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ISSUE 119 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/18/2005

Light pollution obscures green

By Laura Botz
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 18, 2005

St. Olaf is certainly up to par when it comes to keeping its campus well-lit at night. Rows of decorative globe lights line the walkways, while tall and boxy lamps illuminate the parking lots, providing both visibility and a sense of security. The flag atop Old Main, in accordance with proper “flag etiquette,” is lit up by two large spotlights.

However, these lights are not hitting their targets alone. If you were to take a midnight stroll off campus and look back towards the Hill, you would see that it glows bright gold against the night sky. This kind of bothersome lighting is no longer functional. It is pollution.

Wikipedia defines light pollution as “excess or obtrusive light created by humans.” It further states: “Among other effects, it can obscure all but a few stars to city dwellers, cause problems for astronomical observatories, and disrupt ecosystems.”

Another definition of light pollution is light which “people find annoying.” Personally, I do not know the severity of light pollution’s scientific effects, but I do know what annoys me about excessive lighting: its cost.

It is estimated that the United States loses between one and two billion dollars every year due to wasted light. Much of this is due to improperly shielded light fixtures which project a large portion of their light upwards and sideways.

Satellite images, in which a person can identify the world’s metropolitan areas by their lights, confirm this problem. Our campus may not be readily identifiable on such maps, but it is certainly contributing to the country’s annual costs from wasted light.

Take St. Olaf’s globe lights, for example. By design, the majority of their light is directed upwards toward the sky instead of down towards the sidewalk. The spotlights on top of Old Main are just as inefficient; they send more of their light into the night sky than actually hits the flag.

Light pollution should certainly be part of this year’s sustainability theme. According to the “Black, Gold, and Green” website, “there are two ways of improving our electrical impact: Conservation and the purchase or production of renewable energy resources. When we conserve energy, we're in the business of producing ‘negawatts,’ watts which are never generated in the first place. So it's important to replace inefficient lighting fixtures, and to purchase more energy-efficient appliances.” I think we can do better in this regard.

I am not suggesting that we eliminate the lights from St. Olaf’s buildings, walkways and parking lots. I rather appreciate the security of the campus’s lighted sidewalks when I’m walking back to my dorm after the library closes. I also respect the need to light up the flag when it is flown at night.

However, I feel that we should improve St. Olaf’s night lighting so that we can be safe and sustainable at the same time.

Contribuiting writer Laura Botz is a first year from Sleepy Eye, Minn. She majors in English.

Contribuiting writer Laura Botz is a first year from Sleepy Eye, Minn. She majors in English.

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