Biodiversity Nepal
For the Future Generation

Light Pollution: The Dangerous Effects of City Lights

The negative effects of light pollution and how to prevent it

Pinterest/Moktan Tamang
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Light pollution is the excessive, misdirected or invasive use of artificial outdoor lighting. In the context of Nepal, however, light pollution is a new and peculiar subject. For a typical Nepali – who had to face decades of load shedding and power cuts – the 24 hrs light service is instead a boon.  

However, the unmanaged lighting system can have myriad consequences on human health. Light pollution can suppress the production of melatonin hormone, falsifying a sense of energy and leading to insomnia. This disturbed sleeping pattern can ultimately result in both physical inconvenience and mental health problems.

Prolonged exposure to light and lack of sleep can even be carcinogenic in many cases. According to Harvard Health, there is a link between residential outdoor lighting at night and invasive breast cancer.  Likewise, as a short-term effect, light pollution can strain our eyes leading to headache and fatigue. 

Disturbance on the night pattern of animals due to artificial lights also hampers the ecosystem. For an instance, man-made bulbs can dangerously attract nocturnal insects like moths which have a natural tendency to be attracted towards lights. This increase in invasive insects can lead to a decrease in population of crucial pollinating species.

The Milky Way reflected in Gosaikunda, Nepal in absence of artificial lights (Award-Winning photo by Yeven Samuchenko)

Furthermore, light pollution also affects the migratory patterns of the bird. Birds are attracted by the light as they navigate by means of natural light from the moon and stars. These birds can detect lights even from several kilometres. Thus, they can mistake urban lights as a natural source, gather around it, and accidentally collide on the buildings resulting in mass deaths.

In addition, light pollution can also be a catalyst for other pollution issues. For an instance, excessive artificial light distracts algae-eating zooplankton, leading to algae bloom; this degrades the quality of water bodies and aquatic plants.

However, the situation is not completely hopeless, as a myriad of small changes can prevent light pollution. Firstly, proper light planning at homes, buildings and offices is a way to minimize and manage excessive light. Secondly, streetlights should be set up according to the required amount of light. One can never underestimate the value of good engineering and techniques like shorter electric poles. 

Reduction of light pollution after using the improved technique of street lights (Source: NASA)

Events like Earth Hour (a movement held by WWF) can be openly discussed in Nepal which has been talking about issues on light pollution. The movement had previously encouraged people to turn off non-essential lights from 8:30 to 9:30 on a day towards the end of March.

Different locations of Nepal are top destinations to stargaze for astronomy enthusiast around the world. Likewise, the biodiversity and ecosystem are a gem for the tourism industry. So, it is crucial to prevent light pollution before it gets worse.

Watching the night sky in presence of thousands of stars, one may contemplate upon thinking their existence, but the continuous light may hamper our creativity as well. Are we undervaluing the power of darkness? 

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