A dark night is natural

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Two weeks ago I was staring up into the sky from a small side road on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. In wonderment and awe I stared up into the Milky Way and the other hundreds of trillions of stars beyond counting.

It struck me, as I was staring up into the stars that night, that the Milky Way is barely visible here in Canmore if at all, and that I couldn’t remember seeing many of the stars in Canmore anymore. Having grown up here in Canmore, there was a time when you could stare up into the sky and see the stars and Milky Way.

Light pollution from the poor design of outdoor lighting fixtures, and our lack of awareness on how light operates, is wasteful and poses serious risks to our health and our environment.

In understanding light pollution, it comprises three categories; glare, sky glow and light trespass.

1. Glare is the extreme visual discomfort cause by unshielded lighting. Often we have been illuminating with the idea of safety in mind. Brighter lights do not mean safer. Glare from bright, unshielded lights is not safe because it shines in our eyes and constricts the pupils. This is blinding and makes it difficult to adjust our eyes to low light conditions in our environment.

According to a 2012 report of the American Medical Association, “Glare from nighttime lighting can create hazards ranging from discomfort to frank visual disability.”

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that streetlights don’t prevent accidents or crime, but do cost a lot of money. The researchers looked at data on road traffic collisions and crime in 62 local authorities in England and Wales and found that lighting had no effect, whether authorities had turned them off completely, dimmed them, turned them off at certain hours, or substituted low-power LED lamps.” – www.darksky.org.

There is nothing legal about street lighting. There are no legal standards. There are no laws regulating their use, it is entirely up to the community. It is a local decision. They do not make streets safe and they do not hold up in court for automobile accidents. Cars have headlights.

2. Sky glow is the overillumination of our residential neighbourhoods, street lighting, sporting venues and business signage. It creates an orange glow that can be seen for kilometres away from a distance. Sky glow interrupts the migratory and mating patterns of birds. It affects trees and their natural seasonal rhythms and much more.

3. Light trespass can be best imagined in trying to sleep at night with your neighbour’s porchlight or bedroom light shining into your bedroom. Light trespass can also occur from bounced light, an unshielded light at too high a temperature reflects from the ground into a neighbour’s bedroom causing sleep disruption. There are some of us whom have residential street lighting shining in their bedroom at night. This is not fair to those residents.

Canmore has a document titled: Town of Canmore Land Use Bylaw 22-2010: Adopted in January 2012 under general regulations in the introduction for lighting standards for the town, it states in section 4.18.1 that the illumination of site and buildings can enhance or detract from the night-time mountain setting of Canmore. Good lighting impedes visibility of the natural setting, interferes with biological cycles, creates uncomfortable glare and can establish an undesirable glow. The purpose of these lighting regulations is to enhance the nighttime setting of Canmore. It’s clear the Town has the intention of reducing the effects light pollution, however, lighting has gotten worse, not better.

LED lighting systems which have been created as energy efficient lighting that is both cost effective and environmentally friendly have replaced the sodium lights around town. Seen as a wonderful money saver, these lights are seriously flawed and have not been properly tested. One of the many problems with these lights is that they are illuminated at above 3000K within the unhealthy blue light spectrum and they are not shielded.

“High Kelvin lighting (greater than 3000K) create a harsh glare, making it difficult to see clearly at night. It can also suppress melatonin production, leading to disrupted sleep and other health risks. 3000K and less LED lights are the safest LED currently available. “ — darksky.org

This letter is an appeal to our community to take action against this problem in an effective, holistic way in which there is great benefit to our community health and environmental impact.

I mentioned only a few of the many problems associated with our current street lighting and its effects of preventing us from seeing the night sky. I know there are others who feel that the night sky is of value for local residents and visitors alike to the bow valley.

I’m interested in forming a group to educate ourselves more about this issue, with the vision of reclaiming our night sky again. Petitions can be formed. Phone calls can be made. We can have our lighting shielded despite any local administrative resistance that may exist. It’s a natural right. I don’t have children of my own, but if I did I would want them to have the experience of seeing the Milky Way too.

I may be reached at damian@damianlamartine.com by email.

Damian Lamartine,

Canmore

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