Several years ago, the University of Texas at Arlington’s (UTA) Maverick Lecture Series featured one of America's most-famous and most-beloved astronauts, Sally Ride. With much sadness, Sally, at 61, lost her 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. In no way should any comment in this piece taken as a detractment from Sally’s heroic stature as a person, trailblazing astronaut and American.
During Sally’s speech on “Leadership and America's Future in Space,” she showed a photograph taken from the space shuttle of earth at night; similar to the photo in this piece. Needless to say, this photograph is eye inspiring. However, something is very wrong and disturbing with the photo. Should the earth light up the heavens? Thought this function was reserved for the sun.
True, many lights are needed at night for safety, security and religious beliefs. Yet many lights are also used for commerce, advertisements, enjoyment and a host of non-value activities. Additionally, there are non-critical inside lights that are “on” day and night not visible from space, which exasperate the problem
The lights are not the problem, it’s the energy used to light the lights. Energy is becoming a precious and an ever increasingly costly commodity. Most of the energy consumed today is generated from greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels. Coal, the predominate fuel source used throughout the world, is the worst of the worst. That is if one considers greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and pollution a problem.
A friend in China recently pointed out “….. And the air quality is quite poor, severely polluted. It's sad the air quality of our city is the worst in China these days. It just feels difficult to breathe!” Examples of climate change are far too many to mention. It’s fair to say that only the dead are not affected by the almost irreversible effects of greenhouse gas emissions.
So what can we do? For starters, educate, if education is really needed, the residential community to “Turn off the Lights.” Then further the push of environmental awareness in the commercial sector to include the financial ramifications of the ludicrous use of lights for non-critical purposes. Ultimately, just like controlling the brightness of outside signage and establishing electrical codes, city councils must take a stand and enact local ordinances to limit outside lighting all together. If these fail, sooner or later the utilities will drum home the message when they finally use the Smart Meter for “Time of Use” metering. Too bad late night usage may be considered off-peak hours and priced at a low rate.
In closing, the purpose of the sun is to give life; the purpose of the earth is to sustain life. It would be more pragmatic to light up the future with a healthy environment than a sign flashing at night “Free Ice Water at Wall Drug, 457 Miles.”
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