Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Light pollution and the death of awe

If you want to understand religion, visit an area without any street lighting for miles around. I can recommend Lundy Island or the Dingle peninsula in the far West of Ireland.

The stars are extraordinary. You may have read about the Milky Way: here you can see it. The sky is more than beautiful: it is overpowering.

Auden asked:
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
With skies like this you feel that they do.

When I mentioned this to someone, he suggested that if you mapped the decline of religion in the West and the advance of street lighting, you would see a clear relationship. I am sure this is true.

The Campaign of the Week in today's Guardian is the Campaign for Dark Skies, which:
aims to preserve and restore the beauty of the night sky by campaigning against excessive, inefficient and irresponsible lighting that shines where it is not wanted nor needed.
Inevitably they go on to talk about global warming, but it is good to see an environmental campaign that is not afraid to talk about beauty.

And I am not alone in my awe of the night sky. The NASA site quotes Timothy Ferris:

"The loss of the night sky is most troubling for children. Whole generations of kids in cities and suburbs are growing up seldom if ever having seen the Milky Way and what a sky full of thousands of stars might look like."

"People often describe to me in glowing terms their experience in viewing the night time sky as if they'd seen something extraordinarily exotic ... something akin to observing Victoria Falls or the south pole. And I'm afraid that's the case for many people ... that they can count on the fingers of one hand the times they've seen a good night's sky."

No comments: