Letter: Let's restore the night sky in Fargo-Moorhead
"With electric lighting, we have turned our world into 24/7 daylight," writes Fargo resident Patrick Sommer. "Today, the Milky Way is barely visible from nearby Buffalo River State Park, and not at all from inside Fargo."
For most of history, light came from few sources. The Sun during day, and the Moon and stars that occupy the fabric of our night. Our bodies and minds developed around the day-night rhythm, with the day providing for most of our needs and night, critically, signaling our biological systems that it was time to restore itself in advance of the next day. For most life on Earth, night is a critical resource. For millennia, we developed in harmony with nature and with the day-night cycle. Not long ago, a person could have stepped outside their Fargo area home, looked up and been in awe of the night sky.
No more. With electric lighting, we have turned our world into 24/7 daylight. Today, the Milky Way is barely visible from nearby Buffalo River State Park, and not at all from inside Fargo. Research published in the journal “Science” shows that light pollution has risen dramatically, nearly 10% per year, over the last dozen years.
Artificial light at night and the light pollution it creates is a contributor to numerous issues:
- Energy waste: Up to 30% of lighting is “wasted,” not illuminating its subject, leading to $3.3 billion in costs and releasing up to 21 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.
- Negative human health effects: Disruption of our day/night cycle can harm the production of melatonin, leading to increased rates of cancer, obesity, diabetes, sleep and eating disorders, and mental health issues.
- Disruptions to our regional ecosystems: Artificial light impacts the rest of the natural world as well as our own. Birds have migrations and mating seasons disrupted, insect life is affected, nocturnal mammals can be drawn into dire situations and suffer health impacts and even plants can see their seasonal patterns effected.
- Agriculture is affected as well: Light pollution is known to delay maturation and reduce crop yield of soybeans and can disrupt the circadian rhythm of cows, contributing to fatty liver and reduced milk production. Sunflowers are heliotropic, with the stems and leaves being responsive to sunlight. They display a circadian rhythm as well. Artificial light at night possibly influences their growth.
- Loss of awe and wonder: Four out of five people in the U.S. live under skies so polluted they can no longer see the Milky Way and 99% of us live under light polluted skies that limit our experience of the dark sky heritage that connects us all.
What can be done? The International Dark-Sky Association and Illuminating Engineering Society’s five principles of outdoor lighting are a good place to start, stating that lighting should be as follows:
- Useful: All light should have a clear purpose.
- Targeted: Light should be directed only where needed.
- Low light levels: Light should be no brighter than necessary.
- Controlled: Light should be used only when useful.
- Color: Use warmer color lights where possible.
Governments and business can incorporate these principles in their lighting plans. Cities can work on comprehensive lighting ordinances addressing artificial light at night as a pollutant. And we can look at our own homes.
International Dark-Sky Week is April 15 to 22 this year, coinciding with Earth Day on April 22. Let’s focus this month on learning about the nighttime environment, how light pollution influences it and decide that restoring the night is a goal for a healthier, happier and more resilient Fargo-Moorhead.
Patrick Sommer is a delegate for the International Dark-Sky Association. He is a resident of Fargo.
This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.