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// Dark Skies: Morning Ireland News radio interview
Morning Ireland Interview
Friday 30 December 2005. 8.20 am
AL: If you go out in the country after dark at Christmas time you'll see not just candles in the window but flashing lights, climbing Santa's, lit-up nativity scenes as every year more and more houses are festooned with the seasonal lighting display. But such scenes would probably be frowned on by our next guest who is urging the Government to take action to curb light pollution. He's Tony Lewis from Friends of the Irish Environment. Tony Lewis, Good Morning.
TL: Good morning, Onja.
AL: Do you frown on all those Christmas lights? They're amazing this year, I mean they're really quite dramatic.
TL: They are and I think the amount of sales of lighting for Christmas has increased by 50% this year over last year so they are a widespread phenomena. I think they're fun and they're seasonal and they're controlled and in some cases, certainly down near where our offices are in West Cork, people raise money for charity through these events. So it isn't really that which has caused us to‚Ä¶
AL: So that's Ok, we'll allow that in seasonal good cheer. But what about the lighting the rest of the year, what's worrying you?
TL: I think there's a growing concern all around the world about what they call light pollution. This is what can be seen from outside cities as a lurid orange glow around our cities and towns. It's caused by light that's emitted above the horizon, that is it's caused by light that's not properly aimed or properly shielded, it's caused by using too much light, by using light in appropriate places, and having some of the wrong ideas about what light can and can't do.
There's growing concern about it. The English finally agreed they'd bring in planning Guidance Notes on it and they made it a statutory nuisance which is very interesting. There's concepts like 'light trespass' for instance. I think people who live in the country will be aware of what I'm talking about.
AL: It sounds like an awful lot of regulation, Tony.
TL: I don't think it's so much that we need regulation as that we need guidance. Local Authorities are responsible increasingly, and private developers as well, for putting in huge amounts of lights, particularly on our out of town developments, parking lots, supermarkets, these kind of things, they are not regulated or controlled in any meaningful way and if the physical equipment was available to these people and if they were aware of the importance of the issue then we think they might do something.
It may be even more topical because of our concerns over global warming and the use of power because a huge amount of electricity goes into this, some of which might not be necessary.
The figures and statistics about safety, which is the first thing people raise, aren't really conclusive, and one of the interesting findings is that if you do put in street lighting the crime in the day time also seems to decrease. What that's saying to the sociologists is that when an area is seen to be improving, crime will fall. So there are many ways to improve areas besides putting out inappropriate and too intensive lighting.
AL: You may say that but there are many people who will be failed to be convinced that it's safe, for instance, to walk down a dark street. You know the reason those lights are there is people want lives for safety on the roads, on the paths.
TL: Absolutely. And they are absolutely necessary for safety and we're not suggesting that we take away life, light, that actually gives people the opportunity to go outside. We're not suggesting that light shouldn't be used to increase pedestrian traffic, we're not suggesting that light shouldn't be used for road safety at intersections and junctions, of course it should. And the first thing you'll find when you look into the Dark Skies campaign or the Irish Light Pollution Awareness Campaign is that they will say we're not talking about safety, we're not talking about that.
We're talking about something else entirely which is a hugely wasteful and very disturbing - lose of our heritage is one way to put it.
AL: You've written to Tom Parlon about this. Do you think you're being listened to?
TL: At the moment we can't seem to really get the figures from them on what the lighting of public buildings is costing and that's one element of it. But its only one element of it.
There are so many different ways in which individuals privately can contribute to this. I wonder how many people who are listening this morning have a particular light that shines in their window at night or that makes it difficult for them to walk outside and appreciate the darkness? Just one light can cause a problem simply because it's the wrong installation, it's not properly shielded, it's not aimed in the right direction. These are simple things that individuals can do as well.
AL: But with their neighbour' light there's not a lot they can do about that.
TL: It's obviously embarrassing, I would be very reluctant to go to my neighbour and say 'Look, your light is shining in my eyes when I try and go outside and look at the stars'. But I think there will be a growing awareness about this problem because there is more and more of it and I think the change will come. What we'd like to see is the Government take a lead on this change.
TL: Tony Lewis of the Friends of the Irish Environment thank you for talking to us.