(From left to right) José Domingo Fernández, Javier Díaz Castro, Antonia M. Varela, Casiana Muñoz Tuñón and Miquel Serra Ricart. Credit: Inés Bonet
“Future generations have the right to an unscathed, uncontaminated Earth, including the right to a clean sky”, This statement is included in UNESCO’s Declaration of the Rights of Future Generations. A message from José Domingo Fernández Herrera, Director General of the Fight against Climate Change and of the Environment of the Government of the Canaries reminded us during the opening ofthe “Ist meeting about the Protection of the Sky and Employment Opportunities” held yesterday, Tuesday in La Laguna. The meeting was organized by the Starlight Foundation, with the collaboration of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (IAC) and the STARS4ALL Foundation, an organization to produce general awareness in the promotion of the night sky.
José Domingio Fernandez started his talk, titled “Light Pollution and Climate Change” by making a reference to the declaration of a state of climate emergency in the Canaries approved by the Coucil of the Government of this community, “vulnerable” to Climate Change, which is in a certain way related to light pollution. An astrophysicist by training he explained what is light pollution, how and why it is produced, what consequences and effects it has, how to avoid it, and what solutions are proposed, as well as to inform about the specific legal regulations, and its relation to environmental laws.
According to this speaker, light pollution is light which has no purpose and which escapes above the horizontal emission of normal lighting, and which affects all living creatures including human beings. The reflection and diffusion of this light impede its absorption by the atmosphere, and distort signals which are received from outside, so that it harms astronomical observation: it enhances the general night lighting so that the stars disappear from view. It also puts our health, and that of other living creatures, at risk. That is why it is necessary to regulate this problem on a global scale, but especially in zones whose skies are privileged, such as the Canaries, which since 1088 has a Law to Protect the Sky Quality of the Canary Observatories.
Light pollution, which is caused by inadequate design of outdoor lighting, and excess lighting, has the following consequences: energy and money are wasted, it causes glare, it worsens road safety, and safety in general, it causes light intrusión by artificial light in the interior of buildings, altering sleep patterns, and it causes a loss of scientific and cultural heritage with the reduction of the visibility of the night sky.
The evident excess of energy consumed causes “an environmental impact of this waste which is huge: it increases our carbon footprint, and hence produces the extra C02 which accelerates climate change” explained José Domingo Fernández. It also has biological and physiological effects on flora and fauna. “The cycles of light and darkness are essential for the development of the vital functions of nature. For example migrating birds get lost”. And thirdly it contributes to atmospheric pollution because it leaves rubbish tips with contaminating residues because obsolete lamps need replacing. That is why it is urgent to give publicity to the light pollution problema from the environmental point of vies, to educate the public, and to pass relevant laws, although we are working on this. ”What have up to now been choices have become obligations”.
In public lighting, which generates light pollution, “the main development in recent times” said José Domingo Fernández “has been the transition from conventional sodium vapour, mercury vapour, and metal halogen lamps to LED’s” even though we need to take into account the adverse effects produced by an excess of blue light from some of the LED’s during nighttime. He concluded by explaining that the tendency in the near future would be to use “intelligent lighting” with a sustainable growth in the cities, cost savings, and improved energy efficiency.
The importance of protection
In her lectura about the “Economic and Scientific Impact of the Observatories in the Canaries” Casiana Muñoz-Tuñon, Deputy Director of the IAC talked about the importance and the role of the Institute in enhancing knowledge, high level job creation, and the internationalization of in the Canaries. She also discussed the technological high points and the development and opportunities they have created. She gave a summary of the studies, led by the University of La Laguna, of the social and economic impact of Astronomy in the Canaries. “Astronomy” she said “is a motor and also an educational tool”
The IAC foments activities which contribute to make young people aware and to train them in the beauty of Astronomy, and the importance of the protection of the sky to keep moving forward and discovering the physics which governs the Univers”. In her presentation she also put emphasis on the “niches of creation and development of companies which can participate in this collective proyect which is Astrophysics”.
Miquel Serra Ricart, administrator of the Teide Observatory and a member of STARS4ALL aimed his talk at the techical development for controlling light pollution. “Am estimated 10% of the land surface of the Earth receives direct artificial night lighting (ALN) and this rises to 23% if we include the glow from the sky (light which is scattered in the Earth’s atmosphere by air molecules, aerosols, and clouds)”. He commented that recent studies have shown that the outdoor areas with artificial lighting grew by around 2% per annum between 2010 and 2016. “ The loss of darkness due to the increasing use of ALN has a dangerous, often neglected effect on natural ecosystems”. He went on to talk about the main activities within the new project EELabs. “The objective” he said “is to maximize the energy efficiency of the new lighting technologies, mainlt LED’s, while at the same time minimizing their light polluting effect on the ecosystems of Macaronesia. EELabs will build Light Pollution Laboratories (LPL). These LPL’s will be non-intrusive ecological infrastructures sited in protected natural areas in Macaronesia, formed by a network of photomers and/or public LED lighting. Their mission will be to give instrumental support to the researchers who will be members of the project, and from other European research centres, to carry out Experiments on Light Pollution (EPL).
Professional activities and Astrotourism
Javier Diaz Castro, in charge of the Technical Office for the Protection of the Sky (OTPC) of the IAC, whose other member is Federico de la Paz, a technician who was also present at the meeting, talked about intelligent street lighting and innovation. “Light pollution is an environmental and social problem with a high impact which should be tackled by Public Administration, but it is also an opportunity for the development of specific jobs and professional activities, such as those of technicians specialized in the design of outdoor lighting systems in protected areas, advising studies of engineering, arquitectura and manufacture. In addition it should be possible to set up companies which can certify the working of installations, with regard to light levels, spectrometry, systems to reduce light flux, working hours, and the brightness of illuminates signs, as well as to set up the office of auditor who analyzes the levels of light pollution in a given zone, and can propose a change in the lighting to reduce it. All of this with the aim of building up a culture about intelligent lighting which is kind to our sky”.
The meeting finished with the talk by Antonia A. Varela, managing director of the Starlight Foundation, with the title “A dark sky as a mtoro of Economically Sustainable Astrotourism. According to her, (she is also an IAC researcher) tourism of the stars, or Astrotourism, promoted by the Starlight foundation, is a new type of sustainable and responsible tourism, hich combines activties related to the sky with activties related to the natural resource which represents the stars and the spreading of interest in astronomy.
It has as its goals”, he explained, “the implementation of measures for the protection of the night sky (legislation, intelligent lighting and innovation, energy and economic savings) and the symbiosis of the rich landscape, geology, environment, biodiversity, culture and science (archaeology, palaeontology, etc.) with the dark sky, with each territory needing to identify, diversify and manage the supply in particular”. He added that the growing interest in astrotourism (200-400 %), its direct and indirect benefits and the opportunities for the environment, especially the rural environment, have led the Starlight Foundation to recently receive the FiturNext Award, which has given international recognition to its work, as a sustainable and replicable practice, which favours the development of the local economy.