U.S. Physicians Join Light-Pollution Fight

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.

AMA logo
American Medical Association
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.

Mario Motta addresses AMA
Mario Motta, a cardiologist and avid amateur astronomer, addresses delegates at the American Medical Association's 2009 national meeting.
AMA / Ted Grudzinski
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.

Mario Motta
Mario Motta in his Wingaersheek Observatory, near Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Babak Tafreshi
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.

13 thoughts on “U.S. Physicians Join Light-Pollution Fight

  1. Eric F. Diaz

    That’s really great news. That certainly gives some impetus to the fight against light pollution. And for the record, at age 53 I’ve stop driving at night because I find the glare of street lights overwhelming. I hope that at least once in my lifetime I will be able to see the Milky Way with my own eyes.

  2. Jiri Polivka

    For years I complained about the glare due to Sylvania new headlights with bluish discharge tubes. I am as well as others blinded almost every time I meet a car with them, after dark. Many drivers keep their headlights on high beam intentionally or recklessly.
    My eye doctor confirmed that many patients complained but she said she could not do anything about it. Fortunately there are others who can. Thank you!
    Night glare is dangerous to everyone, to elderly people most. And to astronomers, it blocks the development of a science!
    Please mobilise eye doctors and the public, to save lives and to save astronomy!
    Thank you for starting the initiative!

  3. Len Kaufman

    I likewise find this to be great news. However, on this site, you’re preaching to the choir. To make this newly passed bill become effective, the word needs to go out to the masses. This information (and the original copy of the legislation) should be sent to every municipal body in the U.S. Additionally, sending it to new media (a PR effort) would help get the word out.

    Now, if I can just get my neighbor to read this…..the one with the landing lights, suitable for a 747 runway…..on the fence of his house…..

  4. Larry Robinson

    There are several groups of people who will fight the reduction of night lighting:

    - Crime prevention groups.
    - Women’s groups such as “Take Back the Night”.
    - Traffic safety groups.
    - Sports teams.
    - Government proud of the fancy architecture they built.

    In all cases but the last, lighting with reflectors that point down sill help a lot. The lights must not be visible directly from the side to work properly.

    One problem is the reflection from light-colored pavement.

  5. Dean

    This is great news to see. I’d really like to see the astronomical community team up with the people interested in having a greener environment. Think about it for a minute. By using dark sky technology you can also team that up perfectly with anybody that wants to have an environment. Also, if you have less pollutants in the air you can actually see more stars. I’m kind of dissappointed that Sky and Telescope hasn’t looked into this at all.

  6. Barbara

    Thank you AMA for the Light Pollution resolution. We live in Broken Arrow, OK where light brightness has gone crazy. We used to have some of the toughest standards in the state and then it changed. We live just off of a busy street with bright lights and have lots of neighbors with spotlights everywhere. It makes it almost impossible to view the stars. I am also blinded by the new bright headlights. When I wrote to the headlight companies, they didn’t care. I hope these resolutions help the situation.

  7. Barbara

    Thank you AMA for the Light Pollution resolution. We live in Broken Arrow, OK where light brightness has gone crazy. We used to have some of the toughest standards in the state and then it changed. We live just off of a busy street with bright lights and have lots of neighbors with spotlights everywhere. It makes it almost impossible to view the stars. I am also blinded by the new bright headlights. When I wrote to the headlight companies, they didn’t care. I hope these resolutions help the situation.

  8. Nathaniel Sailor

    Very intresting on what the AMA has said about light-pollution. What the article says makes a lot of sence of the harms with light pollution. AMA, thanks for helping the skies go a little darker!!

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