fatally with the structures or with each other. In Florida, when sea turtle hatchlings emerge at night from their eggs and head for the ocean, lights from hotels and other sources can lead them off course. Also, researchers have found that sudden exposure to artificial light can cause nocturnal frogs to stop feeding and normal reproductive behavior, and sit motionless long after the light has been turned off, leaving them susceptible to predators.
There are several things that you can do to reduce the negative impacts of outdoor lighting. Ask your lighting retailer for new compact fluorescent light fixtures or "shielded" lighting that offer more light control by putting light where it is needed. You can also conserve energy and decrease light pollution by controlling where and when the lights are used, how long they are on, and how bright they are. Use individual controls and timers rather than lighting large areas off of one switch. For safety issues, use motion sensors for outdoor lighting. Adjust light timers with changing daylight hours, use photo sensors, or simply turn off lights where not needed. If you use properly shielded fixtures and efficient bulbs, you will have the added benefit of saving energy and money.
If residents are concerned about inappropriate lighting in their community, new development zoning ordinances or regulations can be adopted that require shielded or directed street lights or decreased pole height in parking lots.
For more information on outdoor lighting, contact Jennifer Czysz at the NH Office of Energy and Planning (OEP), at firstname.lastname@example.org or (603) 271-2155. For an outdoor lighting technical bulletin, links to area lighting solutions products, and town ordinance information, visit the OEP Web site.