When’s the last time you enjoyed an evening of stargazing, and then went to sleep in real, total darkness, without having to pull blackout curtains against the glare of modern life? Was it heavenly? Did you know that darkness doesn’t just feel good, but that it’s also very, very good for your health? And for ecosystems and wildlife?
Dark skies are a precious, threatened, and vanishing resource, but advocates are raising awareness and replacing glaring lights around the country and the world, each working hard to save their own small piece of the sky. Mary Bedingfieldsmith, of Torrey, Utah, is one of them.
It all started three years ago, with a single streetlamp. Mary and her husband had recently moved full-time to Torrey – a lifelong dream for them. On one of their first evenings in town, Mary was sinking into their backyard hot tub, looking forward to gazing up at the stars, when she noticed something irksome: the row of cottonwood trees on the west side of their property were all unnaturally illuminated by a fluorescent, distinctly un-moon-like light. The culprit, it turned out, was one of the town’s streetlamps – unshielded, high-pressure sodium lights that were spilling their light not just onto Torrey’s streets, as intended, but onto homes and yards nearby. So Mary did what thousands of successful community organizers had done before her: she got on the phone and started making calls. And calls. And more calls. To Garkane energy company, to Town Council, the Utah Dept. of Transportation, to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).
“When you look at 4,000 Kelvin lights,” says Mary, “they are very white – almost blue. And those are called blue-rich lights. If you go online and start looking around, there’s a lot of detrimental health effects due to blue-rich lights.” And those, it turns out, are exactly what you’ll find on Torrey’s main street, and at many businesses and even homes.
Fast-forward three years: Mary is, via ioby, raising just over $16,000 to turn Torrey – a town of 300 permanent residents – into Utah’s very first Dark Sky Community. She and her allies will be replacing the town’s 22 streetlamps, as well as some commercial and residential lights, with shielded dark-sky-friendly options – and the town of Torrey will actually receive tax credits for the work! Resulting dark skies will be enjoyed not just by residents, but also by the millions of tourists who visit the area each year – many of whom are “astrotourists,” or stargazers, who come specifically for the clear, unpolluted view up.
One of the biggest roadblocks Mary has encountered, she says, is residents’ concerns about safety. They’ve grown accustomed to bright, powerful lights that illuminate large swaths of town, and are wary of the changes afoot.
“I’ve talked to some individuals who are long time residents here,” says Mary, “and some of them are all gung-ho, but many of them are afraid. Because they think that what’s going to happen is that their lights have to go away. I’m trying to explain that no, we’re not going to take your lights away. We’re going to talk to you as an individual, and find a light that meets your needs and also is a dark-sky light.”
One resident, a woman named Diane, who owns the Torrey Trading Post and hosts overnight guests in cabins on her property, uses an unshielded high-pressure sodium light to help her overnight guests make their way safely from their cabins to the showers.
“She was telling me she had this light, and I said ‘well, let’s go out and look at it,’” Mary says of a visit she paid to the long-time resident. “So we went and looked at it, and I said ‘yeah, that’s one of the high-pressure sodium lights that we want to replace.’ And she said, ‘well, I need this light for my clients to go from their cabins to the showers.’ Which totally makes sense! So I said ‘yeah, but we can get you a light that will do what you need it to do, so your customers can get where they need to go safely, but is also a fully-shielded light, and we can help you pay for it.’ Once I said that, it was like: that’s fine. That will work.”
It sure will work. And it’ll bring in business, to boot.
what you can do
- Giving to this project supports Torrey’s efforts, but it also supports the larger, international Dark Sky movement. Each town that choses to go dark is a huge step towards a world in sync with our planet’s circadian rhythms, and with our skies. Dark Sky towns help raise awareness, spreading new ideas about what is possible. There are already whispers in Torrey’s neighboring towns about expanding the movement.
- Think your town or city should go dark? Check out darksky.org to learn about why dark skies matter, and who else is doing it. The organization’s site offers an incredible wealth of information, and its gorgeous photos of Dark Sky Communities make it a joy to explore.
- Talk with your neighbors about darkness! Do they remember growing up with darker skies? Sleeping better? Do they miss being able to see the stars? You do not have to accept light pollution as your reality – spread the word!
Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.
Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Ever been harassed or catcalled? Harassment is not just an annoyance or a threat, but a real handicap for women – see what these two fed-up sisters are doing in Detroit to stop it!