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Defending the dark: exploring motivations and actions against light pollution in a UK wetland area

Lynn-Smith, Anastasia LU (2021) In Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science MESM02 20202
LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)
Abstract
Over the last century and a half, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of artificial light at night (ALAN) across the globe, particularly in the Global North. Though this has provided a range of socioeconomic benefits to these societies, it has also come with a range of negative impacts, due to its associated energy consumption, and also the effects of light itself. The latter has led to the concept of ‘light pollution’. Disruption of natural light-dark cycles can contribute to serious human health issues, and furthermore, a research has recently emerged documenting its effects on the biology and behaviour of a wide range of species, driving biodiversity loss. However, compared to other drivers of global anthropogenic change, it... (More)
Over the last century and a half, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of artificial light at night (ALAN) across the globe, particularly in the Global North. Though this has provided a range of socioeconomic benefits to these societies, it has also come with a range of negative impacts, due to its associated energy consumption, and also the effects of light itself. The latter has led to the concept of ‘light pollution’. Disruption of natural light-dark cycles can contribute to serious human health issues, and furthermore, a research has recently emerged documenting its effects on the biology and behaviour of a wide range of species, driving biodiversity loss. However, compared to other drivers of global anthropogenic change, it remains relatively overlooked.

The UK is among the most light polluted countries in the world, and is also experiencing rapid biodiversity decline, with consequences at multiple levels. The Broads, a low-lying wetland in the East of England faces numerous ecological pressures, including development within and around the area. Mitigating light pollution, and specifically its ecologically damaging capacity, is an important part of reducing the threat to this sensitive area.

In this thesis, I conduct a background literature review of current knowledge on ecological impacts of ALAN, synthesising the mitigation recommendations from natural science. I present a case study of actions being taken against light pollution, as relevant to the Broads area. Such actions have begun to gain ground over the last few years, driven by various groups and encompassing a range of perspectives about the problem. I therefore use document analysis and semi-structured interviews to explore the actors’ motivations, as well as the challenges and opportunities they experience, and in what ways ecological concerns are incorporated.

Mitigation recommendations from natural science included: protection of existing dark areas; reducing light intensity and limiting direction; part night lighting; spectral modifications, however there remains some uncertainty. Key actors were local government authorities and a countryside protection NGO. Motivations included: dark sky experiences, rural tranquillity, tourism value, astronomy, ecology and biodiversity. The overlap with carbon and cost savings was also discussed. Actions so far have consisted of: spatial assessment of light pollution in the area; creation of dark sky zones and a light pollution section in local planning policy; technical changes to public lighting; national and local awareness raising.

Challenges included: a lack of staff and resources; public perceptions of light purely as a benefit; and an insufficient regulatory approach at the national level. Some slight tensions were also revealed between the different perspectives against light pollution: lighting design solutions varied depending on their underlying motivations. Notably, the widespread shift to LED lighting was welcomed from the perspective of rural tranquillity, as well as for carbon and cost reasons; however from an ecological light pollution perspective, the blue-white light they emit tends to be more biologically disruptive. However, the fundamental aim of reducing excessive ALAN was unanimously agreed on, as well as acknowledgement of the benefits of light and the need for compromise.

The thesis concludes with discussion of underlying sustainability paradigms, opportunities for future action, and finally a call for the greater integration of ecological light pollution concerns not only within the anti light pollution movement, but also sustainability science and wider society. (Less)
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author
Lynn-Smith, Anastasia LU
supervisor
organization
course
MESM02 20202
year
type
H2 - Master's Degree (Two Years)
subject
keywords
Ecological light pollution, artificial light at night, biodiversity, United Kingdom, sustainability science
publication/series
Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science
report number
2021:002
language
English
id
9035637
date added to LUP
2021-01-14 16:38:07
date last changed
2021-01-14 16:38:07
@misc{9035637,
  abstract     = {Over the last century and a half, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of artificial light at night (ALAN) across the globe, particularly in the Global North. Though this has provided a range of socioeconomic benefits to these societies, it has also come with a range of negative impacts, due to its associated energy consumption, and also the effects of light itself. The latter has led to the concept of ‘light pollution’. Disruption of natural light-dark cycles can contribute to serious human health issues, and furthermore, a research has recently emerged documenting its effects on the biology and behaviour of a wide range of species, driving biodiversity loss. However, compared to other drivers of global anthropogenic change, it remains relatively overlooked.

The UK is among the most light polluted countries in the world, and is also experiencing rapid biodiversity decline, with consequences at multiple levels. The Broads, a low-lying wetland in the East of England faces numerous ecological pressures, including development within and around the area. Mitigating light pollution, and specifically its ecologically damaging capacity, is an important part of reducing the threat to this sensitive area.

In this thesis, I conduct a background literature review of current knowledge on ecological impacts of ALAN, synthesising the mitigation recommendations from natural science. I present a case study of actions being taken against light pollution, as relevant to the Broads area. Such actions have begun to gain ground over the last few years, driven by various groups and encompassing a range of perspectives about the problem. I therefore use document analysis and semi-structured interviews to explore the actors’ motivations, as well as the challenges and opportunities they experience, and in what ways ecological concerns are incorporated.

Mitigation recommendations from natural science included: protection of existing dark areas; reducing light intensity and limiting direction; part night lighting; spectral modifications, however there remains some uncertainty. Key actors were local government authorities and a countryside protection NGO. Motivations included: dark sky experiences, rural tranquillity, tourism value, astronomy, ecology and biodiversity. The overlap with carbon and cost savings was also discussed. Actions so far have consisted of: spatial assessment of light pollution in the area; creation of dark sky zones and a light pollution section in local planning policy; technical changes to public lighting; national and local awareness raising.

Challenges included: a lack of staff and resources; public perceptions of light purely as a benefit; and an insufficient regulatory approach at the national level. Some slight tensions were also revealed between the different perspectives against light pollution: lighting design solutions varied depending on their underlying motivations. Notably, the widespread shift to LED lighting was welcomed from the perspective of rural tranquillity, as well as for carbon and cost reasons; however from an ecological light pollution perspective, the blue-white light they emit tends to be more biologically disruptive. However, the fundamental aim of reducing excessive ALAN was unanimously agreed on, as well as acknowledgement of the benefits of light and the need for compromise.

The thesis concludes with discussion of underlying sustainability paradigms, opportunities for future action, and finally a call for the greater integration of ecological light pollution concerns not only within the anti light pollution movement, but also sustainability science and wider society.},
  author       = {Lynn-Smith, Anastasia},
  keyword      = {Ecological light pollution,artificial light at night,biodiversity,United Kingdom,sustainability science},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  series       = {Master Thesis Series in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science},
  title        = {Defending the dark: exploring motivations and actions against light pollution in a UK wetland area},
  year         = {2021},
}