The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s Dark Skies Program estimates that 80% of Americans have never seen the Milky Way. The reason isn’t poor eyesight, bad weather, or lack of a telescope. Rather, it’s because the nights in our developed areas aren’t dark anymore. Some call it “light pollution”. The Milky Way and the stars are lost in it.
The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) has focused on this issue since 1988. By and large, the IDA’s efforts to raise public awareness and influence policy are bearing fruit. The Texas chapter of IDA has been particularly effective. In fact, our state is a leader in the world dark sky movement. Of the 20 IDA-certified Dark Sky Communities, 3 are in Texas Hill Country. At the present time, state law permits cities to regulate outdoor lighting. Most counties can’t. Fort Bend County in the Houston area is allowed to regulate outdoor lighting because of the George Observatory there.
There’s no doubt that more regulation at the city level is in the cards. However, if the new laws are as reasonable as those already on the books, it’ll be a good thing all around. There’s no need (with a few exceptions) for outdoor lighting to be garish or glaring. To the contrary, the mantra of top outdoor lighting companies is “less is more”. If more people grasped this principle, we wouldn’t need more regulations.
Light trespassing is a related issue. After all, it’s light pollution on a micro scale. Thoughtlessly designed outdoor lighting that intrudes on a neighbor’s space is a code violation in some locales. It’s rude anywhere. There’s always a solution that’s beautiful, practical, and neighborly. That’s what outdoor lighting professionals do best.
Kudos to the homeowners and businesses who respect dark skies and privacy beyond what the law requires. Surely tasteful outdoor and landscape lighting is like a painting, not a fireworks show. Pros can create neighborly, sky-friendly systems that are stunning. Stunning, and which also provide the desired safety and security. For those interested, the IDA keeps a list of approved fixtures for outdoor lighting. Naturally, the LED revolution has created new options in this area.
There’s no need to wait for laws to be tasteful and civic-minded. Pros know the issues and the solutions. They can upgrade existing systems or install new ones to suit. It’s a case where the common good and the individual’s are in synch. Truly fine outdoor lighting is by nature compatible with dark skies. It’s not about living in darkness or going primitive. It’s about taste and respect.