How I Beat Light Pollution in My Hometown
You don't have to fight city hall. To ban bad lights, make city hall your friend.
It began back in 1994 when I first became active in amateur astronomy. I took my daughter out to our backyard in Branford, Connecticut, to show her the Milky Way, which I remembered arching over the town when I was a child. We couldn’t find it. The Milky Way of my boyhood was gone, hidden behind artificial skyglow stretching from horizon to horizon.
I saw no justification for all that light being cast into the sky and couldn’t accept it as an inevitable side effect of progress. Clearly a hindrance to astronomers, the skyglow was also evidence of poor lighting practices that affect everyone else. I soon learned that most light pollution is unnecessary and preventable, much of it merely careless waste from outdoor lighting that’s poorly designed, overly bright, or improperly aimed.
We were quickly losing Branford’s night world to intrusive lighting from commercial properties and housing developments. I felt compelled to tap people’s common sense and help them recognize the poor-quality lighting around them. I set out to enlighten everyone, from the citizens coming to my club’s stargazing sessions to Branford’s highest officials.
Other cities and towns around the country were beginning to adopt outdoor-lighting laws, and this seemed like the perfect solution for our growing community. I devised an easy way for people to send the message to town lawmakers: a preaddressed, preprinted postcard. Even people who hadn’t a clue how their town government worked could just sign it and drop it in the mail. It expressed concern about light pollution and requested action from the Branford Planning and Zoning Commission. I handed out these cards at stargazing sessions and other local public events.
The postcards drew the attention of Branford’s town planner, Shirley Rasmussen, and helped open the door for a meeting with her. To prepare, I did some homework using the resources of the International Dark-Sky Association. My enthusiasm, fortified by the IDA’s information sheets, helped convince her that good-lighting regulations would greatly benefit everyone.
Since this law would be enforced by people with little or no lighting experience, the language needed to be kept simple and direct. I borrowed parts from laws that other cities and towns had passed, which were also available through the IDA. I also spoke to lighting and security professionals, who helped me understand modern lighting applications. Striving to keep the guidelines foolproof, I added illustrations showing examples of acceptable and unacceptable fixtures. After some adjustments, Rasmussen accepted my draft of the regulations.