LED lighting was supposed to help save the environment with its lower energy requirements and more specific light direction. But new research published in Scientific Advances reveals we are now being smothered in worse light pollution than ever before — without the energy savings we expected. As a result, we are not only failing to reduce our carbon footprint, but our health could be suffering as well.
Scientists examined satellite imaging to determine if the planet’s surface appears to be brighter than it used to be. If LED lights were working as we’d expected, the skies in wealthy countries would be remaining the same or getting darker at night. But the opposite seems to be taking place. “[W]e observed wealthy countries staying constant, or in many cases increasing,” said Christopher Kyba, lead author of the study in an interview with Gizmodo.
Part of the reason for the increase is because many cities have added more lighting because of the energy savings from LED bulbs, a phenomenon known as the “rebound” effect. Not only has this increased light pollution, but it has negated the energy savings that would be seen by simply switching an incandescent bulb for an LED one.
Light pollution is considered to be a serious health threat, akin to air pollution, not only for humans but for wildlife as well, because it disrupts biological circadian rhythms. Half of Europe and a fourth of North America have compromised night skies that can impact health. Beyond changing our habits, about half of light pollution could be mitigated by installing shields that keep the light emitted by outdoor fixtures pointed down. Cities can also install LED lights with a warmer temperature, which may help lessen the effects of light on circadian rhythms.
Lead image via Arturo Castaneyra