New York City’s annual Climate Week is currently underway, with activists, politicians, and business leaders gathering for a series of events aimed at addressing the environmental crisis. However, the bright lights that characterize the “city that never sleeps” have long been a source of concern for campaigners, who argue that excessive lighting contradicts the spirit of conservation promoted by the summit.
Ruskin Hartley, director of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), explains that brightly lit cities are a waste of energy and have a direct impact on the natural world. According to the US Department of Energy, outdoor lighting in the United States consumes enough energy annually to power 35 million homes, with only one percent of artificial light actually reaching human eyes. New York City is among the worst offenders in the country when it comes to light pollution, as evidenced by satellite images.
Reducing light pollution should be a topic of discussion during Climate Week NYC, argues Hartley. As participants explore various topics related to climate change, including climate financing and reducing carbon footprints in food systems, addressing light pollution offers a simple way to make a meaningful difference. The IDA estimates that global light pollution contributes to one percent of annual greenhouse emissions.
Light pollution affects more than just energy consumption. New York City is situated along the Atlantic Flyway, a bird migration pathway, and millions of birds pass through the city each year. Artificial light draws these birds into the urban environment, resulting in collisions with buildings. This is particularly problematic during the fall migration, which coincides with Climate Week. The birds’ role in dispersing seeds is essential for carbon-sequestering ecosystems across North and South America.
Additionally, light pollution hinders stargazing, which was the reason the IDA was founded. The absorption of light that has traveled millions of light years is a significant loss to society. There are also potential impacts on human health, such as disruptions of circadian rhythms and an increase in certain cancers. Furthermore, light pollution leads to an influx of mosquitoes and the diseases they carry.
While New York City passed legislation in 2021 to turn off non-essential lights in city-owned buildings during bird migrations, it only applies to a small fraction of all buildings. A pending bill aims to extend similar rules to privately-owned and industrial buildings. Critics argue that New York’s illuminated skyline is part of the city’s identity, but campaigners point to the example of European cities, like Paris, where lights are switched off when most people are asleep.
In conclusion, as Climate Week focuses on global environmental challenges, addressing light pollution in cities like New York is a crucial step towards sustainability. It not only conserves energy but also protects biodiversity, supports stargazing, enhances human health, and aids in the fight against climate change.
– U.S. Department of Energy
– International Dark-Sky Association (IDA)
– New York City Audubon