12 July 2012

I am a light polluter, how about you?

What do you make of the number 29,321,302, and what of 6,538,367 and 5,838,381?  Does 22.30% and 19.91% mean anything to you. 

Here’s the story. The first figure refers to the annual global Carbon Dioxide emissions, in terms of ‘thousands of metric tons’.  The next two refer to the amount of Carbon Dioxide emissions by China and the USA respectively with percentages referring to the corresponding share of annual global emissions. 

There are three more figures: 36.1%, 4.0% and 20%; the first, the total ‘greenhouse emissions’ by a particular country, the biggest ‘contributor’ in the world, the second its population as proportion of the global overall and finally its ‘share’ of Carbon Dioxide emissions.  The United States of America.  Land of the free, home of the brave, perpetrator of the worst ever crimes against humanity over the past 100 years (and not done yet, thanks Barack!).  The USA bombs countries into the middle ages, renders homeless half a million people within a matter of days, imagines ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and justifies sanctions and invasion which end up killing half a million children (and counting) all to protect ‘American (that’s US American, by the way) lifestyles’. 

This business of living the ‘American Way’ forces that country to emit greenhouse gases in ‘share volumes’ that far exceed population pie-slice; a country with 4% of the world’s population accounts for more than one third the total greenhouse emissions.  We haven’t added, ladies and gentlemen, the ‘pollution share’ of US companies located elsewhere.  And this, folks, is a country whose experts once wanted Asia to ‘get out of rice’ because rice paddies emit greenhouse gases!  It was simply about securing demand and markets for US wheat, which, in rank violation of the marketism preached by US experts, is heavily subsided by the state. 

Ok, so the USA is a heavy polluter, China, Germany, India, Japan and Russia are also ‘biggies’.  The heavyweights, shall we say?  On the other hand, almost every culture has its version of that wonderful line, podi podi ela dola, the one about ‘little drops of water’ and what they do (make the mighty ocean).  Every blade of grass that emits oxygen to the atmosphere, absorbs Carbon Dioxide.  There are heavy polluters and there are light ones.  Sri Lanka can never be a big polluter, but this inability does not justify light-polluting.  An individual cannot pollute as much as an industrial complex, but this does not justify mindless ‘polythening’.  Light polluters are less guilty only in terms of crime-volume; the name of the transgression is the same and very often it can be sourced to similar mindset. 

If you are a light polluter, don’t pat yourself on the back.  Instead, ask yourself whether you can justify the light pollution you engage in.  If you are a light polluter, you ought to know that there is another kind of light pollution, one called ‘photopollution’ or ‘luminous pollution’ which refers to excessive/obtrusive artificial light and causes sky glow, glare, light-trespass, light clutter, decreased visibility at night and of course energy waste. 

Now I am not asking you to call CEB and get the connection cut or drive about without lights.  Life is a polluting exercise, we know this; but we can at least be decent about it.  Outdoor lighting provides visibility and gives a sense of security.  Yes, but a sense of security is not the same as security. Much of this ‘security lighting’ is unnecessary and therefore wasteful.

Lighting experts would tell you about good and bad lighting, i.e. light that is shielded and flows from minimalist frame of mind and all-over-the-place light that inhibits among other things the ability to enjoy our surrounding landscapes in natural light/dark.  Just try it.  Turn off those garden lights. Turn off all unnecessary lights.  It doesn’t matter if the garden is big or if you live in an apartment with just a balcony.  Light is pretty, but dark is not less beautiful. It doesn’t come shouting, but then again, not one said that whisper and pause didn’t have any place in music.   Maybe it is because light doesn’t smell bad that we tend to be lax about light-dumping by our neighbours whereas we would toss back immediately his/her garbage if it is tossed into our garden. 

It’s not about aesthetics only, though.  We waste billions of rupees annually due to unnecessary lighting.  This amounts to unnecessary consumption of limited natural resources.  The devices that produce light, i.e. those which generate power, are themselves polluters.  Fossil fuel, for example.  Each time you turn a light on that you don’t need, you are strangling your child, did you know?  

Unnecessary light harms wildlife.  Some specials stop reproducing if habitat is invaded by artificial light.  Think about it: would you do ‘it’ bathed in the light streaming from your neighbour’s garden light?  Light pollution, I learned, is said to be threatening all Florida Sea Turtles and other creatures for reasons such as this.

Did you know that over half the population of the USA cannot see the Milky Way from their homes?  Isn’t this sad?  Have you ever been to a place without electricity? Have you seen moonlight dancing on the ripples of a village reservoir or pond?  Have you seen a million fireflies re-create the milky way in manageable dimensions in the fields below the dam?  Have you heard the melodies of night and noticed that they are sweeter when there is no light?

I realized this morning that I am a light polluter.  I feel ashamed.  Guilty.  How about you?




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