Seeing things in a better light

I confess: When I recently bought lights for my deck and driveway, I wasn't thinking about polluting the night sky. Price and aesthetics were my priorities – and, of course, I wanted to be able to see where I was going in either location.

The design I ended up with, however, turns out to be in tune with a growing movement: to prevent the artificial light with which we bathe our world from vastly altering both the darkness of the night and the habits of creatures that rely on its cycles to govern their behavior. My lights were well-designed because they directed their power downward, a solid cap preventing light from escaping to where it wasn't needed.

City dwellers have long accepted the fact that theirs is a shortchanged view of the sky. But people who inhabit the suburbs and even beyond are starting to share that perspective, more often seeing evidence of nearby gas stations than the Big Dipper when they look up. The culprits are the ever-brighter – and more liberally applied – lights we use to navigate both highway and backyard. They've contributed to a high national energy bill – not to mention a growing glow that confounds amateur and professional astronomers, and much wildlife.

That last issue was in the spotlight this spring, when New York was home to the Tribute in Light, the luminous shafts that soared skyward for several weeks from the World Trade Center site.

As our lead story points out, many species become disoriented by artificial light – and skyscrapers have long been a target for those concerned about the effect of night lighting on birds. Among many other issues, the impact of the light on late-April migration was a factor in timing the project to shine for the last time on April 13.

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