Monday, April 28, 2008

Starlight Imperiled

A night under the stars conjures up a family tent next to a campfire under a star filled sky. It’s an opportunity to escape life’s hassles and let the kids experience the same sights and sounds their ancestors have. As the fire dies down, you lay back and peer into infinity hoping to catch a shooting star as the Milky Way sheds its warm glow.

For many of our state parks[1], the Milky Way has been replaced with sky glow, a component of light pollution caused by artificial lights. Light pollution is increasing on average 5%-10% in the US[2] every year. Terrel Gallaway, Missouri State economics professor, recently surveyed 4 national parks[3] and found that almost half of the respondents said that dark skies in the park were an “important” or “very important” reason in making their plans to travel to the park. Over two-thirds said that they had been bothered by sky glow in their home communities. Light pollution is related to energy waste and environmental issues[4].

A simple measure taken today can help ensure sensitive areas are protected for future generations to enjoy. The Kansas Night Sky Protection Act would require the state to monitor and maintain the natural sky above protected areas like state parks that allow camping. Over half the states have either passed or proposed laws to limit light pollution[5].

So, we are left with a simple question – Do we implement good lighting practices now or wait until the last child forgets what a starry night really is?