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Light Pollution: Worldwide Impact

Global light pollution is as all encompassing.

One need only glance a composite satellite image of the Earth at night to understand how much light the world produces. The rapid growth of cities in the past two hundred years, coupled with the growing availability of artificial light has created a rather strange problem, global light pollution. Light pollution can be addressed at several different levels. At the smallest level, the home, the focus is on small strategies of how a home owner can do their part to reduce excess light emitted from their home. Above individual homes, municipal governments and cities are responsible for taking into account their energy consumption and lighting needs. At this level, lighting is mostly used for public safety on roadways and densely populated urban areas. With certain cities, lighting uses by private businesses are also regulated on a municipal level. Parking lots and flood lighting are of particular concern to most cities. Not only does unnecessary lighting in these areas drain energy resources from the rest of the city, large scale outdoor lighting contributes disproportionately to light pollution due to the luminosity or sheer power of the lights used. State governments are also keen to reduce light pollution, particularly states with constrained energy resources. California is one such state. Californian light pollution laws are designed with the dual intent of reducing over illumination and sky as well as limiting wasted energy. The formal name of this law is Title 24. Similar measures are increasingly more common throughout the country with cities and heavily populated counties. Most states have been reluctant to impose lighting restrictions, especially in states where electric generation exceeds demand. Nationally, light pollution legislation has met with mixed results. Because electricity generation and consumption is uneven throughout the country, only states that consume more energy than they are capable of producing have adamantly supported lighting regulation. However, there have been a few successes. Following the example of other nations, the Federal Government did lay out a road map for reducing energy consumption in the average American home by limiting certain product choices in the marketplace. After 2012, incandescent lights will be phased off store shelves leaving halogens and fluorescents as the only available, but energy efficient alternatives. In the early 90s, the EPA created Energy Star, an industry standard to minimize electricity consumption, lighting is among the areas it encompasses. Internationally, light pollution reduction efforts are varied. The European Union has adopted similar approaches as the Federal Government in the United States, and is likely to enact further regulations. Because the energy supplies of Europe are considerably limited compared to North America, reducing energy waste by lighting is a much more pressing need. Australia and Canada are currently at the forefront of light pollution legislation. Both nations will be among the first to eliminate incandescent lights from consumer markets and are actively reducing excess light levels from their cities. Australia, unlike Europe, has a vast supply of energy resources compared to the meager size of its population. However, the nation is among the most environmentally conscious in the world, and is seeking to limit its urban impact on its unique wildlife. Canada, one of the world's energy superpowers, is following a similar strategy and limiting the excess light that escapes its relatively isolated population from the rest of its vast territory. Private efforts, such as the Dark Sky movement, are keen to reduce light pollution for a host of reasons. Dark Sky was initially started by astronomers seeking to reduce light pollution for obvious reasons. However, the movement has attracted a following of biologists who have similar goals.