Time to dim the lights

To preserve the integrity of its night skies and minimize light pollution, Maine must upgrade standards and codes and educate homeowners and developers.
a coastal island at night under the stars
In this photo, taken from the end of the Eastern Knubble Preserve Trail in Cutler at 2:11 a.m. April 7, several spectacular sights are visible that many North Americans never have a chance to see because of light pollution. The light on the horizon is from a lighthouse on Machias Seal Island, about 11 miles out. Up from that light at, at about 2 o’clock in the night sky, is Saturn. The big white light is Jupiter. Lots of pink and blue nebulas are visible within the Milky Way. And the orange spot at right is a large star called Antares. Photo by Eric Tirrell.

A boundless dome of darkness overhead – lit only by crystalline stars – is one of Maine’s most imperiled natural assets.

The Milky Way visible above Acadia National Park cannot be seen with the naked eye at any other national park on the Eastern seaboard, according to the National Park Service. In fact, this galaxy is no longer visible to nearly 80 percent of North Americans.

A sallow skyglow of light pollution is already overspreading portions of Maine. Unless we rethink our approach to lighting, we risk losing the celestial beauty that is the backdrop of our lives.  

Growing light pollution represents far more than an aesthetic concern. It endangers wildlife, wastes electricity and disrupts circadian rhythms. Those collective impacts cost the United States nearly $7 billion each year, according to one recent economic estimate.

Constraining outdoor lighting at its source is feasible and affordable, but can be slowed by psychological and practical hurdles. A lighting transition requires – not just new bulbs and fixtures – but a commitment to illuminate only where and when it’s necessary, avoiding the floodlighting that tries to turn night into day.


Marina Schauffler

Marina Schauffler is a writer and editor who explores the complex interconnections between ecology and culture. Her "Sea Change" column, launched in 2014, highlights ways to live more sustainably and address our collective environmental and societal challenges, particularly the climate crisis. She holds a Ph.D. in natural resources and an MA in English/creative nonfiction writing (both from the University of New Hampshire), and an interdisciplinary honors BA from Brown University.
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