Interview of Paul Bogard ― Resistance Radio

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(Sound of loons)

Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen. This is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Paul Bogard. Paul Bogard is the author of The Ground Beneath Us: From the Oldest Cities to the Last Wilderness, What Dirt Tells Us About Who We Are published by Little, Brown on 21 March 2017. He is also the author of The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, published in North America by Little, Brown, and in the UK and around the world by 4th Estate/Harper Collins. A native Minnesotan, Paul grew up exploring the forest and watching the stars near a lake in the northern part of the state. Today we talk about the environmental effects of light pollution.

So first, thank you for your work, and second, thank you for being on the program.

PB: It’s great to be here.

DJ: So the first question, I guess, is what is light pollution?

PB: The basic definition of light pollution is the overuse and the misuse of artificial light, and I’m always quick to say when I’m giving talks, or talking to people, that the problem isn’t necessarily artificial light. It’s how we’re using it. It’s an important distinction, because we are going to have artificial light. People like it, and the question really is; are we going to use it in thoughtful, intelligent, responsible ways, or are we going to just spray it all over the place in ways that are harmful to us and harmful to ecosystems, a big waste of money, and ultimately endanger us more than make us safe?

So the issue is that we’re just using way more artificial light at night than we need to be using and we’re incurring all these unnecessary costs that aren’t making anybody any safer and in fact are probably making most of us more prone to accident and danger.

DJ: You said the phrase “spray it all around,” which sort of anticipates my second question of what is the extent of light pollution? If it’s being sprayed all around, then I presume that means there’s a lot of this so-called light pollution.

PB: Yeah, there’s a lot of it. I think there’s far more of it than most people realize. I’ll give you a couple of examples. If you look at, for example, NASA has photographs of the earth at night, taken from space and we’ve all seen those photographs. All the cities are lit up and many of us have seen the compilation image of the earth at night, where all the world’s cities are lit up. And it gives the impression that I think a lot of people think, which is yeah, there’s a lot of light in the cities, and that’s to be expected, but you know, if you get outside the cities it’s still dark. And that is not true anymore. It’s darker outside of the cities, darker in the countryside, mostly, than it is in the cities, but it’s not as dark as it used to be. And all the ways that we use light in cities that make a city so bright are being exported out into the suburbs, into the countryside, into rural and even wilderness areas. I hear so many stories of people who “move out into the country to get away from it all” and they either bring their city lights with them and light up their property, or they’ve been there for awhile and somebody else moves in and lights up the area with all their lights. We’re taking our lights wherever we go.

The other thing, I guess too, when I say “spray it all around,” is that the way that we use light is pretty dumb in a lot of ways. And it’s exactly because of this, the way that we direct the light. To go back to those images I was talking about, those NASA photographs: Those can be pretty impressive and even beautiful images, because I think artificial light, at night, in the context of darkness, can be really beautiful. But those images are really images of waste. Most of that light that you see in those pictures is either being sprayed straight up into the sky, it’s not lighting anything here, or it’s being sprayed horizontally, which tends to mix with the atmosphere and create what we call “skyglow.” It’s a type of light pollution here.

It’s also, if you think about light that’s being sprayed horizontally, it’s the kind of light that makes it harder for people to drive at night because the lights are in their eyes. The kind of light that’s being shined into your bedroom at night from your neighbors, that kind of thing.

So if we could just get people to direct their artificial lights down to the ground, we could have a huge positive impact on our use of light at night. It’s the way that we’re using light and the fact that we’re using more than we need everywhere.

DJ: This all reminds me of an email I received from a friend of mine’s sister, who is an airline pilot flying internationally. And this was about ten years ago, and she’s been a pilot for a long time, and she said that her heart broke more or less constantly because of exactly what you’re talking about. It used to be there would be distinct islands of light. And now I believe one of the places she flies is Mexico City, from the United States, and now it’s a continuous, I don’t remember the word she used, but it is no longer islands of light, there is light everywhere.

PB: Yeah, that’s what you see. If you look at, say, the eastern half of the U.S., the eastern corridor from Boston down to D.C., down through Virginia and North Carolina, it’s just all lit up. There’s no break in the light.

There was a really interesting thing that some scientists from Italy did about 15 years ago, where they took those photographs they had from NASA, took the data from that essentially and used it to make computer-generated maps using colors, a spectrum of color to show exactly what we’re talking about. So the cities would be in white, the brightest places. And then natural darkness, the way it was before artificial, certainly electric light, would be black. And then you have the spectrum of oranges and reds and yellows and blues and that kind of thing. And when you see these maps, you see exactly what I’m talking about, which is to say that all these bright places are white, but all the rest of the countryside are in various colors, and again, in the eastern half, anywhere basically east of the Great Plains, there is no black left, meaning there is no natural darkness left.

Again, I’m not saying that it doesn’t get “dark” in different places east of the Great Plains, but it’s not as it used to be, it’s not natural darkness, and that’s true in western Europe certainly, it’s increasingly true in places like China and India, it’s certainly true in Japan. You just go all around the world and it’s the same story.

DJ: Before we talk about some of the environmental effects of this, let’s just also talk for a moment about seeing stars. I know when I was a child – people who’ve read my work know that my family home was abusive. And one of the solaces I had was to go outside and look at the stars. I grew up in Colorado and the stars were magnificent. And then later I lived in Nevada, and there’s a sense in which one can say they’ve not lived unless they’ve seen the stars in the high desert. And you’ve talked about how there are people who don’t see stars. And so before we get to environmental effects of all this light, can we talk about seeing stars and what that may mean, what that may feel like. Anything you want to reflect on about seeing stars or not seeing stars.

PB: No doubt.

DJ: I mean, it’s the most beautiful thing. One of the most beautiful things in the world.

PB: It’s the most amazing experience. What I like to say is that we’ve taken what was once one of the most common human experiences, which is walking out the door at night and coming face to face with the universe, and we’ve made it one of the most rare of human experiences. And it’s this experience of coming face to face with the universe that has inspired science and spirituality and art and religion and contemplation, and just what it means to be human, essentially. And we’ve made it one of the most rare of experiences. So when I talk about the costs from light pollution, we can talk about all these things. The tremendous waste of money and the effects on human physical health, and I know we want to talk about the environmental costs, which are the most dear to me, the most important.

There are also these oftentimes intangible costs that come from just this experience of seeing the stars. And I think that, what I often will say in talks is that if you’ve grown up in America over the last probably 35-40 years, you’ve grown up swamped with light, most likely. And you really have no idea what a starry night really looks like. I see this in my students in Virginia, who, when I ask, in a class of 30: “How many of you have seen the Milky Way?” And I get 10, out of 30, maybe.

DJ: You’re not talking about how many have seen Orion. The whole big deal.

PB: No doubt. And Orion’s a great example, because the bright stars that we think of as the constellation Orion are brighter than 98% of the stars in the sky. So if you were in a place, and I have been in this place often – if you’re in a place where you look up in the sky and all you can see are the three stars of Orion’s Belt, or something like that, and nothing else, you should know that you’re missing 98% of the stars that you ought to be able to see.

And so, when you get to an experience, like you mentioned Nevada – my book The End of Night I go to the Black Rock Desert, for example, or down to Death Valley, that kind of thing – you have this experience where, you know, there are stars from one end of the horizon to the other, and there are way more than you could ever count, and it becomes dizzying. Oftentimes you feel like you’re falling into the stars. When I tell my students that, they’re like “What are you talking about?” They’ve never had that experience and they don’t even know what they’re missing.

DJ: That brings tears to my eyes.

PB: Yeah. Me too. And I think; why am I talking with you today, why did I write the book? It’s because I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis, but my grandparents and my parents built a cabin in, we call it “up north,” you know, in northern Minnesota. So all my life I’ve been going up there and taking the canoe out into the middle of the lake on a beautiful clear night and just being lost in the stars. I’ve had that firsthand experience and I know what we’re missing, I know what we’ve lost. I know what we’re losing. So it’s important to me to do everything I can to tell people about that.

DJ: So there’s one more area I want to hit before we go to environmental effects. I remember 35, 37 years ago now, I had a friend who – whenever we would have a conversation about what is the most destructive technology ever invented, you know, some people say the plow, some people say the atomic bomb, some people say the gun, you know, whatever. We can have arguments about those. But his was always artificial lighting. His perspective was not actually environmental. His was because of what it has done to our sleep cycles. And I know for myself that I have intractable insomnia, and part of that is from other things that we don’t need to talk about, but I have noticed – a quick story. In 1995 or 1997 I lived in Spokane, Washington, and there was an ice storm where the electricity went out for more than two weeks. And after about two or three days I had no insomnia. And I’m pretty sure, this suggests to me that artificial light’s messing with my pineal gland. So before we go to environmental effects, do you want to talk about some of the non-spiritual human health effects?

PB: Yeah, for sure. This is something that gets a lot of people’s attention, if they aren’t moved by beauty or the environmental aspects or looking at the stars, that kind of thing, maybe they are caught by the human health impacts. Basically there are three main areas. The first one is exactly what you just talked about, which is that exposure to artificial light at night contributes to sleep disorders. This is something that we know and something people have studied. And the implications of that are huge. A lack of sleep, or what scientists would call “short sleep” is tied to every major disease that we’re dealing with. From diabetes, to depression, to obesity, on down the line. What I’ve been told by the folks who are studying this is that we’re going to hear more and more about this, the connection between short sleep and the diseases that we’re dealing with. So that’s one thing. The other thing is that it confuses our circadian rhythms, that rhythm that orchestrates our body’s health. That was described to me – the way I like to think of it is our circadian rhythm is the conductor to the orchestra of all our different organs in our bodies, so if the conductor is messed up by lack of sleep; a lot of people have felt it by staying up all night, pulling an all-nighter, or by going on trans-atlantic flights, that kind of stuff. The orchestra’s going to be messed up. Your body’s organs are going to be messed up.

And then the third aspect that really gets people’s attention is that there seems to be a connection between exposure to artificial light at nights and the production of the hormone melatonin in our body, which is produced only in the dark. And so if you’re sleeping with a light on in your room, it’s not being produced. If you get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or whatever, and you turn on the light, the production stops. And a lack of melatonin in the bloodstream is linked to an increased risk for breast and prostate cancer.

So that gets people’s attention, and things like the World Health Organization has labeled working the night shift a probable carcinogen. Just last summer the American Medical Association came out with a warning on exposure to especially blue light at night. We could talk about that, how we’re seeing a lot more blue light everywhere we go. So there seems to be – there’s a real concern about the human physical health effects of artificial light at night.

Two other things and then we can move on. One of my friends, who’s in Italy, who’s an astronomer, said to me: “You know, we have taken – we’re basically running an experiment on ourselves. Because we’ve never evolved to be exposed to this much artificial light at night. Our bodies have never – we’re not used to it. So we don’t know what happens over a number of years, but we do know that it’s entirely unnatural.” And that’s the other thing, and it leads into the environmental aspects, which is that life on earth evolved with bright days. We need sunshine, but also with dark nights.We need darkness. And so to think that we can just fill our nights with artificial light and have it not affect us or our fellow creatures just seems to me, you know, if we don’t, if we haven’t figured it all out, if the scientists can’t tell us exactly what’s happening, it still makes common sense to me that it’s not such a great thing.

DJ: And one last thing before we go to environmental effects. What I know is from that two weeks, is that it is the – two points about this. One is that is the only time in my adult life when I have felt – when I have experienced complete restedness. I remember waking up at like three o’clock in the morning and looking at the clock with the little luminescent dials and seeing it’s three o’clock, and it’s like “I have four more hours to sleep” and going back to sleep and waking up at seven fully refreshed, which is something that just doesn’t happen to me.

This is as sad in its own way as not seeing the stars. I understood what it meant to be fully rested, and that’s an extraordinary statement for a 56-year-old man to make. That I only experienced this for two weeks, when the lights were forcefully out, which brings us – we don’t really have to talk about this, but which brings us – I mean, there’s an easy solution, which is that I just turn off my lights, but it’s so damn addicting, you know?

PB: Yeah, no doubt about it. That is one of the things, you know people say “Well, what can I do?” Number one, sleep in the dark. Turn off your lights. Everybody told me that, that’s the one thing we can do.

The other thing that’s really interesting about what you just said about waking up at three o’clock is that there’s an historian at Virginia Tech who, in his research on Europe before electric lighting, actually discovered what he calls “first sleep” and “second sleep,” which is to say that people would essentially go to bed when it got dark, and sleep for awhile, and then they would wake up, you know, at three o’clock in the morning, and do whatever. Some people would get up and go see their friends, some people would make love, some people would have a conversation with their partner, whatever. And then they would go back to sleep, in the second sleep. So the natural cycle was actually to sleep for awhile, then get up, or be awake, and then to go back to sleep for awhile. And so the way that we’ve compressed that into, you know, you go to bed at whatever, eleven at night, and you get up at six or seven in the morning; some people would argue that this is not really a natural thing and has led to some of these sleep disorder problems.

DJ: Thank you for that. So, how do you want to start to address the effects of this light on nonhuman animals and plants?

PB: Well, let me just say again that – I mentioned this before, but it’s important for me to say. This is the aspect of this, of light pollution and darkness, that is the most important thing to me. It’s why I write books, it’s why I hope to speak to people, it’s why I do what I do, it’s on behalf of our fellow creatures.

Let me start here. One of the things that makes night so special and beautiful and amazing and important is the presence of our fellow beings, the sounds at night. Going back to that northern Minnesota lake where I’ve spent time all my life; when I give a Power Point I’ll show a picture of the Milky Way over the lake. But I always say: “This does not capture the experience.” The experience is not only the stars, but it’s the loons calling on the lake. If you get lucky and you hear a wolf, if you see a bat flittering by. It’s the sound of the frogs, it’s all these other creatures.

And then when you start to learn how important darkness is, that 60% of invertebrate species, mostly insects, are purely nocturnal. And 30% of vertebrate species are purely nocturnal, and so many others are crepuscular, they’re most active at dawn and dusk. They’ve evolved to depend on darkness.

I really like to think of night as when the wild world comes alive. And that’s a big reason why I love night, and why I want to be out at nights. And then you think about light pollution and, like I was saying before, you think; it’s the overuse and misuse of artificial light, and so much of it is just so entirely unnecessary. So we’re unnecessarily destroying habitat that thee creatures have evolved to depend on. And that makes me angry, it makes me sad, it makes me want to take action.

DJ: Can you take a few tangible examples and walk us through how light pollution would tangibly harm this particular species of animal or plant?

PB: Yeah, for sure. The first one that comes to mind is maybe the most well-known, which is sea turtles that have evolved over hundreds of millions of years to come on to shore, to lay their eggs, and when the eggs hatch and the little hatchlings come up onto shore they’ve evolved to scurry towards the brightest light on the horizon, which for hundreds of millions of years was the light of the stars and the moon on the ocean, which is the direction they want to head. But now, on so many beaches, and this is very true in the U.S. – Florida is a big example of this, North Carolina, but other places around the world too. Those hatchlings come up and they scurry towards the brightest light on the horizon, which is the hotel, or the parking lot, or the street light, or the condominium. It’s the wrong way and they don’t make it to the ocean.

So the positive side of that; there’s good work being done, people are aware of the problem. But it still is a problem. Another big problem is birds, migrating birds. In North America we have more than 400 species of birds that migrate at night, and they’re drawn off course by our artificial lights. They’re drawn in to urban areas by the lights. And a lot of the birds that fly into our windows during the daylight hours are birds that flew into the urban area at night, drawn by the lights, and they get trapped in that urban area. And then they hit the windows when they’re trying to find their way out the next day.

Another one, I mentioned insects being nocturnal. I’m sure you did and I certainly did, we grew up in the summer with the image of the insects swirling around a parking lot light or street light, that kind of thing. So many insects. That’s becoming less and less of a thing people see. Insects are being essentially hoovered out of our ecosystems by our lights. They’re drawn to the lights, they fly around the lights until they die of exhaustion or they’re picked off by predators. And the implications of that for ecosystems are huge, because insects serve as, in many cases, the foundation for the food chains in those ecosystems. Whatever eats an insect and then on up. If we lose the insects it impacts the entire ecosystem.

DJ: I was doing a talk in western Illinois several years ago, and my flights were late getting into Quad Cities. I got in maybe one o’clock in the morning, and I’m standing waiting for the shuttle to my hotel, and there’s something that, I can’t figure out what it is that’s wrong. And then finally when I get to the hotel I realize it’s because I was standing in a parking lot that had all these lights and I didn’t see all those moths flying around. It was completely horrifying to me.

Another creature – I recently learned that dung beetles navigate by the stars. And what they do is they find the poop that they want to take to their den, and then they sight a direct – they figure out – the same way sailors do it, I don’t know what the word is for that. And then get a dead reckoning I guess? Whatever it’s called.

And then because they have to go on the ground, and pushing this big ball around, they have to go around obstacles, but the way they are able to maintain their direction back to the den is by following the stars. And it seems to me that if they can’t see the stars, then they’re going to be out of luck too.

PB. Absolutely. I think that’s a logical conclusion to reach. One of the things when we talk about the environmental effects of artificial light at night is that we just don’t know that much about it. There just haven’t been that many people studying it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not having huge effects all across the ecosystems that – it’s things that you wouldn’t even imagine, like a dung beetle, or, like, fish. I mean, people don’t realize that the lights in cities that are shining onto rivers or whatever body of water is around, are having an impact on fish as well. Talk about something we don’t normally think about, except, again, to say that the natural world that we know and love evolved with bright days and dark nights. We can’t just shine our lights all around and not think it’s having an effect on just about everything.

DJ: So one effect I can think of – I hadn’t thought about fish before that way, and one effect I can think of is that I know when salmon run, they prefer to run on dark nights, because then – I mean, obviously they go in the day too, but they’re especially happy to run on a dark night because then that makes predation that much harder. But other effects this would have on fish? I’ve not heard of this.

PB: I’ve seen the studies but I’m not entirely up to date on it. But I think it does have to do with, as you say with the salmon, with migration. It’s an important part for them to be moving. And that’s true of so many other creatures as well, that they choose the night, when it’s dark, to move, because it’s safer. So if you’re shining your lights everywhere it takes away from that time of safety.

DJ: Let’s go back to the insects for a minute. I’ve never known the answer to this. Why are they attracted to lights?

PB: That’s a good question. I don’t honestly know the answer. That’s been studied and we know that. What we also know, what’s been observed is that if you go out, let’s say, into the country, and you put up a big, bright sign and you leave it on all night, that at first you’ll have that scene that we know, that insects are drawn to it and swirling around. And with each successive year – this has been observed – the number of those insects goes down. And so then finally you have the thing that you experienced in Iowa where you’re like, something’s weird, something’s missing. And you realize what it was. Those insects have been hoovered out of the ecosystem.

DJ: So let’s talk about a couple more either classes or species of animals whom it might hurt. We know that frogs mainly sing at night. Are they affected by light?

PB: I believe they are. I don’t have a study in front of me to tell you, but that makes entirely too much sense as well.

DJ: Name one or two of your other favorite examples besides the sea turtles and the birds, who are harmed by light pollution.

PB: Well, one of the most important nocturnal species are bats. There are more than a thousand species of bats. People don’t know that. And, again, we’re just learning about bats. It seems like some of the bats actually benefit from having artificial light, at least for a little while, because they can see their prey. But other bats are decimated by artificial light at night. And when you start to learn about bats and how wonderful they are, how amazing they are in their own right, but also the value that they bring to humanity, certainly in terms of eating agricultural pests, for example, or even mosquitoes. They do enormous work on behalf of – or at least we benefit from it. So to have an impact on bats is going to have a fairly quick correlating impact on humanity as well.

DJ: Can we presume that, as well as having the tangible physical effects that we’ve described, of drawing birds into cities and sending sea turtles the wrong direction, can we presume also that if lights are affecting human health, that they would also be affecting especially the nocturnal creatures’ health through some of the same means? Or at the very least, through stressing them out. Because if you’re a very shy creature who likes the dark, if you’re a mouse, for example, and all of a sudden it’s very bright and you have to run across a path that normally would have been dark, would have been semi-secure, and now it’s light, which means you’re going to be terrified as you do it, but it would seem that that has to have some serious health effects too.

PB: It sure seems like it to me and I think stress has to be at the top of the list. If you’ve evolved to depend on darkness and all of a sudden the night is no longer dark. That has got to stress you out. Also, I think things like we talked about circadian rhythm. Certainly mammals are going to be impacted by that as well.

DJ: I recently read something about how trees – and of course plants are a lot more complex than people have thought; they communicate, they do all sorts of other things. I read this one study recently that plants – that trees’ limbs will be lower at night. And one could make a mechanistic explanation for that, but in addition, it seemed pretty clear that it seemed like they were resting. The point really is not whether we want to go woo-woo on this or not. But the point is that plants themselves – oh, for God’s sake, marijuana, if it has an 18 hour day, then it’s in a vegetative state, and then if it goes to a 12 hour day, then it blooms. So we all know that. So we know that light has to have serious effects on – I mean, what happens to a tree, then, who evolved with long days in the summer, short days in the winter, and is now getting light on its photoreceptors during the winter as well, during the night? What’s going to happen then?

PB: Right. And there have been a few studies about this. I can tell you from just observation, like on the street, the streets of Minneapolis, the trees that should lose their leaves aren’t losing all their leaves. Because they’re exposed to, they’re right by a streetlight, for example.

You know, it’s interesting, we’re talking about this, there’s a book that came out probably about fifteen years ago now, and it’s called The Ecological Consequences of Artificial Night Lighting. And the reason I bring it up is because when you look at the different chapters that are broken up on plants, fishes, mammals, birds, etc. etc., the studies that they have, it’s like one. Or three. Right? It’s not, they’re not drawing on like hundreds of studies. We just haven’t – we don’t have, and it’s because we have not studied; we don’t have the studies that show exactly what’s happening to trees, or plants, or even fish or mammals or birds. So I’m with you. I guess I’ve been arguing that it makes common sense to think that if species have evolved with darkness, and with seasonal light, that’s another big part of this, and we start interfering with that, in a timeframe that has no evolutionary significance, just over the last 20-50 years, that we’re going to be impacting these beings. It makes sense. It doesn’t make sense to think that the life around us is not being impacted.

DJ: You know, I went into this interview thinking – I mean recognizing, like any reasonable person would, that light pollution is a huge problem. But as we talk, I’m starting to think that this is – and you said this, kind of early on, except I’m going to change the language quite a bit. This is a grand open air experiment. You said that. But I’m going to say that this is a grand open air experiment on the same scale and terrifyingness as bathing the world in endocrine disruptors, or bathing the world in plastics. This is really scary.

PB: I completely agree with you, with one addition, which is to say that compared to, like, those two examples, light pollution is pretty easy to solve. We know what to do. We know how to, whether it’s turning a light off or, as I was saying before, at least shining it down. Whatever you want to do. This is a problem that we can have a huge impact on, or even solve, and people sometimes say to me, like, well, (and I’m so glad that you’re picking up on the fact that this isn’t true), but they say this doesn’t seem like such a big deal, right? Compared to all these other problems, light pollution doesn’t seem like a big deal. And my response to that is like “Great! Let’s solve it and then we can move on, we can pour more energy into these other issues.”

The other thing too, I think, going along with what you’re saying, is that for me, light pollution or use of artificial light is so symbolic of our use of resources, too. The fact that we just spray it around, that we use more of it than we need to, it’s not under control, is huge. I spend time in places like Paris and a couple of other places that really think about how they’re using light, and it’s done in a beautiful way, even. The fact that we just don’t think about it, just blast it everywhere, the more light the better, is really reflective, I think, of our use of resources in general.

DJ: That’s one of the things I think about a lot. I’m known for saying that civilization itself is inherently unsustainable, but that doesn’t alter the fact that if I were made, sort of the emperor of all things ecological, that the first thing I would do would be to get rid of retractable stadium roofs. There is so much that is just so wasteful that we don’t need to cut to the bone until we’ve gotten rid of the stuff that’s completely useless.

So in that context, we have about five or six minutes left, and can you go through some of the, recognizing that there, that these don’t solve every ecological problem in the world. But what are some of the tangible solutions that we could – I’m going to anoint you Emperor of All Things Light. And so, in the short term – you can’t get rid of capitalism, you can’t get rid of civilization. You can’t do the larger, global thing. But you can make tangible suggestions within the context of this whole destructive culture. So what would be your suggestions regarding light?

PB: We need to rethink the way that we use it, and to not see it as something we can use wastefully. We need to think about how do we use light, in thoughtful, intelligent, even beautiful ways, ways that are good to our neighbors, whether they’re our human neighbors or other creatures that share this world with us. Once we do that, then the solutions start to flow. And that can be on the individual level. If you own a house, turn off your lights at night. Turn off the lights around. You don’t need to leave your lights on.

One thing we haven’t talked much about, which is always a bugaboo for people, is that “Oh, we need all these lights for safety and security.” And there actually really is no research to support that. It’s a sense that we have. So turn off your lights, or turn off most of your lights. If you own a building you can do a similar thing. If you live in a small town or suburb, or a community of any size, you can work on what are called “lighting ordinances” and basically you’re saying “Okay, we’re going to have light, but we’re going to have this kind of light. We’re only going to have so much light.” You can be proactive that way. One of the big problems right now, or one of the big issues right now, is that light-emitting diodes, or LED’s, are coming everywhere, including to our streetlights. If they’re not where you live already, they will be. If they’re not where you live right now, that’s fantastic, that’s a great opportunity to get to the people, the City Council, who makes those decisions and say “Hey, when LED’s come, when the salesman comes by and says ‘Hey, I’ve got these great LED’s, they’re going to save you 30% energy right off the too,’ you say ‘Awesome. We’ll take ‘em, as long as they reduce light pollution.’ You know, as long as they make things better.”

So that’s a real proactive thing. We can put into our building codes; “We will have a certain kind of lights.” Like we have a certain size of doors. That would have a huge impact. And, you know, we can start to price, it goes along with so many other issues, but we could, if we started to price our energy realistically, that would have a big impact. One of the things a guy told me when I was researching the book was when we start plugging in our cars at night, you’re going to see a lot less light pollution. Because people are going to not be willing to just spray light all around when it costs what it really should cost, rather than this artificially low electricity that we use.

DJ: You mentioned turning lights off, and that is something that’s actually being done, I’ve heard, in places, in skyscrapers, to save birds.

PB: It is, absolutely. There are a number of programs in this country and in others. Sometimes they’re called “Lights Out” programs. They typically happen during bird migration seasons in the spring and the fall. That’s something that can be done. And we’re also turning lights off, and this is happening more in Europe, I’m thinking especially of the U.K., where communities are choosing to turn their lights off, say, after midnight, to save energy. To cut carbon emissions. And their fears are, you know, they have people who are afraid of the same thing, like, oh my gosh, if we turn off the lights we’re going to be overrun with criminals. And actually what they’re finding is that for the most part crime goes down, rather than up, when you turn off the lights. So it is possible to do, and if we go all the way back to where we kind of started, which is to say that so many of us have grown up swamped with light, and we just – we think that nighttime looks as – this is what night is supposed to look like. Like, you’re supposed to see the white clouds in a night sky, right? Not knowing that you only see white clouds because they’re all lit up with wasted light.

If we understood what night was supposed to look like, we could get back to it without that much trouble.

DJ: So my last question is: If you were, once again, Emperor of All Things Light, and they make you the Emperor of All Things Light Environmental Research. You said there aren’t many studies. Like, what studies would you like to see done posthaste? Name two or three. Or just one if you want. Environmental studies, like what would you really love to see? Like, now we know the effects of lights on tree frogs. Or we know the effects of lights on dung beetles. Whoever. What studies would you like to see done?

PB: I’d love to see studies done on I guess more charismatic species, species that will make people sit up and listen. So I’m talking to you from Minneapolis, I’ve told you about my cabin up north. The loon, this amazing bird that’s on our license plates, it’s our state bird. If people started to say “The loon population is suffering because of artificial light,” like you could probably make that argument, people would sit up and notice in a way that they probably wouldn’t if I say that this species of insect is suffering. So those charismatic species, if we could get scientific research behind that, that might make a difference.

DJ: Well thank you so much for your work. And I would like to thank listeners for listening. My guest today has been Paul Bogard. This is Derrick Jensen for Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network.

Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen
No Responses — Written on July 16th — Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen

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