Expert Sheds New Light on Issues Related to Dark Skies and How to Address Ways to Temper Impacts
• Planning Panelists to Agendize Framing of Model Ordinance
BY BILL KOENEKER
The Malibu Planning Commission has agreed to schedule an agenda item on night lighting and a model ordinance after hearing from lighting expert Jim Benya at its meeting on Monday this week.
Benya is a professional engineer and lighting designer and was one of the authors of the International Dark Sky Association/Illuminating Engineering Society Model Lighting Ordinance.
Benya told commissioners what other cities have done to address night lighting as well as components of the model ordinance.
He said Tucson, Arizona and Anchorage, Alaska have made the most progress to date.
Benya, who said he recently joined the staff at UC Davis, has been a lighting designer for 39 years with experience in architectural lighting design including daylighting, theatrical and performance lighting, and now wants to address “the growing issue of light pollution and excessive lighting.”
The lighting expert said there is “absolutely physiological impacts that come with light pollution. The problem is worldwide.”
He pointed out on maps of the United States how light pollution has grown tremendously across the country in the 1970s and through the 90s to the present day. “There is very little dark areas left in the U.S.,” he added.
From a purely practical point of view, according to Benya, light pollution is “mostly wasted energy. It is estimated maybe up to 50 percent.”
“We are starting to lighten cities brighter and brighter,” the lighting expert noted, bringing with it urban birds, which get lost in the lights, sea turtles attracted by lights and going the wrong way.
“Light pollution has bad effects,” he explained to the planning panelists.
Benya touched upon the latest research in circadian science and implications for the growing field of sustainable design.
Benya agreed that the preservation of the night and of the day is very important to the maintenance of one’s health and well-being. An increasing lack of daylight during daytime hours and the growing prevalence of blue-rich light at night from glowing screens and other sources disrupts metabolic function, immune response, cognitive performance, even genetic expression.
According to Benya, the Dark Skies Ordinance limits light by creating zones of light. “There are then different standards for different communities. We need national standards,” he said.
Benya referred to a previous conference at UC Davis where he and other experts elaborated on the human health benefits
Benya and others maintain the monetary and human costs of circadian desynchronization from lowered productivity and increased workplace accidents caused by fatigue can be linked to depressed melatonin levels and increased cancer risk.
Benya and his colleagues see this as a growing industry for his field noting that lighting designers can be equipped with a body of research in photobiology that poses both challenges and opportunities to go beyond aesthetics and use their skills to enhance human health and function.
The possibilities, according to Benya and others, range from the simple to the technologically advanced, such as lowering wayfinding lights (so as to avoid exciting certain cells in the eyes that cue wakefulness) to creating dynamic fenestration technologies that integrate daylighting with electrical lighting, automatically adjusting brightness and color balance in harmony with circadian fluctuations.
The applications vary from helping patients reduce hospital stays to optimizing student’s learning to minimizing the photobiological impact of outdoor lighting to help restore ecosystems. “The hottest topic is lighting and human beings,” he told commissioners.
The key to all of this, according to Benya, is LED lights because of how they can be utilized in several ways including how the color of the light can be adjusted and the exact amount of light can be utilized.
He acknowledged the lighting industry is a afraid of the change and wants to see it happen slowly.