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Updated: May 1, 2018

An essay about light pollution and animals, including humans, entitled “The Health Effects of a World without Darkness” by Rebecca Boyle was first published in Aeon, I believe in 2009. It now appears in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2015 (Mariner, 2015). An astronomy specialist, Rebecca Boyle writes about the impact of light pollution on her work and her life. She writes about the effects of nearly constant light today on animal’s migrations, human sleep, and possibly depression, cancer and weight gain in humans.

We are all descended from astronomers

Neil deGrasse Tyson says, “We are all descended from astronomers.” Boyle writes about the starry sky in the past that all people had access to, no matter who they were, where they lived or how much money they had. When I was still very young I remember learning about mariners navigating the stars. I had sky charts that felt like treasure maps. I took the stars for granted. It’s so rare to really see them now and when I do I feel more connected to myself and the earth and all living beings.

To read Boyle’s essay about light pollution and animals is to learn something about the plights of migrating birds, no longer able to trust the moon and the stars, flying into brightly lit anything, harming them dearly. Sea turtles also follow the moon, but instead now they are confused by bright lights shining from highways and more. Fruit bats have to find new foraging routes to avoid even small amounts of light. This is something to consider when placing outdoor lighting that it is not so close together.  Ocean life is affected by the bright lights above the water, luring them and interfering with their hunting, navigation and mating habits.

Light pollution and animals? Let’s see if we can help

It’s up to us humans to fix this problem. There is so much we can do as consumers of nighttime lighting and as citizens of our communities and the world. The first thing we can do is to really evaluate our own home lighting. Understanding light pollution is the very best place to start.