There's good news to report in the fight to preserve the night sky! On June 16, 2009, the American Medical Association (AMA) voted unanimously to support efforts to control light pollution. What makes this new policy particularly important is that the AMA encompasses the medical societies in all 50 U.S. states and more than 120 specialty societies.
Why has the AMA, a powerful and influential group, decided to support light-pollution legislation? There are multiple reasons.
First, the glare from bad lighting is a public-health hazard — especially the older you become. Glare light scattering in the eye causes loss of contrast and leads to unsafe driving conditions, much like the glare on a dirty windshield from low-angle sunlight or the high beams from an oncoming car. Second, wasted light represents unnecessary energy and CO2 production. Finally, many species (including humans) need darkness to survive and thrive.
In my capacity as president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, and as an elected member of the AMA's Council on Science and Public health, I had submitted a resolution for consideration at the association's 2009 annual meeting. The proposal came before a Reference Committee, and to my delight those who testified during its presentation were all in favor of the resolution. For example, the committee heard from two representatives from Barrington Hills, Illinois, a community that has declared itself a dark-sky haven.
After deliberating, the Reference Committee forwarded the proposal for a floor vote, noting, in part, that "Excessive light pollution comprises an inefficient use of energy and is a public health hazard for drivers, as well as an environmental disruption for several species. In addition, it was acknowledged that several states have light-pollution measures currently enacted and that national legislation on this issues is pending. Your reference committee recognizes the important environmental and public health implications of this resolution."
Based on that report, the entire House of Delegates of the AMA — 540 attendees representing physicians from the entire country — voted unanimously in favor of the proposal, now designated Resolution 516.
I'm thrilled that this prestigious organization has adopted a light-pollution policy, which is quoted below. Dark-sky advocates may quote this in the current and future legislative efforts to enact outdoor-lighting laws in your localities.
RESOLVED That our AMA advocate that all future outdoor lighting be of energy-efficient designs to reduce waste of energy and production of greenhouse gases that result from this wasted energy use; and be it further
RESOLVED That our AMA develop and enact a policy that supports light-pollution reduction efforts and glare-reduction efforts at both the national and state levels; and be it further
RESOLVED That our AMA support that all future streetlights will be of a fully shielded design or similar non-glare design to improve the safety of our roadways for all, but especially vision impaired and older drivers.
Mario Motta has been active in fighting light pollution for two decades. A member of the New England Light Pollution Advisory Group (NELPAG), he recently spearheaded the effort to adopt an outdoor-lighting bylaw in his hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts.