Artificial light illuminating the night skies has a devastating ripple effect on ecosystems, pollution and our own health. An ongoing creative project from the acclaimed circus juggler Michael Marlin brings to light the dangers surrounding light pollution. “Luma: Art in Darkness” continues at the Montbleu in Lake Tahoe until August 13th. Marlin and J. Scott Feierabend, Executive Director of the International Dark Sky Association, discuss the what can be done to reduce light pollution and give a preview of the show.
PUTTING LIGHT POLLUTION IN PERSPECTIVE
MICHAEL MARLIN: Throughout history, light has captivated humans, and we’ve been making light in all different kinds of ways. The impact that we’ve had on the planet making light and our love of light sometimes [goes] unnoticed. For instance, most of the whales would have been hunted to extinction simply to make light [but for] the invention of kerosene. And I got caught up in this driving back and forth from L.A. to Las Vegas when I was doing my juggling, and stopping in the middle of the desert and looking up at the night sky. This goes unnoticed every night just because the lights are on. The irony is that light has been traveling millions of light-years to reach my eyes, and it gets shouted out at the finish line because of a street light.
QUANTIFYING LIGHT POLLUTION
MICHAEL MARLIN: In the same way that we wouldn’t walk out of the room and leave the water running, because we’re taught at a very early age “don’t waste the water,” why would we do that with the light? Florida Atlantic University did a study that says that a 70 watt incandescent bulb uses about one kilowatt of energy in one evening. With that same amount of energy, you can lift 792,000 pounds one meter off the ground, which is about the weight of a 747 commercial airliner. So if people get a sense of that much energy is being used, they might be a little more aware to just simply turn off the light.
INTERNATIONAL DARK-SKY ASSOCIATION’S MISSION
J. SCOTT FEIERABEND: Part of our strategy and part of our ability to make a difference is to work with other non-profit organizations in the environmental community to help them understand that this is an issue they too should be promoting. Our main emphasis is primarily through education. Through our website and our partnerships with groups like LUMA and Marlin, we try to spread the word that there is this thing called light pollution. One of the most remarkable opportunities of this issue is that light pollution is so quickly and inexpensively remedied. Unlike trying to restore endangered species or trying to restore a wetland or trying to restore an old-growth forest, which takes [a long time] and lots of money and lots of political capital … light pollution can be remedied literally overnight by shielding a fixture or flipping the switch or installing a motion sensor.
LIGHT POLLUTION IS A WASTE OF ENERGY
J. SCOTT FEIERABEND: It’s so obvious, it just stares us in the face. I think it’s simply a lack of public understanding, of knowledge, how problematic light pollution is. What an enormous waste of energy! Our scientists tell us that something on the order of 40 percent of the highway lighting in the United States is completely wasted. If you took the time to calculate that into dollars and cents, that’s a lot of potholes being filled, that’s a lot of education being provided, that’s a lot of social services that are just being thrown down the rat hole.