New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Crain's New York New Yorkers could see the stars, if only lawmakers could see the light by Ben Kallos

New Yorkers could see the stars, if only lawmakers could see the light

How many kids grow up in the city without realizing what the night sky really looks like? But it’s not inevitable that this continue for generations to come. If only the city would tackle light pollution.

The potential benefits of reducing light pollution are enormous, ranging from the pragmatic (saving energy) to the fantastic (inspiring the next Einstein).

Nationwide we are generating 15 million tons of carbon dioxide and spending $3 billion to power street lights, which waste more than one-third of their energy lighting up the sky instead of the ground, according to the International Dark Sky Association. Ensuring that lights are shielded and pointed so they don’t illuminate the heavens can cut energy use by two-thirds and carbon emissions too.

New York City may be the city that never sleeps, but that shouldn’t be because of a street light outside your bedroom window. Blackout curtains should not be a must-have accessory. Fully shielded light fixtures would brighten not only the city's nights but also its days, as there would be fewer sleep-deprived New Yorkers walking around in a bad mood.

If our city’s lighting is disturbing the sleep of people, imagine what it is doing to our wildlife.

Even in New York City you’ll find thousands of species—everything from hawks and owls to deer and coyotes. But our light pollution interrupts birds' migratory patterns, reduces nocturnal animals' feeding locations, attracts insects to lights rather than to the plants that need them for pollination, and deprives vegetation of the darkness they need to rest for photosynthesis. We have a duty to protect the flora and fauna that were here long before we were.

When you can see the stars in their full grandeur, it is hard not to be inspired to learn about our constellations, to want to touch them, to realize our place in the universe. Yet for more than 1 million children here, the night sky just isn’t a part of growing up. A few lucky ones might stumble across an astronomers group at one of its regular observation nights, but otherwise, fuhgeddaboudit.

We can do better. We can pass a law to fully shield every street light. We can save energy, sleep and wildlife. We can inspire the next generation.

City Councilman Ben Kallos, D-Manhattan, is the sponsor of Intro. 1575-2017, which would require that any new or replacement light fixture in any street light be a full cutoff light fixture. He enjoys observing the cosmos with the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York


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