An Illuminated World

by Evan Sarchio

            When was the last time you were able to look up and see the stars shining bright in the night sky? Have you ever been able to see the Big Dipper? As we progress towards a sustainable and equitable future, our energy distribution and usage has long been analyzed as it is one of the most important things we must change. The focus, however, remains centered around power plant pollution and fossil fuel versus renewable energy, although a newer idea – light pollution – has gained traction recently. While not yet on the forefront of climate agendas, the effects of a brighter world are not primary concerns when discussing society’s shift towards a new future, but its impact on humans and wildlife is noticeable. While individuals should be wary of their own lights, there should be a collective push for government regulation of light in order to minimize harm done to human sleep patterns, animal development, and migration patterns among other reasons.

            Artificially lighting our world has contributed greatly to the explosion of human evolution over the past 3 centuries, and light pollution reached an all time high in the 21st century.[1] The movement towards urbanization and city planning as well as decreasing barriers to purchase electronics have made light pollution incredibly pervasive in contemporary society and something that many people cannot escape. In fact, studies show that more than 80% of the world and around 98% of U.S. and European citizens live under “sky glow,” a prettied up word for light pollution.[2]Anything that emits light – from giant billboards to cell phones – is considered a source of light pollution and can have personal or city-wide impacts that are almost always negative. 

Studies show that our lighted infrastructure -skyscrapers, streetlights, and more – wreak havoc on wildlife.[3]Plenty of established literature concludes that light pollution changes the way birds migrate, fish swim, and insects breed; and new findings are being published studying behavioral changes of other species due to anthropogenic lighting.[4]Diving insect populations, loss of bodily functions in amphibians, a shortened foraging and hunting window for nocturnal mammals, and noticeable photosynthesis and morphological changes in vegetation are just some of the issues that an extended “daytime” can cause.[5] But these are all sciency ways of telling the same story: our bright skies are ruining the natural patterns of nature. And while we should obviously care about wildlife, light pollution can affect us as well.

            Sure, your mother says that you need to put down your phone because it ruins your life, but maybe she’s wrong for the first time ever. Unfortunately, studies show that yes, light pollution has negative consequences on humans too. Personal devices like computers and mobile phones have incredible effects on the natural function of the human body. Most electronics emit blue-light, a wavelength which suppresses natural melatonin production after prolonged exposure.[6] You may say “hey, melatonin comes in those tablets which help me sleep” to which professionals say: “correct.” Melatonin produced by the body allows us to slow down and get ready for bed, making us stay asleep and feel rested for the next day. In fact, there are numerous Saudi Arabian studies observing the balance between screen time before bed and sleep quality. One such study saw a connection between sleep disturbance and an overall drop in quality of sleep among Saudi residents who used their phones before bedtime.[7] It also found that those who used their screens before bed were less productive the following workday, with results becoming more apparent the more time was spent using electronics.[8] Maybe mom was right.

            In light of these findings and more, organizations like the National Audubon Society are advocating for energy planning to Congress and local governments.[9] The Dark Sky Association works with government entities – like the National Park Service – to raise awareness about light pollution and minimize its impacts.[10] While individual efforts are incredibly helpful to our personal health, U.S. citizens should push local governments to mandate our lights to help nature. Incentives through funding or vouchers – either on a state-wide or city-to-city basis – to turn off unneeded lights can be immensely productive in reestablishing natural functions and preserving nocturnal activities of wildlife populations. If done properly, minimizing our lights during the night can help nature and help ourselves while not sacrificing any efficiency in our society. So hey, maybe turn off the house lights before you go to bed.

[1] National Geographic Society. “Light Pollution.”, 19 Oct. 2023

[2] Falchi, Fabio. “The New World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness.” Science advances, 10 June 2016.

[3] The International Dark Sky Association. “Light Pollution Harms Wildlife and Ecosystems.” September 2014

[4] Jägerbrand, Annika. “Effects of anthropogenic light on species and ecosystems.” June 2023

[5] Jägerbrand, Annika. “Effects of anthropogenic light on species and ecosystems.” June 2023

[6] Wood, Brittany, et al. “Light Level and Duration of Exposure Determine the Impact of

Self-Luminous Tablets on Melatonin Suppression.” July 2012

[7] Alshobaili, Fahdah. “The effect of smartphone usage at bedtime on sleep quality among Saudi non- medical staff at King Saud University Medical City.” June 2019

[8] Alshobaili, Fahdah. “The effect of smartphone usage at bedtime on sleep quality among Saudi non- medical staff at King Saud University Medical City.” June 2019

[9] National Audubon Society.

[10] International Dark Sky Association.

4 thoughts on “An Illuminated World

  1. There are many topics at the forefront of discussion around environmental impacts and climate change and light pollution is not one of them. However light pollution is a serious problem for many types of wildlife. The first time I had ever considered light pollution was when I used to volunteer at the beach tracking and marking sea turtle nests and a large topic of discussion was around the sea turtles getting confused by lights coming from houses. Sea turtles are supposed to follow the moon back to the sea after they lay their eggs but oftentimes light coming from a window in the distance is mistaken for the moon and turtles can travel hundreds of feet in the wrong direction. Light pollution is something that I hope comes to the forefront sooner rather than later because of the impacts it can have on wildlife. However, your connection to human impacts is it an important way to get people to care about this problem. My concerns are that we have all been told at some point not to use our phone before bed yet most of us still do despite the impacts it may have on our long-term health. I can only hope that maybe showcasing the impacts on wildlife will inspire more change than what we have already seen. The sense of humor in this blog helps lighten the mood when discussing a problem that should be added to our list of concerns about environmental impacts which is typically overwhelming.

  2. Great blog post, Evan! I agree that light pollution is a critical environmental and health issue that is often overlooked. Your discussion of its impact on wildlife was insightful, and I found it particularly interesting that light pollution extends beyond terrestrial ecosystems to negatively affect marine life. Should there be restrictions on light pollution from oil rigs, ships, and harbors as well, or do you think that the safety concerns associated with these light sources outweigh the environmental impacts?

  3. Wow, I guess you could say this piece really sheds light on something a lot of people don’t think twice about…. Anyway, I can definitely relate to the stargazing thing. When I was younger we would go to the beach and stargaze on the back porch and the sky would be insanely clear. However, now since there’s been so much more development where our beach house is you’re lucky to see anything. A lot of people keep on these blinding porch lights at night there. I am glad to hear that there are organizations like the National Audubon Society and the Dark Sky Association for raising more awareness about light pollutions negative impacts. Great job on the blog! 🙂

  4. I think these piece is incredible and you have raised an entirely valid concern surrounding light pollution. The growing impact of artificial lighting—from altering wildlife behavior to influencing human sleep patterns—highlights the critical need for sustainable lighting methods.

    Artificial lighting has a far-reaching impact on nocturnal creatures, in addition to disrupting sleep patterns. Creatures that rely on darkness to hunt, such as bats and owls, have their feeding patterns interrupted, causing a ripple effect across the food chain. Light pollution disrupts insect behavior, which has an impact on pollination processes, plant reproduction, and agricultural productivity. Furthermore, artificial lights can cause disorientation in migrating birds, resulting in catastrophic accidents with lit buildings. I think your post clearly highlights how drastic the negative impacts of light pollution can be and it is important to recognize how disturbances to our ecosystem

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