Public Broadcasting Station's P.O.V. will give an encore showing of Ian Cheney's The City Dark - Monday, August 12th, 2013
The City Dark: Addressing Light Pollution
By thinking critically about lighting design and what it
can return to us, it becomes possible to reduce light pollution and also conserve energy.
Blending a humorous, searching
narrative with poetic footage of the night sky, The City Dark provides a fascinating
introduction to the science of the dark and an exploration of our relationship to the stars.
Winner, Best Score/Music Award,
2011 SXSW Film Festival. Produced in association with American Documentary | POV.
Just in the same way that scientists do not need to research how
to reduce a neighbor's noise level, reducing light pollution is not ever going to be a problem that scientists will need to
research to correct. The problem is one that any ordinary person will add to by the poor usage of their lights. Thus this is a
problem that has been ignorantly or apathically created by our habits. So, until there are code enforcement on laws regarding
the usage of light, it is really up to us, everyday folks, to understand and to solve it on our own. So what can you do to
reduce light pollution, save energy and bring back the beauty of the night sky? Here are a few ideas:
Learn the Facts -- Most importantly, educate yourself on the issues. Explore our pages or visit the
International Dark Sky Association for a wealth of outdoor lighting information. Joining
the IDA is a great way to show your support for reducing light pollution, which makes better use of natural resources and helps
perserve the sky for amateur astronomy, for ourselves and our future generations. The IDA provided information that you can use,
such as their Practical Guide for Residences. This guide not
only includes information about what to install and how to do it, but also a suggested letter you can use to approach a neighbor
who has a light that is glaring at your home. Excerts from that guide are reprinted in the Practical
Action Tips and Good Neighbor Letter sections below.
Talk About It -- Another way to help is to explain to others about the problem of light pollution. One very
child friendly book you can get about the issue is There once was a sky full of stars by Bob Crelin and Amie Ziner,
published and sold by Sky and Telescope. It is a wonderful read that
easily coveys the issue and brings to the forefront what lost wonders our obsessive lighting steals from our children. I
especially like and connect to their descriptions of the lost dreamland yards. To get an idea of how many stars are lost
due to light pollution visit the Astronomy, Our Perceptions of Light, and the
Impact of Light Pollution section on our LP vs. Astronomy web page.
Fix Your Fixtures -- Ensure that you are not part of the problem
by checking outdoor light fixtures around your house and/or business. Ensure that the lights do not shine upwards nor
outwards and unnecessarily at night. Install the lights high on your home or building. Have the lights pointed downwards and use
full cutoff luminaires to better control and direct the light to where it is needed and not to where it is unwanted. The picture at
the right shows the good light being placed higher on the house and pointed downwards, this eliminates the shadow regions near
a light that can hide a bad guy. Correct those lights that do. Remember, the basic goal for lighting is this:
no light should be emitted above the source's horizontal plane.
Reconsider Security Lighting -- Often touted by the security and lighting industries (especially with dramatic
commericials), it is a reoccuring myth that lighting increases security, when
in fact FBI statistics show that most home crime occurs during the daytime.
Thus if light prevented crime, then there should be no crime at all during the bright daytime. But that is not the case. A
friend of mine countered this arguement by stating that criminals need to sleep, too. Obviously, so then if criminals sleep during
the night as nice, law abiding folks do, then who are all the lights left on for?
However, if you are determined to use lights for security, then not only will setting them to be controlled by
motion-sensitive electronics is a much better way to eliminate unnecessary lighting and reduce electricity costs, but it may also
increase your household security effectiveness, because the active lighting may draw attention to movement in an area, rather than
just wastefully leaving them on all night long. This of course, assumes that anyone is on guard watching what the lighting shows.
Also, you should be aware that the motion sensors and the lights are often mounted together with the sensor on the bottom. This means
that the sensor will often point the light higher than it should, and so, emit light above its horizontal plane. Please ensure
that the lights are adjusted correctly.
Remember this: criminals need light, too! Security lights announce
and advertise that there is something in your house that needs protecting. Criminals will check out your house to see how easy it is
to rob. They will check to see how easy it will be to escape from, if they need to. Leaving lights on may just make it that much
easier for them to figure this out.
Finally, after installation, remember to test out your motion sensor's sensitivity levels. A light that goes off at the slightest
movement will quickly become ignored when insects, swaying tree branches or other natural movements, too easily trigger your light,
which would then defeat its purpose. Don't let your light cry wolf!
NO Landscape Lighting! -- Using lights to illuminate your trees, houses and land is strongly discouraged. Not only
does this pure act of vanity contribute to glare and
light trespass, but it also may harm the plants or trees
that are being lit. Many trees adjust their growth based on light levels. Artificially changing the light levels alters the
plant's ability to respond to the changing seasons. However, if you still insist on installing landscape lighting, you should at
least focus the fixtures downward so that its angle does not exceed 45 degrees from the ground to reduce glare and light trespass
and use lamps of the lowest wattage lamps possible. Also, landscape lighting should be controlled by a timer, so that the lights
turn off by 10 p.m. While I am all for solar energy usage as they do not use household electricity and are often (for now) low to
the ground, the use of solar landscape lighting should be avoided when possible, for they can not be turned off, so they stay on all
night or until their batteries run down. As such, they are another unneccessary light source.
Street Lighting -- If you live on a street with poorly designed cobrahead or NEMA-style light fixtures,
call the local power company, (for us here it is Florida Power and Light or FPL) to complain about
the glare and request that the fixtures be changed to full cutoff, or better yet fully focused designs that reduce
glare and improve visibility. Note that the older cobrahead lights have drop down lenses that scatter light outwards and into
people's eyes. Newer cobrahead light have eliminated the drop lens in its design. You may notice that these newer designs are
increasingly part of the newer lights on Interstate 95. But local street lighting, where people live and sleep, is sorely behind
the changes. The local power company here, FPL's number for Residential Services for Palm Beach County is (561) 994-8227 and for
Broward County is (954) 797-5000, or you can use the FPL contact page. Public demand for better, more efficient fixtures is a good way to ensure that the positive
Neighbor's Lighting -- An ironic situation occurs here in that if you had late night, noisy neighbors or if they
had a dog that barked all night long, authorities will respond to handle this matter. However, if you reported that a neighbor's
light is equally bothersome and that it interupts your sleep, they'd just shrug their shoulders. So, until this changes, if
you have neighbors with unnecessarily bright, poorly designed lights, try talking to them tactfully and politely, and understand
the issues they are trying to solve. Offer them alternatives like motion-sensitive lights that beautify their property, draw
attention to movement and save money. If you have a telescope, one introductory method you can try is to offer your neighbor a
look at some bright deep sky objects or planets, and then point out that even more can be seen if the lights were shut off or
replaced with full cutoff designs that keep the glare out of your eyes. Some tips from the
International Dark Sky Assoc. are listed below that describe what to do about a neighbor's annoying light. Another
introductory method to try is to use the Good Neighbor Letter below. The recommended tactic is
to be politefully persistent.
Commerical Lighting -- If you are a customer at a restaurant, convenience store, car dealership, shopping mall,
home improvement center, grocery store or other establishment that has poor, glare-producing parking lot lights, do not be afraid to
politely speak to the manager and let him or her know about energy-saving alternatives that improve visibility and safety.
Lights From Outside -- Finally, do what you can to insure that the conditions in which you regularly sleep in are
as dark as possible. One measures of night light levels one group of scientists sorted their data by was whether or not the subjects
could see their own hands in the darkened state. If they could, then that light level was already enough to shift them away from the
ideal sleeping condition. More details on how to do this are listed in the next section.
Protecting Yourself from the Effects of Light Pollution in Your Home
You can make small simple adjustments to your envirnoment, which may go a long way to benefitting you. As
described in the Light Pollution and Human Health page, there are a few steps you can take to
eliminate some of the problems that light pollution causes us. Here is a quick list of things to do:
Do not leave a nightlight on as you or your family sleeps. Do not leave the television on when you or your family
sleeps. Not only will these affect your sleep, but they will certainly affect your electric bill.
If you really need to use a nightlight, turn it on only when you are actively using it. When done, turn it
off. And choose a bulb or light source that is as RED as
If you use an alarm clock, use one with a
RED light source on it, such as one that uses red LED digits.
Shift workers: If you have a second or third shift job that requires you to sleep during the daytime, it is even more
important for you to ensure that your bedroom is dark. Your very own job is considered to be a
risk factor for cancer. Ensuring your sleep time is as
dark as possible, is the only way you can ammelioate the effect.
If you leave lights on outside your house, please turn your outdoor lights off too. For it is quite selfish to
protect you and your family from the long term damaging effects of light pollution, and yet not to give your neighbors the same
consideration. This is a classic Do unto others as you would have others do unto you type of behavior that so many people
profess to follow, and yet few really do. Just because your neighbors may have not heard of the problems of light pollution, does
not mean that they are not affected by it, too.
Practical Actions - Tips for how to better deal with Light Pollution from others
Many of us have experienced this scenario: Your neighbors have installed a new light on their property. It is an
unshielded fixture that casts a bright light with no control and lots of glare. The light trespass from this fixture produces light
pollution and energy waste. Their new fixture is lighting up your yard or shining into your home, maybe even illuminating your bedroom
and disrupting your sleep. Your neighbors cite safety as the reason for installing this light. The illumination gives them a newfound
feeling of security.
What your neighbor may not know is that unshielded fixtures that create glare and splatter light everywhere may make
a property less safe by not focusing the light where it is needed. Likewise, your neighbor also may not be aware of how you are
affected by the light trespass coming off the property.
How do you talk to your neighbor about this situation? The International Dark-Sky Association has provided the
following steps to educate your neighbor, and by extension your community, about the value of dark sky friendly lighting.
Make friends, not enemies. Your neighbors probably don't realize the light is bothersome.
Do your homework and be prepared to address the real issues.
It is useful to know the local costs of electricity (cents per KWH),
and the local lighting control ordinances. This information is available on most city Web sites, from your regional utility
company, and on your utility bill.
You may also want to compile a list of local businesses with good quality lighting as an example of effective
security measures that are dark sky friendly.
A list of shielded light fixtures to provide as alternatives to your neighbor's current light is also recommended.
A comprehensive list of dark sky friendly fixtures and devices is available on the IDA Web site in the
Fixture Seal of Approval section.
If there are any further questions, call them at: 1 520 293 3198, or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. IDA will
Stay positive. Don't let bad lighting create a feud in your residential area.
Remember that home is a place where everyone wants to feel relaxed and safe.
Accept your neighbors' need to feel secure and politely ask them to accept your need to enjoy the nighttime
environment in your own yard.
Explain that light trespass is a form of light pollution, but never threaten to sue. The idea of a lawsuit can
create bad feelings among the whole neighborhood.
Remember that everyone wants the same thing: a chance to relax in their own environment. Work together to create
an atmosphere that benefits the community.
IDA's Good Neighbor Introductory Letter
Putting your thoughts in writing is good way to avoid a miscommunication. IDA has offered this sample letter
of issues you may want to convey to a neighbor if a lighting nuisance ever arises. Don't forget to edit it as what would be
appropriate for your situation.
Dear (insert name),
Allow me to introduce myself, I am your neighbor (insert name) and I would love
to talk to you about good outdoor lighting. I have noticed that you have installed outdoor lights on your property, and I applaud
your desire to help improve our neighborhood.
At this time your lights are a bit too bright and they are shining in (pick areas as
they apply: our bedroom window, the backyard, into our house etc.), and interfering with our (sleep,
hobbies, view of the sky, etc). I'm sure you weren't aware of this and I wanted to bring it to your attention as soon as
possible to avoid any misunderstanding. Let me be clear, I am not asking you to remove the lights, but perhaps they can be
re-directed onto the ground where they will do the most good.
In addition, we could work together to shield the lights so that they are even more effective. Shielding a
lamp usually requires a lesser wattage bulb, which is a big money saver within just a year's time. Shielding reduces glare which
can be blinding and produces fewer harsh shadows where the "bad guys" can hide. Dark sky friendly lighting provides real security,
not just an illusion.
There are other ways to save money and still be safe. When lights have motion sensors, they provide an alert
if someone is in your yard after dark and they save you money by keeping the lights off when they aren't needed. Timers are another
money saver because they can turn off your lights when you will not be using the yard; for instance, when you retire for the night.
Thank you so much for your time and understanding. I would love to talk with you about the advantages to using
dark sky friendly lighting and how it benefits your safety, your budget, and the night sky.
Sincerely, Your Neighbor (your name and contact information)
Some notes about legal actions that have been tried.
What follows are some pieces of information that are provided to help people become aware of what has been tried
in a legal court, what the difficulties were and what were the results. What is sad is that many laws recognize the invasiveness of
foul oders or incessantly loud noises at disturbing the peace of a recipents that do not wanted such assaults on their senses. Yet
many have yet seemed realize a similar insult occurs to peoples' eyes. Note, that I am not advocating that people try these steps
as they seem to be very time and fiscally draining. Friendlier and more personaly direct methods, such as the above letter, may meet
with more immediate success. However, the recognition of the widespread problem will have to be accepted, and fortunately some
precedent have already been achieved and with some advanced strategic work, this information may be very useful for those that need
The first case, which is rather old, I have very little information to go on and I am not a legal representative of
the court, so down here in south Florida, I do not have original sources to the information. What is here is second or third hand
information, so it may not be entirely accurate. Hopefully it is and that someone may find it useful.
Lawsuit: Pennsylvania Hetzer et al vs. Paparo et al Paparo et al vs. Hetzer et al
The property in question is located on Church Rd., Lafayette Hill. The test for nuisance applied in Hetzer
v. Paparo was that if the intensity of the light shining from the adjoining land is strong enough to disturb a person of ordinary
sensibilities, it is a nuisance and must be corrected.
The court did not recognize any right to protection for persons who were hypersensitive to outdoor lighting.
The next case occured in Golden, CO and is defined as being "not unpublished". As such, they have some rules
about not publishing the case. What follows is what can be learned from other the linked sources. The case is described by the
plaintiff on his website: http://www.lightlawsuit.com. There is also a link to a .pdf
file that includes the very brief announcing results to the case. Again, I am not a legal representative, so I can not verify the
accuracy to the case as described by the plaintiff, Mr. Cash. It is only here so that someone may find it useful, or at least
Lawsuit: Colorado Cash vs. Emich d.b.a. Elway Chrysler Jeep West & Elway Subaru West Golden,
The oral arguments took place in August 2006 and the appealed ruling was announced in September 7, 2006.
Mr Cash states that the court held that the lights were an actionable nuisance. The jury found that the
defendants (the car dealerships) were creating, maintaining and/or allowing a nuisance to exist. Paraphrasing, the court held that
the laws are sensitive to property owners rights to use and enjoy their private property, without having to close blinds or
curtains on their windows to accommodate a business interest (the bright lights). The lawsuit has set a new precedent for nuisance
light, which gives relief from bright lights that interfere with the use and enjoyment of one's private property.
Mr. Cash states that the lawsuit is considered to be a persuasive precedent, which means that its
decision is not mandatory followed, however, it maybe relavent or useful to others. Attorneys can find it using Westlaw Legal
research at: 2006 WL2567678. A regular citizen can use the Colorado Courts website under the
Court of Appeals Opinions - Case
Announcements page. Click on the year 2006 to obtain the records then, and then the date the case was announced, which was
Sept. 7, 2006. If you want to request a copy of the case's opinion, you'll need to follow the instructions to request a copy of
the final decision by the Court of Appeals. The case number "04CA2444" may be required, and the case is listed as Cash vs. Emich
d.b.a. Elway Chrysler Jeep West & Elway Subaru West.
Following the above instuctions, I found reference to his case on page 16 at
There, the file has under Published Opinions: Court of Appeals No.: 04CA2444 Jefferson County District Court No.
Honorable Leland P. Anderson, Judge David N. Cash, Plaintiff-Appellee, v.
Emich Oldsmobile LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, d/b/a John Elway
Chrysler Plymouth Jeep West and Emich Subaru West LLC, a Delaware limited liability
company, d/b/a John Elway Subaru West,
JUDGMENT AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART,
AND CASE REMANDED WITH DIRECTIONS
Division V Opinion by: JUDGE BERNARD Dailey and Webb, JJ., concur NOT PUBLISHED PURSUANT TO C.A.R.
Mr. Cash covers quite a bit of information about the case on his website. He also states that his legal
expenses were very high and that, while he won, sort of, the city did not force the dealership to alter the lights. Mr. Cash
informs me that the district court judge in Jefferson Co. did order the Subaru car dealership to shield their lights with four-sided
shields. That order was given on July 20 '04. So they have been shielded properly. Again, legal proceedings may not be the best way
to go. As to Mr. Cash, I still wish you the best of luck.
In what has to be the graddaddy of all light pollution links site, is the
LiteLynx site by Cliff Haas! If you want to what has
been covered about the subject, this is a good place to go! It is mind-boggling in its scope!
SkyKeepers.org have been recording and reporting on the effects of
light pollution for years.
Need more ideas on how to prevent crime via better lighting? Crime Prevention Through
Environmental Design (CPTED) is a multidisciplinary crime prevention approach originally credited to criminologist C. Ray
Jeffery in 1971. Since then, renowned architects, criminologists, psychologists, planners, and law enforcement have utilized
CPTED ideas, incorporating biology and psychology, to create a cohesive crime prevention strategy. Timothy Crowe, author of Crime
Prevention Through Environmental Design 2nd Edition, defines CPTED as the theory that the proper design and effective use of
the built environment can lead to a reduction in the incidence and fear of crime, and to an improvement in the quality of
Links to vendors that offer items that would help combat light pollution
Why should folks in rural places be the only ones who get to not only have a healthy nights rest but also be
able to enjoy the night's sky. With that in mind, here is a list of vendors that offer lighting solutions to light polluted city
Green Earth Lighting specializes in environmentally friendly outdoor
lighting. Their lighting products help you keep glare to a minimum, produce no direct uplight, use the minimum amount of light
needed for the task and put light only where it is needed when it is needed, while improving visibility, providing a safe enviroment
and reducing energy costs.
Or consider Holophane.com's Utility Series
products for outdoor street lighting. They offer responsible lighting solutions that meets the IESNA definition for full
cutoff or fully focused light distribution that reduced urban sky glow.
The FlagPoleWarehouse has a money saving solution to prevent light
pollution from illuminating flag poles. Cleverly arranged, down pointing and cost effective lights are placed at the top of the
pole and attached to the top rope pulley for the flag. Where the flag blows, its light is sure to follow. Since the light source
is close to the flag itself, energy and money is not wasted by illuminating the flag from far below. You really can be patriotic,
environmental and cost effective too!