Mike Lockwood's Light Pollution Page

All photos and text Copyright Michael E. Lockwood, 2006, 2007, 2008.

Why post this page?  Because I'm mad.  Not one square inch of my property is free of glare from someone else's "insecurity" light or city streetlights.  This shouldn't be legal.

Think about this - I can be ticketed for leaving lawn waste on my property or playing my stereo too loud, but my neighbors and the city have the right to flood my property (including the inside of my house) and the sky above with unwanted, wasted photons?  How does that make sense?

Even though I am an amateur astronomer and I feel strongly that everyone should have access to reasonably dark skies outside their own home, I will state that public safety and energy efficiency are more important issues.  Good lighting is necessary for some streets and some locations, but good lighting contributes much less to sky glow than poor lighting.  Poor lighting glares in your eyes as you look around or drive, and makes it more difficult to see criminals, pedestrians and animals at night.  In many cases, poor lighting makes driving more dangerous than having no lighting at all.  Ever been blinded by glare from a poorly-aimed high-intensity lamp on the interstate or on an overpass?  I have.  Ever notice that that light in your backyard casts dark shadows that allow a would-be criminal to hide there, unseen?  I have.

Good lighting uses fixtures that have shields which keep light shining down, as it should, and not up or to the side, which causes waste and glare.

In addition to improving public safety at night, good lighting uses a FRACTION of the light that bad lighting does.  That should get your attention, given the recent 50% hike in electric rates that was rammed down comsumers' throats.

Additionally, many dusk-to-dawn lights could be eliminated if motion detectors were installed.  These units are inexpensive and turn the light on when something moves.  Even if the wind or animals trigger them to come on, they go off after a few minutes and use much less power than a dusk-to-dawn light.

There is absolutely no debate about these facts, but most people don't seem to be getting the message.  It was estimated that in the mid-90s, the U.S. wasted $2 billion on poor lighting.  That figure is surely higher with the sprawl of suburbia increasing.

Let me illustrate my own (very bright) situation.  When I moved into my house, there were NO street lights.  Some months later these new "antique" globe light fixtures were installed.  Below are photos of my street and my garage, taken on a cloudy night.  The exposures were about 5 seconds, and show the scenes very close to how they appear to the eye.

My light-polluted street at night

Note how little of the street is lit, but how much of the sidewalk, yards, and fronts of houses are lit!  Also, note the unnatural pink glow in the sky - this is almost entirely due to wasted light - light that emerges from a fixture and does nothing useful.  (Doing something useful is defined as lighting a street or parking lot for safety reasons.)  The glow is essentially wasted energy from businesses and YOUR WASTED TAX DOLLARS.  The bright fixtures represent distractions for drivers and glare for those who are trying to observe activity on the street (see my letter to the editor below).  The lights in this image are wasting over 50% of the light they emit - half of the light goes up, and large portion of the light that hits the ground of the light goes to light up yards and the fronts of houses.  So much for calling them "street lights".

Next is a photo of my neighbor's "insecurity" light, which is located on a pole some two feet from the property line.  It lights my entire backyard and both bedrooms in my house.  This is the classic design that the power company charges you something line $13 per month to have on from dusk until dawn.  However, it wastes a large portion of the light that it puts out.  At some point I am going to try to have the power company shield this light so that none of it goes up or onto my property.  We'll see how that goes.

My garage and my neighbor's light

Here's one more photo of my street just after a recent round of freezing rain.  Notice just how much light is being wasted lighting the trees, yards, fog, and sky, and how the illumination level of the street is quite unimpressive.  In fact, this makes for ideal lighting for tree photography at night!  Notice again the unnatural, ugly dirty pink glow of the sky.  What a shame, and WHAT A WASTE!  In the photo the waste just goes on and on into the distance.

Street after ice storm

Below is a letter to the editor that I wrote that was published in the Champaign News-Gazette last year concerning the poor street lighting that was installed only recently in my neighborhood, because uninformed residents (who were more concerned about property values than waste and safety) voted to have "antique" looking fixtures installed.  (In addition to the events described below, I nearly hit a trick-or-treater backing out of my driveway one rainy Halloween night because of the glare of the lights in my eyes and car mirrors.)

Globe Lights Waste your Tax Dollars

Dear Editor,
    One recent evening I called police to a disturbance down the street.  The situation escalated; the operator asked for details of the vehicle, people involved, and what was happening.  However, I could not make out the license plate, the color, or make of the vehicle, or the number of people involved even though I was less than a block away!
    Why?  Because poor lighting is provided by the globe “streetlights” in my neighborhood.  While the lights shone in my eyes, blinding me (they shine in drivers’ eyes, too), they cast little light upon the situation that soon summoned six police cars to the scene.  They cannot be called “street lights” - they are simply wasters of energy.
    About 25% of the light from these fixtures hits the street and sidewalk.  Another 25% goes to illuminate yards and fronts of nearby houses, and a 50% radiates upward, blotting out stars and uselessly lighting up the undersides of trees, clouds, birds, and airplanes.  Friends and neighbors, your tax dollars funded these fixtures because of their appearance, but they waste your money every time they come on and can’t adequately light the streets.
    If fitted with internal shields, these fixtures could use 50% less energy and do a better, safer job of lighting the many streets that are lined with them.  Their daytime appearance would be unchanged.  In an age where energy conservation becomes more important every day, Champaign, Urbana, and the University of Illinois should not tolerate this excessive waste.

    Mike Lockwood

Lastly, here I'll include some links and one last image.  First, the links (more to be added):

  http://www.darksky.org/  - Internation Dark Sky Association - an organization devoted to education about light pollution

Below is an image that I produced from publicly available data.  It shows the area surrounding Champaign, Illinois.  Based on calibrated radiance images from a satellite, I converted the units of brightness to units of  electrical usage, in terms kilowatt hours.  I must point out that this electrical usage only includes the energy that is converted to light, and does not include the energy that is wasted by every light bulb in the form of heat, so the electricity wasted by bulbs that could be reduced in wattage (if reflectors or shields were added) is NOT included in this plot of wasted energy.

Energy waste per square mile
As far as I know, I have done the data conversion correctly.  296 kW per square mile is the equivalent of having 3000 lights wasting 100 W each in one square mile.  When you look at the lighting on campus or near warehouses, this appears quite consistent.  I suspect the peak value is from the Memorial Stadium lights.

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