Monday, December 17, 2012

Celebrating the Holidays with Light

The holidays are here, and it seems natural to fight the growing darkness with artificial light.  Indeed, it is embedded in our culture.  This may seem to run counter to the eco-message that suggests we do with less, that we sacrifice our comforts and pleasures, in order to save the earth.  At times this is appropriate, and increasingly unavoidable, but we need to stop and celebrate the change of seasons and the holidays we enjoy this time of year.  We will not judge those who light up their homes, although we recognize it can be a matter of taste.  Glen Ellyn has recently decided to procure residential power from renewable sources.  Local citizens may find this a reason to feel good (as we should!) but not to disregard any further energy conservation efforts.  Cool Cities does not advocate excessive consumption regardless of whether the power comes from coal or wind.  But this time of year, perhaps, we can relax a bit and embrace the use of celebratory lighting.

Yes, we often do waste light.  It is useful to define waste as energy expended with no benefit.  As can be seen in the stunning photos recently released by NASA (below), much human-made light is directed to space, which may provide a nice view to those looking down from airplanes, but provides little benefit to us on earth.  There are many reasons for addressing this as a significant environmental and energy policy problem.  But holiday lighting, well done or not (as in National Lampoon's movie "Christmas Vacation") has a distinct and important purpose. 

In closing, a safety note is in order.  You may have read various safety tips in the media stating that police departments recommend that homes be well lit to deter crime.  The source of this information is never clear, nor is there specific advice on how to make the lighting truly effective.   "More" is not "better" in this instance.  Instead, we have many examples of lighting that can actually be hazardous by causing glare. This is especially problematic for elderly, who do not see well at night, as they attempt to visit friends and relatives during the holidays.  Glare can also hide criminal activity.  Well designed lighting is not only more attractive and pleasant, it makes sidewalks and driveways and surrounding areas more visible.  As a bonus, good lighting often uses less energy.  Beware, good advice is not available at hardware stores.  While, do-it-yourself lighting is often inferior, we are fortunate to have good advice available on several websites for organizations such as Illinois Coalition for Responsible Outdoor Lighting  or the International Dark Sky Association.

Meanwhile, may we wish you joyous holidays!

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