Two recent commentaries in your paper, “A Little Light Reading” (Jan. 7) and “We’ll leave a light on for you” (Jan. 14), have addressed the issue of night lighting and attempts by the Malibu Planning Commission to regulate it. I commend the city for engaging this important issue and offer for your consideration the following information about the environmental effects of “light pollution.”
Though civilizations have attempted to light the night for centuries, decreasing cost and improved technology since World War II have resulted in the wholesale illumination of the night with mercury vapor and sodium vapor streetlights, as well as other commercial and residential lighting. Astronomers, who found the glow of urban agglomerations impeding their research, first documented the detrimental environmental effects of night lighting and recognized it as light pollution.1
As the night sky and its millions of stars have been gradually replaced by the dull glow of the city for the majority of Americans, many have never even seen the Milky Way. Those who grow up in the city are astounded and awestruck upon seeing the unpolluted night sky when they first cast an upward gaze outside the reach of city lights. Anyone who has contemplated the human place in the universe under a starlit sky recognizes that its loss is a significant degradation of the environment.
Light pollution also has significant biological effects. Evidence suggests that unmated mockingbirds sing longer at night in lighted versus unlighted areas.2 Other research shows that songbirds sing significantly earlier in the morning in artificially lit parks.3 Cougars will avoid areas that are lit artificially and may miss critical habitat dispersal corridors as a result.4 A recent study in Sacramento showed that crows roost in areas with high nighttime lighting levels,5 and others have hypothesized that artificial lighting allows crows to avoid predation from owls.6 Crows are a native species, but they are also aggressive, and artificially increased population levels can be detrimental to other native bird species. Artificial night lighting affects the behavior of nocturnal frogs, reducing their visual acuity.7 Artificial lights attract nocturnal moths that are subject to increased predation there.8
The Environmental Review Board for Los Angeles County, which reviews development in sensitive resource areas in the Coastal Zone above the city of Malibu, recognizes the environmental effects of artificial night lighting and recommends that that outdoor lighting be directed downward, of low intensity, at low height and shielded, and that security lights be put on a motion detector.9
Many local jurisdictions across the country have implemented or are implementing night pollution ordinances. Precise engineering standards have been developed to define and regulate light pollution, whether its source is inside or outside a home. The International Dark-Sky Association can provide these standards as well as sample ordinances.10
Reducing night light, both for municipal streetlights and on private property, can provide considerable financial savings and significant environmental benefit. Malibu should make every effort to maintain its view of the night sky and protect its natural resources by implementing an independent light pollution ordinance or including light pollution standards in the hillside ordinance under consideration.
1. White, A. G. 1974. Excessive light as a form of urban created pollution: a selected bibliography. Monticello, IL: Council of Planning Librarians. Crawford, D. L 1991. Light pollution, radio interference, and space debris: proceedings of the International Astronomical Union Colloquium no. 112, held 13 to 16 August 1989 in Washington, DC San Francisco, CA: Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Upgren, Arthur R. 1996. Night blindness: light pollution is changing astronomy, the environment, and our experience of nature. The Amicus Journal Winter: 22-25
2. Derrickson, K C. 1988. Variation in repertoire presentation in northern mockingbirds. Condor 90(3): 592-606.
3. Bergen, F., and M. Abs. 1997. Etho-ecological study of the singing activity of the blue tit (Parus caeruleus), great tit (Parus major) and chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs). Journal fuer Ornithologie 138:451-467.
4. Beier, P. 1995. Dispersal of juvenile cougars in fragmented habitat. Journal of Wildlife Management 59(2):228-237.
5. W. Paul Gorenzel and Terrell P. Salmon. 1995. Characteristics of American Crow urban roosts in California. Journal of Wildlife Management 59(4):638-645.
6. Carolee Caffrey in Brody, Jane E.1997. The too-common crow is getting too close for comfort. New York Times, May 27.
7. Buchanan, B. W.1993. Effects of enhanced lighting on the behaviour of nocturnal frogs. Animal Behaviour 45(5):893-899.
8. Frank, K D.1989. Impact of outdoor lighting on moths. Paper read at Light Pollution, Radio Interference and Space Debris, 1991, at Washington, D.C. Rydell, J., and H.J. Baagoe. 1996. Street lamps increase bat predation on moths. Entomologisk Tidskrift 117:129-135. Svensson, A. M., and J. Rydell. 1998. Mercury vapour lamps interfere with the bat defence of tympanate moths (Operophtera spp.; Geometridae) . Animal Behaviour 55:223-226.
9. Minutes of the Environmental Review Board (ERB) Meeting of September 21, 1998.
10. International Dark-Sky Association, 3535 N. Stewart, Tucson, AZ 85716, Telephone: (520) 293-3198.
Land Protection Partners