The Dark Earth and Scotobiology

Posted: September 6, 2006 in Culture, Philosophy

These images of the Earth from above are pretty interesting:

I especially like the views of the Strait of Gibraltar and the Red Sea, which incidentally shows the Nile delta. The last few show the Earth in darkness, revealing man-made light. I presume the images are composites, as no view of the Earth looking away from the Sun would be in darkness except perhaps during an eclipse. In fact, I’m suspicious the whole Earth is superimposed on a generic star field just for effect.

The dark Earth, lit by man, folds nicely into another idea I stumbled across. A webpage at the National Park Service discusses its Night Skies program to preserve darkness. It avers that light pollution is the sign of an “inefficient society.”

“The emerging field of scotobiology (scoto = darkness, biology = life) is uncovering many examples of wildlife impacted by artificial light.” For instance, baby sea turtles, just after hatching, have been known to mistake a paved road with streetlights for moonlight reflected on the water, which they try to reach. Predictably, they get flattened by passing cars and trucks.

There is also this lament: “Two–thirds of Americans cannot see the Milky Way from their backyard, and 99% of the population live in an area that scientists consider light polluted. The rate at which light pollution is increasing will leave almost no dark skies in the contiguous U.S. by 2025.”

I’m not usually interested in environmental issues, so I’ll save my usual diatribe. However, I suspect that this issue will be dismissed by policymakers as unimportant in comparison to lots of things (crime! terror! war! oil!). Still, it reveals that the human footprint still has many deleterious effects that are only now just being observed.

Update: A website called Dark Sky Finder shows the extent of light pollution. Especially east of the Mississippi River, there are whole states where everything is lit up, meaning there is no dark sky to be found for hundreds of miles.

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