President's Corner

by Robyn Foret, Calgary Centre (arforet@shaw.ca)

In the last issue I introduced to readers the structure of the RASC and the roles of our Committees. Here I will focus on our Light-Pollution Abatement Committee.

Whether it be the war on climate change, the arguments around wearing masks versus freedom to choose, or the upcoming predictable outcry against vaccination to suppress COVID-19, science and education play a critical role in influencing what people “think” or “believe” about these issues. A favourite t-shirt of mine says “Science doesn’t care what you believe!” However, unfortunately, it takes considerable effort to sway people and common beliefs around over-lighting to enhance security, and the esthetics of urban areas at night are well entrenched.

When it comes to preserving the night sky, explaining to readers of the Journal the need to address this issue is essentially preaching to the choir. But there is a greater need to educate those outside of our realm and it’s here that the RASC’s Light-Pollution Abatement Committee does its work, and it’s a cause all of you can help
with, too.

Some of the committee’s greatest work is in the development and execution of the Dark-Sky Programs and the underlying Canadian Guidelines for Outdoor Lighting (CGOL). CGOL addresses Artificial Light At Night (ALAN), making connections to crime, human activity, human health, environmental health, animal behaviour, shorelines, and cultural impact. You can find the current version of the CGOL, edited by Robert Dick, here: https://rasc.ca/dark-sky-site-guidelines

One thing the CGOL does is introduce us to scotobiology, the study of the biological need for periods of darkness. This is where light-pollution abatement starts to touch the broader population. Robert Dick quotes the Light Research Organization and WebMD where they state that “the proliferation of outdoor lighting has a significant impact on the health and behaviour of humans,” and “biological clocks control our sleep patterns, alertness, mood, physical strength, blood pressure, and other aspects of our physiology.” In a referenced paper entitled “Lighting for the Human Circadian Clock,” it is noted that “similar biological clocks are found in plants and animals wherein darkness plays a similar role.”

Here are some facts that you can share.

  • A recent study of adolescents by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Psychiatry, suggested higher ALAN levels resulted in fewer minutes of sleep and an increase in mood disorders and anxiety disorders, including associations with bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.
  • A study conducted by the Journal of Sleep Medicine targeting adults aged 60+ concludes that “Outdoor artificial nighttime light exposure was significantly associated with prescription of hypnotic drugs in older adults. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that outdoor artificial nighttime light may cause sleep disturbances.”
  • Studies suggest that exposure to ALAN may disrupt circadian patterns and decrease nocturnal secretion of melatonin, which may disturb estrogen regulation, leading to increased breast cancer risk. A 2017 paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives that followed more than 109,000 women over a 22-year period concludes that exposure to ALAN may contribute to breast cancer risk.
  • The International Dark-Sky Association and the American Medical Association suggest that disrupting circadian rhythm increases our risk of obesity, diabetes, mood disorders, reproductive problems, and cancers. Preserving our nocturnal environment isn’t just about seeing the night sky, it’s also about protecting humankind, so that we’re all physically and mentally healthy enough to see and appreciate the night sky.
Author: 
JEDGAR
Last modified: 
Friday, February 5, 2021 - 9:39pm