What is Light Pollution?

By Commissioner Suzi Myers

One of my all-time favorite paintings is Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” which he painted in St. Remy, France, in 1889. Sadly, the Milky Way and many of the stars that inspired him can no longer be seen at this location. Why? Light pollution has taken away our night skies.  

What is light pollution? Consider coming home from a trip in the country at night. As you approach St. Charles, you see a glow (skyglow) over the city—this is light pollution. In the last 100 years, the increased use of lights at night, such as street lights, home lighting, landscaping, stores, sports fields, and many other sources have dimmed the darkness of our skies. We have lost the important rhythm of darkness and light of the sun, moon, and stars. 

Ok, so what? The inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light can have serious environmental consequences for humans, wildlife, and our climate. In fact, much of the outdoor lighting used at night is completely unnecessary. Outdoor lighting can be overly bright, poorly targeted, and shielded. This light, and the electricity used to create it, is being wasted by spilling it into the sky, rather than focusing it on the actual objects and areas that people want to be illuminated. 

Light pollution affects every citizen. The good news is that light pollution is reversible and each one of us can make a difference! You can start by minimizing the light from your own home at night. You can do this by following these simple steps: 

  • Only use lighting when and where it’s needed 
  • If safety is a concern, install motion detector lights and timers 
  • Properly shield all outdoor lights – you should not be able to see the bulb 
  • Keep your blinds drawn to keep light inside         

A guide to proper outdoor lighting is found at: https://www.darksky.org/our-work/ lighting/lighting-for-citizens/residentialbusiness-lighting/ 

You can learn more about night skies at: https://www.darksky.org/  

A short video showing the safety factors of shielded and unshielded outdoor lighting: https://youtu.be/XTjR4vef8JU 

Also, watch for a night skies program coming soon to our area!