My Wish: Star Light, Star Bright

How I miss seeing the Milky Way from within Chapel Hill!

It’s kind of appropriate during National Dark Sky Week, a call to folks “in the United States are encouraged to turn out their unnecessary outdoor lights in order to temporarily reduce light pollution” that a recent comment by Craig O. on my post “Raleigh LEDs the Way” reminded me that this weekend – especially April 22nd between 1am and dawn – we’re going to experience the Lyrid Meteor showers.

How did a post on Raleigh’s deployment of LED-based lighting systems remind me of a meteor shower?

Well, if you read my first campaign letter in 2005 or saw one of my first appearances before Council (February, 2002) you might recall that I got more directly involved in Chapel Hill politics because of light pollution.

Starting just prior to the turn of the millennium, I tried numerous times to get the street light flooding the front yard and upper stories of our house with light pollution “fixed”. After years of foot dragging by a particular town manager, and well after my offer to purchase and pay for the installation of a proper fixture, I finally approached the “highest law in the land” – the Council – for redress.

Seven years later, more than five after that first meeting with the Council, not only is that light still shining brightly into our night time world, the Town has added more.

I learned a lot from that experience. How much a Town staff can set public policy and mangle the Council’s agenda. How dysfunctional the balance of responsibility and authority between a Council and a Town Manager can be. How the temperament of our leadership can create a “mountain out of the mole hill” when it comes to fixing even smallest of issues – like a streetlight disrupting a citizen’s night time viewing pleasure.

On the plus side, I also learned one hell of a lot about proper municipal lighting, “green” strategies for safe illumination, the fabulous International Dark Skies initiative (whose recommendations on municipal lighting ordinances I tried at one point to get Council to adopt) and, incidentally, how to fight Town Hall on behalf of far more important issues (our 4th and 5th Constitutional rights, for instance).

As I was prepping our Celestron for this weekend’s light show, I thought about how I it’s been a few years since I made a run at getting that darn light fixed.

Maybe it’s time to throw it back on the stack?

Why stop there, though, maybe I should take a run at Town sponsorship of an annual celebration of the night time sky?

One city that recently celebrated darkness was Sydney, Australia. Government officials and environmental groups there spearheaded a citywide “Earth Hour” on the evening of March 31st, during which some 50,000 households and 2,000 businesses voluntarily dimmed their lights. “It’s an hour of active, thoughtful darkness,” noted Australian actor Cate Blanchett, who was on hand for the dramatic demonstration. Organizers hope that Earth Hour will be observed throughout Australia next year.

Sky Tonight, Apr. 20th, 2007






5 responses to “My Wish: Star Light, Star Bright”

  1. Terri Avatar

    Sorry you didn’t come join us at the Morehead Planetarium on Tuesday night for Our Vanishing Sky program:

    Barry Jacobs started the evening off by discussing the Orange County Light Pollution Ordinance and expressing his wish that Chapel Hill and Carrboro would adopt the ordinance as Hillsborough has recently done. Our tour leaders for the walkabout after the program were from the NC Green Building Council–an architect, an engineer, and a city planner from Raleigh where they also have an ordinance.

    Cree set up a display out on the porch and also came to campus for today’s Earth Day fair on Polk Place.

  2. WillR Avatar

    Completely blipped on it (had a Preserve Lincoln Arts Center meeting). Wish I’d known about it – very cool. Was it part of the Dark Sky week celebration or just a fortuitous coincidence?

    Do you have a link to the ordinance, I’ll be happy to feature it Terri.

  3. Terri Avatar

    Turned out we were celebrating Earth Week on campus simultaneously with the national Dark Sky Week. I have the ordinance in a Word document but I only have your old email address. If you’ll send me a message, I’ll send the attachment back to you.

    Bill Strom told me that Chapel Hill is working on an ordinance, but then I learned that the planner assigned the task resigned so no progress being made at this time.

    The Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimated outdoor lighting consumption to be 326 trillion BTU back in 1993. So not only is outdoor lighting ruining our dark sky, but it’s also consuming a lot of unnecessary energy/wasting tax dollars. The point of Our Vanishing Night program was to educate the general population to the fact that we can improve safety, save energy, and see more stars by reducing the amount of outdoor lighting. It’s a message that will need to be repeated many times before it’s heard/believed. I’ll let you know when I have the handout added to our Save Energy website.

  4. WillR Avatar

    Thanks Terri – campaign AT still works.

    If there’s anything I or anyone else following the lighting issue can do to move local leadership along on this, please post…

    BTW, I did bring light pollution up as an issue as a member of the Horace-Williams Citizens comm. We were in the midst of sketching out a recommendation when the Mayor pulled the plug… I also brought it before the Carolina North LAC once… I was going to ask about it at UNC’s next rollout of their CN plans.

  5. Terri Avatar

    Hey Will–did you see that Our Vanishing Sky program made the lead story of the N&O today?

    Maybe that will help motivate more of a discussion about adopting a Chapel Hill and a Carrboro ordinance!

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