Astronomers want government to introduce measures limiting light pollution

Photo: Kristýna Maková

Czech astronomers have warned of the growing impact of so-called light pollution – excessive or obtrusive light – from surrounding cities and towns which impact the environment as well as human health. They met with Environment Minister Richard Brabec on Thursday, hoping to agree on new legislative steps which could be introduced to regulate light pollution and return some areas to the dark.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
Astronomers, the chairman of the Czech Astronomical Institute Jiří Grygera says, first began noticing the problem half a century ago when observing the stars: a lightening of the sky making it more and more difficult to view. Although the view of a lit-up cityscape at night is no doubt exciting, excessive upward light has an impact beyond complicating observation of the night sky. Other factors influenced are human health, ecosystems and the economy. A map of light pollution in the country reveals at a glance the heaviest-hit areas and areas least affected. Of the latter are mountainous areas such as Jeseníky or Beskydy. The head of the Czech Astronomical Institute Jiří Grygera:

“Over 50 years the situation has gotten significantly worse. As light intensity has gone up due to technological advances, excess light, which spills into broader areas, has also increased. It has become more than just a problem for astronomers. We can, to a degree, deal with it.

“But excess light can have an impact on human health. If you don’t get enough sleep at night, as was the case for people in Frydlant affected by light from greenhouses across the Polish border, the negative effects accumulate.”

Speaking on public broadcaster Czech TV, Jiří Grygera also pointed to other risks beyond health:

“We are trying to save energy, in line with EU norms, so it is a European problem. We need to save, especially when you consider that upward light represents 40 percent of all the light produced.

“That’s not the only problem: when you look at transport, motorists are often blinded by sources such as billboards or gas stations. If your eyes are adjusted to the dark, you are blinded for several seconds every time you see such a source. And that is dangerous. So we also want the Transport Ministry to look at that as part of discussions with the Health Ministry, Labour Ministry and others.”

The hope is that the government should be able to agree on future norms which could improve the situation, from street lamps to industrial complexes. The issue has been raised before; unlike in the past, this time activists against light pollution will be hoping for actual results.