13 June 2013

(pennsylvania outdoor lighting council (polc) sheds curiously thoughtful night-light in chester county & beyond)

by jennifer hetrick

working on behalf of the whole state of pennsylvania when it comes to being environmentally, healthily, and financially intelligent about night illuminations in manufactured form is the pennsylvania outdoor lighting council based in chester county.

the board members for this council are from chester, berks, and montgomery counties in our little nugget of southeastern pennsylvania.

“it started in 1995 with a group of amateur astronomers who were concerned about light pollution,” explains stan stubbe who serves as the council’s president.

stubbe elaborates that the council focused primarily on two major goals in the early days, ones that are a still a strong point in their attention today: both public and municipal awareness. he and fellow council members often also find themselves at environmental and sustainability fairs, offering educational handouts about the impacts of light pollution and how there are great and often more affordable choices to dulling down the irritating, distracting way of unnatural light in the nighttime hours.

“light that’s excessive and shines into people’s eyes and into the skies or causes an annoyance and reduces their ability to see” is what stubbe describes as the definition of light pollution.

“homeowners often don’t know the consequences of light pollution and don’t equate it to wasted money, but it is similar to letting a sink faucet run all night,” stubbe says. “and many times, people who move from the city out into this area think they need as much light here as they needed in the city, so it is a tough sell,” he says about trying to help people to see that some light at night is excessive, harmful to vision, distracting, and even a wallet-killer.

in terms of commercial and industrial businesses and their influence on contributing to light pollution, stubbe notes that they usually want their properties to be glimpsed before anyone else’s, with an example being two competing gas stations on opposite sides of an intersection.

stubbe suggests using lower wattage lamps as one way to reduce light pollution and wallet straining.

“a 40-watt lamp for a porch or post light is plenty adequate,” stubbe says. “you can also use a timing device so that the light shuts off sooner, or use a motion sensor.”

( above, a parshield; below, scenes of neighbors being considerate to each other 
with their outdoor lighting choices - courtesy of the POLC & RAB lighting

stubble also recommends using properly shielded lighting which aims the lighting on the ground or at least away from the windows of houses in a neighborhood so that sleep can be more naturally appreciated.

stubbe notes that par shields, made for just this purpose, are for sale at the national historic site known as hopewell furnace in elverson, as it in line with supporting beautiful sweeps of views of the nighttime sky and also keeping light pollution at bay.

but some may not realize how unneeded light impacts human even more. “when people don’t get enough darkness every day, the flow of melatonin decreases,” stub says. melatonin is a hormone related to healthy regulation of proverbial zzz’s, produced in the brain. and on top of that, lighting interference adversely impacts animals in their migration and reproduction habits as well as the growth habits of trees and plants.

in the beginning of the council’s efforts, members tried to reach out with a push for state legislation about this topic they’re so passionate about, but they soon realized how far from feasible it was. so instead, they started to concentrate their energy on trying to help make a difference at the local level with municipalities across local counties. and in fact, with the lighting pollution ordinance language available on their website, they’ve seen further off, not so local townships out of the tri-county range adopting their prepared wording, which shows that this impact is really making a difference.

since beginning their light-kind endeavors in education, the council has helped to enact more than 40 ordinances with townships, boroughs, and cities, with the wording in each pushing forward the idea of more earth, people, and wallet-friendly lighting choices for outdoor settings. most of the municipalities the council assisted with guidance on these ordinances were in chester county, but several were in other surrounding counties. a few were east vincent, east pikeland, uwchlan, upper uwchlan, west whiteland, north coventry, south coventry, east coventry, warwick, east nantmeal, london grove, west brandywine, west bradford, robeson, maidencreek, union, and amity townships.

in most instances, the council contributed not only their time but gave their two cents about how to customize the ordinances to fit the settings and backdrop of each individual municipality.

and thankfully for the council members, officials from those townships expressed gratitude for their insights and efforts in helping not only to draft the language of the ordinances but also throwing a good amount of thoughtful kindness to the residents of these communities as well because of the knowledge tucked into caring about this subject.

stubbe encourages people to talk to their neighbors about lighting annoyance, and while it may seem like a potentially sore subject, he has his own success story of a neighbor’s floodlights shining toward his own house, on the road, and at another neighbor’s windows. when stubbe approached his neighbor about it, the response came across with respect, and with a few adjustments, that light is now aimed downward and bothers no one. this shows that if people practice patience and understanding toward each other, workable solutions that benefit more than one person can be brought into the mix.

seeing the progress made since the council formed almost two decades ago is what stubbe considers most rewarding about being a part of such light-smart efforts.

in addition to visiting the council’s website for moer information at www.polcouncil.org, stubbe also highly recommends checking out the international dark-sky association at www.darksky.org.

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