Inks Lake Park intern battles light pollution

Photo by Steve Shubert, Special to the Bulletin
Our ancestors were once able to behold the twinkling night sky like the one pictured after every sunset, but thanks to inefficient outdoor lighting, that experience is becoming endangered. The Night Sky Conservation movement was started in hopes of reversing this sad truth, and Lauren Sweat, an intern at Inks Lake State Park, is doing her part in educating residents of the Hill Country on the issue.

 

 

 

 

 

Savanna Gregg

Staff Writer

Burnet Bulletin

There was once a time in which every star in the sky could be seen at night. Our ancestors experienced an absolute absence of light once the sun set, and the twinkling black sky above was untouched; one could watch the stars twinkle from anywhere in the world.

Today, much of the night sky is tainted by light pollution, and billions of people rarely have the chance to behold a sight as breathtaking as the Milky Way on a dark, clear night.

Lauren Sweat, a Sustainability major at the University of Texas at Austin and an intern at Inks Lake State Park, is on a mission to reverse this sad truth and is actively sharing knowledge and suggestions with the public to help bring back the beauty of the night sky.

“With increasing urban sprawl, light pollution is making it harder to view the stars at night,” Sweat said. “And a lot of people in urban areas don't know what they are losing, because they have never seen the starry sky.”

Sweat recently attended a workshop hosted by the International Dark-Sky Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the night sky by sharing information about light pollution and ways to prevent it, in which she learned of the various effects light pollution can have on the environment, besides ruining the view.

According to the IDA, light pollution has negative effects on the health of humans, as well as wildlife. Animals depend on a regular light-to-dark cycle to survive in their environment, and when introduced to artificial lighting, their regular habits may be altered, having adverse affects on their health. When a human's circadian rhythm – the internal clock, kept in tune with the Earth's 24-hour cycle with the help of natural lighting – is affected by artificial light at night, it puts them at a higher risk for obesity, sleep disorders, depression, diabetes, breast cancer, and more.

Light pollution also leads to a waste of energy and money. Artificial lighting increases greenhouse gas emissions, contributes to climate change, and increases energy dependence. The IDA states that 15 million tons of carbon dioxide is emitted each year to power residential outdoor lighting, the equivalent of three million cars. The average house equipped with incorrect lighting wastes 0.5 kilowatt-hours per night, which is enough energy to power a 50-inch television for one hour or to run a dishwasher through one cycle. 35-percent of light is wasted by poor covering of outdoor bulbs, giving the light nowhere else to go but up, affecting our environment more each day.

The IDA has suggestions for individuals to contribute to the night-sky conservation effort. Residents are asked to only light what they need, instead of lighting up their entire property at night, use energy-efficient bulbs, place the correct shields over lights to ensure the light is directed down rather than into the sky, only use light when needed, and to use warm white bulbs when lighting the exterior of their homes.

Not only does artificial lighting affect the earth in scientific ways, but it is quickly changing our world from the way it was experienced generations before us, and as each day passes we lose sight of how it used to be. Majoring in Sustainability, Sweat has a special viewpoint on these matters and how they affect our environment and ways to make a change.

“The main focus of sustainability is to ensure that our future generations can enjoy the world in the same way that we do now,” Sweat said. “The beautiful night skies across Central Texas are extremely important, not just for human enjoyment but for wildlife survival as well.”

The City of Horseshoe Bay was named a Dark Sky Community by the IDA in 2015, and just last year, Llano joined Mason, Fredericksburg, and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area to participate in International Dark Sky Week after enacting a Dark Sky lighting ordinance in 2015. Sweat hopes bringing this idea to the City of Burnet will increase awareness of the issue and eventually spread to larger urban areas.

“I think by getting something started here, it could then go further towards Liberty Hill, then maybe Austin,” Sweat said. “And that will eventually affect Inks Lake State Park.”

The park, along with the Austin Astronomical Society, hosts “Star Parties” every other month to educate the public on constellations and enjoy the beauty of the night sky, and with increasing light pollution, these viewings may eventually fade away just like the stars.

“We are able to enjoy the earth now, and we want it to be the same for future generations,” Sweat said. “If we want them to grow up having star parties, we need to act now and enact ordinances.”

Many people think one act is not going to correct a problem, but Sweat knows that the movement has already made a difference in other communities in the Hill Country, and does not have to stop at one place.

“When you think of pollution, you think of something tangible,” Sweat said. “Light pollution is harder for people to understand; they don't know what they are losing, so they can't see the changes being made.

“To quote someone from the workshop, light pollution can be reversed at the 'speed of light,' compared to other forms of pollution,” Sweat added. “We can change to energy-efficient bulbs, use warmer toned lights, and adjust light fixtures and reverse it easily.”

As Earth Day approaches on April 22 and awareness of environmental issues is brought to light, Sweat urges the community to talk to their elected officials about the affects of light pollution, discuss actions that may be taken to prevent it, and make these small changes in the meantime to help do their part in preserving our night sky. That way, we will be able to keep singing the first line of “Deep in the Heart of Texas” for generations to come.

“'The stars at night are big and bright,'” Sweat quoted. “If we continue with development and light pollution, we won't be able to sing that song anymore.”

For more information about light pollution, methods of prevention, and IDA membership, visit the IDA website, darksky.org, or email ida@darksky.org.

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