Metro, Newton

Acclaimed Science Magazine Editor Shares Ways for Newton to Reduce Light Pollution

Light pollution is a killer problem. It has slashed three-fourths of the insect population over the last 50 years, according to Sky & Telescope Magazine senior editor J. Kelly Beatty.

It’s an issue he calls the “insect apocalypse.”

“Fireflies [depend] on the darkness to attract mates,” Kelly said. “If you swamp it with a lot of light pollution, then it ceases to be able to do its thing. … Insects are highly attracted to light at night, and it exhausts them just flying around it.”

Newton Conservators invited Kelly to speak about the effects of light pollution in Newton on Wednesday night. Aside from discussing the “apocalypse,” he also gave the city tips on how it can reduce light pollution.

The conservators advocate to preserve Newton’s open spaces. Kelly has studied astronomy for 30 years and has been speaking about the effects of light pollution for over two decades, helping various communities reduce its effects. 

Light pollution at night comes from a variety of sources such as street lights, stadiums, and homes. 

Twenty years ago, the National Park Service traveled to several parks around the country to assess the impact of light pollution. 

“The park was on the verge of clearing the nighttime environment as important as the daytime environment,” Kelly said. 

Following the study, Bar Harbor, Maine enacted a dark sky ordinance, allowing it to become certified as an International Dark Sky Place, according to Kelly. 

Light pollution also results in massive energy waste, according to Kelly. In the last 15 years, 24/7 road signs, restaurants, and blue wave street lights have increased the amount of light waste going into the sky.

Newton street lights are especially notorious for their bright lights, according to Kelly. While the city made a step in the right direction by converting old street lights to LEDs, it picked harsh blue bulbs that cause higher levels of light pollution, Kelly said. 

The City of Cambridge has addressed such impacts by decreasing the power of its streetlights to 50 percent of their capacity after 10 p.m. using a computerized system. Kelly said Newton could take such measures to help decrease the harshness of LEDs. 

In fact, every LED streetlight in Cambridge is individually addressable by computer,” Kelly said. “Somebody at the [Department of Public Works] with a few computer clicks can turn down the power of that LED and dim the light remotely.”

Kelly said Newton residents can get involved by turning off lights when they are not using them or installing low-temperature bulbs in their homes. 

But it is just as crucial for people to use this knowledge to educate housing developers so they use warm lighting in their projects, according to Kelly.

“It is amazing to me how often home lighting systems are chosen by people who have no idea whatsoever what they’re doing,” Kelly said. “It’s not that they’re installing bad lights intentionally. They just don’t know. And a little education goes a long way.”

November 6, 2022

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