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Dark Skies Issue Paper:

Dark Skies legislation aims to protect the view of the night sky, by restricting some uses of night-time lighting. In a new Issue Paper from the Independence Institute, Michael Loatman and I argue in favor of Dark Skies ordinances, offer suggestions for particular ways to implement such ordinances, and caution against excessively stringent ordinances. We acknowledge that, although the night sky is beautiful and inspiring, research shows street lighting significantly reduces crime. We also urge that Dark Sky ordinances be prospective in application. Many thanks to all the VC readers who provided helpful comments after I posted a draft of the Issue Paper last fall.

Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Darks days too, we should have. Since the dawn of time man has yearned to destroy the sun.
4.18.2006 7:26pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
One serious problem with the argument on page 5 that "all choices of a residence involve trade-offs" is that I may choose a particular spot because it is very dark--and someone elese comes in a half mile away and puts up a million candlepower security light. Essentially, people who are not prepared to keep excess light within their property are making choices for me.

The argument pages 5 and 6 about really dark skies not being needed for beginning amateur astronomers is incorrect because it is focused on stars. A lot of the more interesting objects are diffuse, such as M51 (the Whirlpool Galaxy), and have a low average surface brightness. Most of the deep sky objects are invisible under the average suburban sky for this reason.

The argument about improved street lighting reducing crime is probably true--but there are few crimes that take place 100 feet above street level and no traffic accidents. Much of the Dark Sky objection to excessive lighting is how wasteful it is.

There is no mention of the claims (claims that I am not sure that I entirely believe) of increased health problems association with excessive night lighting.
4.18.2006 7:36pm
Ross Levatter (mail):
I hear this Dark Skies legislation is all the rage in North Korea...
4.18.2006 8:51pm
Ubertrout (mail) (www):
I'd just like to second Clayton's comment about diffuse objects (low surface brightness) being invisible in areas with light pollution. In the suburbs of New York, the Andromeda galaxy is invisible even through a 10" Meade LX200, on the best of nights.
4.18.2006 9:14pm
DSM (mail):
As a practicing astrophysicist who used to run a university observatory, I can wholeheartedly second CC's comments. (1) A significant number of interesting objects become very difficult to observe due to city-based light pollution, and (2) the vast majority of lights waste an enormous amount of energy sending light upwards, which brightens the sky and helps no one on the ground. Every astronomer I know of would be very happy to accept the incidental reflection of lights which illuminate the ground for safety reasons by POINTING DOWN WHERE PEOPLE ACTUALLY WALK, AT SENSIBLE FREQUENCIES.

After all, those people capable of flight are likely powerful enough to fend for themselves.

Also, as a conservative and not a libertarian I also endorse capital punishment for those who shine rotating light patterns in the sky for advertising purposes.
4.18.2006 10:11pm
Mark F. (mail):
It seems to me that other people's unnecessary lighting shining on your property is a violation of your property rights, so reasonable regulation is justified.
4.18.2006 11:08pm
Fishbane (mail):
I must say, this is one of the few times I've agreed with Mr. Cramer.

As a libertarian, I find it amusing that as technology and law are both refined more, things such as (protection from) stray photons are starting to be considered as potention property rights, and therefor potentially torts or at least contractual arrangements.

In a way, much of this is no different that line-of-sight contracts in high-rises in cities: a given condo's deed includes a right to a given view, and anyone building in that view must gain the agreement of the deedholder. Happens all the time here in NYC. What is different is the light-dispersal. People in Jersey, if they tried, could screw up my night telescope usage. I can only assume that sort of thing will get worse.

I wonder about wider cypherpunk concerns, such as "stray electromagnetic radiation" and whatnot, as time goes on. Both interference and intercept become interesting at some point.
4.19.2006 1:12am
Robert Schwartz (mail):
Dark skies does not mean no light. It means putting reflecting shades on lights to direct their light toward the ground. It is hard to believe that anyone thinks it is a bad idea.
4.19.2006 1:42am
subpatre (mail):
Fishbane - Stray and spurious EM radiation has been regulated (limited) for decades.

David Kopel - Don't know where you're trying to go with this, but one underlying premise --reduction of crime-- is on shaky ground.

Your (true) sole citation is not the 20% you claim, but "Four of the American studies found that improved street lighting was effective in reducing crime, while the other four had no effect." p39

Further eroding the effect of the lighting itself is a cause of crime reduction is: "The results achieved in the U.K. were far more impressive than in America. This is possibly explained by greater public support in the U.K." --Frontline [Emphasis added]
4.19.2006 2:12am
msk (mail):
The question of who owns the vertical column of sky above a parcel of land, may have been in the courts way back in the early 1960s when a few entrepreneurs explored rain-making and met with various objections.

The only place I've seen that story was in a slender little book called something like Slide Mountain, or the Folly of Owning... which touches on a number of legal questions arising out of natural phenomena.

Reflectivity is a great nightime power saver. It can make people, anything moving, curb cuts, lanes, and structures much more visible (without being visually annoying during daylight). We're not using it because it saves too much money.

Utilities make huge bucks powering street lights.

Having poles in place lets you adjust levels, or multi-task some of the equipment in emergencies -- so if you can convince city hall that millions are fleeing bright lights for a good night's rest (and somehow protect utility company profits through beneficial projects) they may adjust more zones to "Dark Sky" because it's practical and gradual change is hardly noticed.

Legislation of light, as if it's a stray dog or cigarette smoke, ignores the money involved in selling power.
4.19.2006 4:16am
Alan K. Henderson (mail) (www):
Robert Schwart'z point is illustrated by the two images here.
4.19.2006 4:56am
Some Guy (mail):
Let's see, so the question is whether single women should be forced to walk dark streets alone at night, or whether amateur star gazers will have a chance to see a minor star?

WTF?! Only an academic could think up something this astoundingly stupid.
4.19.2006 9:19am
alkali (mail) (www):
Let's see, so the question is whether single women should be forced to walk dark streets alone at night, or whether amateur star gazers will have a chance to see a minor star?

1) As someone has already noted, a lot of light pollution can be addressed by pointing lights down where people walk (as opposed to using "globe"-type lights).

2) It is not clear that streets can be made safer by brightly lighting them. In particular, dark streets discourage roving groups of young men.

3) There are other ways to make people safe at night besides maintaining daylight everywhere at all times: lights triggered by motion detectors, call-for-ride services, more police patrols, etc.
4.19.2006 10:47am
DSM (mail):
Some Guy:

No, that's not the question, but a false dichotomy, already addressed by several posts before yours (and at least one after as I write this.)

I will note that far from being driven by ivory-tower academics, the majority of light pollution activism comes from practical-minded amateurs, and their positions don't strike me as "astoundingly stupid" by any means.
4.19.2006 11:11am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Let's see, so the question is whether single women should be forced to walk dark streets alone at night, or whether amateur star gazers will have a chance to see a minor star?

WTF?! Only an academic could think up something this astoundingly stupid.
As I pointed out, the crime problem is at ground level, not 100 feet in the sky. A lot of light pollution is wasted photons. Car dealerships are notorious for this, and it wastes money.

In general, once you install light fixtures, the cost of replacing them with less polluting and more efficienct fixtures is prohibitive--it can take decades for the better light fixture to pay for itself in electricity (at least somewhere like Idaho, where electricity is very cheap). The time to fix this is for all new light fixtures. I do agree with Dave Kopel that mandatory replacement of existing fixtures (unless it is something really, really outrageous in its direct effects) is wrong.
4.19.2006 12:21pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
msk writes:


Reflectivity is a great nightime power saver. It can make people, anything moving, curb cuts, lanes, and structures much more visible (without being visually annoying during daylight). We're not using it because it saves too much money.

Utilities make huge bucks powering street lights.
My conversations with streetlight engineers here in Boise and with a city council member in Rohnert Park, California, lead me to believe that this is a lot of what drives the wasteful illumination issue. I made the mistake of pointing out to the city councilman that we could probably save the taxpayers a lot of money by using reflectors to aim the existing lighting downward--and he suddenly lost interest in the subject. (Why would you want to save taxpayers money?)
4.19.2006 12:43pm
Some Guy (mail):
You know who's behind it? BIG POWER COMPANIES!

Oh, yeah, and people who don't want to get raped or murdered on dark streets. One wonders if the certified geniuses above would be willing to walk down any street in Anacostia without street lights. Or to send their wives/daughters down same said street?

Like I said, astoundingly stupid.
4.19.2006 1:54pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

You know who's behind it? BIG POWER COMPANIES!
I don't claim that power companies are the only interested parties--but they have a substantial financial interest in it.

Oh, yeah, and people who don't want to get raped or murdered on dark streets. One wonders if the certified geniuses above would be willing to walk down any street in Anacostia without street lights. Or to send their wives/daughters down same said street?
That's why I carry a gun in dangerous areas, and so does my wife. I expect at some point my daughter will do likewise.

Let me remind you that Dave Kopel and I first collaborated on a paper about how non-discretionary concealed weapon permit laws seem to have reduced murder rates in the states that adopted them.
4.19.2006 5:47pm
msk (mail):
Awfully belatedly, --
-- it seems the Dark Skies movement could already be hijacked (politics as usual) by people who pretend to enthusiastically support you while proposing distortions that would mean Dark Sidewalks or worse.

Your position paper was polite in dealing with proposals for drastic change that made it look like a bunch of lunatics saying, "Let's throw 300 utility company employees out of their jobs tomorrow so I can sit on my back porch playing with my telescope," or some other misrepresentation.

Night-shift kilowatts don't really care if they are assigned to work outdoors or indoors.

Some municipalities have had to close community programs because they literally could not pay to air condition or light buildings for night use -- and they may be trapped by obsolete guidelines for excessive outdoor light based on old technology. e.g., sometimes you find outdoor lighting far brighter than needed because old style security cameras worked differently.

I never meant to imply that whether or not to meet next month's payroll is a coin-flip for a large utility company. Nobody has to lose their job to a Dark Skies budget reversal, but eventually everybody retires or transfers. So long as pole climbers or bean counters eventually change jobs happily, there are all sorts of lighting design changes that could gradually come about.

If your name or symbol is hijacked by people thinking along lines you never wanted, you can rescue hopes for your long-term goals by putting your conceptual efforts into projects likely to achieve dark sky (lower case letters) eventually, while never mentioning "dark" anything. Attract allies to constructive efforts, and don't be shy about saying, "That's not a proposal we support."

Let's not argue fine points of law with someone whose only goal was to see his proposal hated and defeated.

In efforts to be brief, I often edit my message to the point it's cryptic and ambiguous. Apologies if that misled anyone, any message.
4.22.2006 5:23pm