Sky Glow

Paula LaBrot

I once saw the respiration of the Earth. I could see trees breathing, the chest of the forest floor rhythmically heaving. The hues of sunset were all kinds of layered colors. The night sky was brilliant. I remember feeling very comfortable being silent. While everyone was sleeping, I was still appreciating the starry darkness.

It’s getting hard to find starry darkness. We talk a lot about water pollution and air pollution, but how about light pollution? More than a quarter of all energy consumption in the world is used to produce artificial light. According to the International Dark Sky Association, 80 percent of the world lives under “sky-glow,” one of the four types of light pollution. Then there is Glare, Light Trespass (light falling into regions beyond their intended area) and Over-Illumination (Las Vegas, Times Square), all of which contribute to the problem of over lighting the Earth.  

Sky-glow is a fog of light. It is a brightening of the night sky. It can be from natural sources, like the moonlight reflected off the Earth’s surface or bounced skyward from water or snow. But artificial light has caused star-filled night skies to disappear, especially over urban and sub-urban areas. The effects on human, animal and plant life are becoming concerning.

According to Wikipedia, the disruption of circadian rhythms can cause hormone imbalance in all living things. At least a third of our genes are known to be controlled by our clock genes. “Yale Global Online” reports, “Increased light disrupts the migratory patterns of birds, upsets amphibious breeding schedules, confuses newborn sea turtles that head away from the ocean toward city lights thinking it’s the moonlight, and further endangers nocturnal prey.”

These effects are felt out on the ocean as well. Wikipedia continues, “Lighted fishing fleets, off-shore oil platforms, and cruise ships all bring the disruption of artificial light to the world’s oceans.”

Plankton, the bottom of the food chain, change their buoyancy. They stay down in the dark deep, hiding from their visual predators during the day. At night they float up to the surface, take advantage of the nutrients and warmth hidden by the dark, and head back down to the deep come morning. That is called a circadian vertical migration tied to the light cycle. So, you see, the effects of artificial light can be disastrous, starting at the bottom of the food chain and all the way to us at the top.

For humans, exposure to blue light at night is particularly harmful. Unfortunately, energy efficient fluorescent and LED lights create a lot of blue light. Cell phones, TV screens and computer screens also create a lot of blue light. Blue is used for most backgrounds because it keeps us more alert and awake.

There are so many health issues involved with this! reports, “Melatonin helps keep us healthy. It has antioxidant properties, induces sleep, boosts the immune system, lowers cholesterol, and helps the functioning of the thyroid, pancreas, ovaries, testes, and adrenal glands. Nighttime exposure to artificial light suppresses melatonin production.”

This is serious stuff, because current studies are showing the effects seem to be passed to fetuses, especially in the immune system.



First of all, lightbulbs for your home should be warm white, with the color temperature not over 3000K that should appear on the packaging. Higher temperatures mean bluer light.

Color temperature apps for your electronic devices can be downloaded that will adapt the screens to proper daylight and nighttime color temperatures.

F.lux is a free software that adjusts a screen’s color temperature according to time of day or night.

Night Shift is a pre-installed app for Apple devices with an operating system of 9.3 or above.

Twilight is an app that “makes your device screen adapt to the time of the day. It filters the blue spectrum on your phone or tablet after sunset and protects your eyes with a soft and pleasant red filter. The filter intensity is smoothly adjusted to the sun cycle based on your local sunset and sunrise times.”  

Finally, aim outdoor lights down to the ground and keep the bulbs as red as possible.

I was talking to my son the other day about bringing solar energy to the remote villages in Panama served by Floating Doctors, his non-profit health care organization. I asked if he ever felt queasy about it because I do sometimes.

He replied that walking through Playa Escondido at night was so weird the last time he was there. With their new lights, he said, people were up playing dominoes, doing homework, working.

Yes, it’s a little uncomfortable for us but not for the Ngabe people. They love it! It’s not for anyone to keep progress from developing peoples; we all have to adapt. We aren’t going back to candles any time soon.

Vamos a ver!


Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace.


Paula LaBrot

Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.