Embracing the dark side of lighting

March 12, 2021
A new podcast reveals an unexpected bright side to addressing the often-controversial topic of dark skies.

In a somewhat freaky turn of events, a reader reached out to me with an inquiry on the topic of dark skies and public or municipal lighting not long before a new podcast was featured in the top of my LinkedIn feed.

Starving for Darkness is hosted by lighting designer Jane Slade and lighting distributor/Get a Grip on Lighting podcast co-host Michael Colligan. In their second podcast episode this week, “Quality Light is Responsible Light,” they talked about light pollution, quality light, and the dark sky movement with International Dark Sky Association (IDA) executive director Ruskin Hartley.

I favor the principle that was discussed in this conversation approaching lighting specification, design, and implementation from a place of control and consideration, balancing the needs for human vision, safety, and wellbeing outdoors with the need to respect the natural environment and resources and allow visibility of the night sky.

It’s possible that some may mistake the efforts of such groups as being “anti-lighting,” hindering the prosperity of commercial businesses, and impeding the advance of global efforts that bring electric light to remote locations.

Hartley appeared ready to clear up that misconception. According to him, the mission of the IDA “is pretty simple: We’re all about protecting the night from light pollution. And it’s really in our name, since we’re talking a lot to the lighting design community here, we like to say, ‘We’re about dark skies, not about the dark ground.’ … From the start, we were never about turning the lights off; we were always about promoting the responsible use of the light.”

And further on in the conversation, the participants addressed how dark-sky advocacy can be a benefit rather than a burden to lighting industry stakeholders. “This is not about impoverishing lighting companies,” said Colligan. “This is about the lighting industry setting off a dark-sky lighting boom.”

DING DING DING. Ringing the bell here because, as you must know by now, I am always looking to feature the angle of opportunity here on this blog. Who has intimate knowledge of beam distribution, lighting management, and efficacious design? Is it the municipal authority and city planners? Probably not. Is it the school administrators and boards that seek to install lighting on their recreational fields? Mm, nope. It will be up to scrupulous members of the lighting industry and design community to bring responsible guidance and technical experience to bear on the planning and outcomes of public and outdoor area lighting. “The flip side to the LED revolution is it’s actually given us the tools to solve this,” said Hartley as Colligan gave him a big thumbs-up.

Continued collaboration and application of new information and evidence will also bolster these efforts. “The IDA knows darkness. The IES knows light,” noted Slade in commenting on the MLO (Model Lighting Ordinance), which is in line to be revisited, and saying that the organizations will have to come together anew to help improve policies and code.

Altogether, something both entertaining and informative to listen to on a Friday afternoon. You can find the podcast at https://starvingfordarkness.podomatic.com/.

Hungry for more on outdoor lighting?

Read a blog on five challenges in municipal outdoor lighting.

Explore projects that have been designed with wildlife protection in mind from bats to birds to turtles.

Learn how optics and light spectra played into preserving an island sky view.

Chew on some food for thought from a recent contributed commentary on overlighting and SSL business.

Consider this research using satellite imagery to determine origins of sky glow.

Visit IDA for programs and resources.

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About the Author

Carrie Meadows | Editor-in-Chief, LEDs Magazine

Carrie Meadows has more than 20 years of experience in the publishing and media industry. She worked with the PennWell Technology Group for more than 17 years, having been part of the editorial staff at Solid State Technology, Microlithography World, Lightwave, Portable Design, CleanRooms, Laser Focus World, and Vision Systems Design before the group was acquired by current parent company Endeavor Business Media.

Meadows has received finalist recognition for LEDs Magazine in the FOLIO Eddie Awards, and has volunteered as a judge on several B2B editorial awards committees. She received a BA in English literature from Saint Anselm College, and earned thesis honors in the college's Geisel Library. Without the patience to sit down and write a book of her own, she has gladly undertaken the role of editor for the writings of friends and family.

Meadows enjoys living in the beautiful but sometimes unpredictable four seasons of the New England region, volunteering with an animal shelter, reading (of course), and walking with friends and extended "dog family" in her spare time.