THE CITY DARK: What we lose with lots of light

With greenhouse gases causing potentially cataclysmic shifts in weather patterns, and various human-made chemical compounds finding their way into our food, water, and air, the idea of light pollution may seem a bit amusing. It’s light! It’s not going to kill you – right?

Probably not. But a 2011 documentary that made a splash at a few festivals last year, THE CITY DARK, digs into our efforts to push out the dark almost everywhere, and what that means not only for natural environments, but also human health. It turns out that ubiquitous artificial light won’t poison us like, say, dioxin or lead, but it does have a broader impact than many of us might imagine.

In terms of nature, any animal that relies on natural light sources for direction can end up dead from artificial light. Filmmaker Ian Cheney (the co-creator of KING CORN and THE GREENING OF SOUTHIE) focuses on baby sea turtles and birds living in urban spaces as creatures that can get disoriented, and, ultimately, dead from poorly placed lights. Additionally, Cheney explores the connection between artificial light and breast cancer, taking note of research that shows night shift workers are about twice as likely to develop the disease as those who work during the day. While the light itself doesn’t directly lead to cancer, it does allow for nighttime work that our bodies may still consider unnatural.

Those are some of the most direct consequences of widespread artificial light, but Cheney also considers the costs on our perception of the world, and even our imagination. The night sky has inspired both scientists and artists, so other, less concrete, things are lost when we can’t see the stars.

As seems appropriate, the film is currently making the rounds of US science centers and planetariums; if you get a chance to check it out (or already have), let us know what you think.

via The City Wire


Image credit: THE CITY DARK press kit