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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Artificial Light at Night

NASA photo of a composite image of the Earth at night

There is considerable concern amongst biologists that turning night into day has strong effects on the natural world and is yet another stressor on biodiversity. The fact that life has evolved, over millions of years, on a planet that has had periods of darkness for some of the time, might suggest that there would be consequences of the proliferation of Artificial Light at Night (ALAN). New LED lamps are a particular cause for concern as, their spectra tend have a large blue component, and blue light is a strong signal for daytime.

For example, there is evidence for melatonin suppression in vertebrates due to light:

https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/11/22/6400 

For billions of years, all life has relied on Earth’s predictable rhythm of day and night. It’s encoded in the DNA of all plants and animals. Humans have radically disrupted this cycle by lighting up the night.

Plants and animals depend on Earth’s daily cycle of light and dark rhythm to govern life-sustaining behaviors such as reproduction, nourishment, sleep and protection from predators.

Scientific evidence suggests that artificial light at night has negative and deadly effects on many creatures including amphibians, birds, mammals, insects and plants.

Artificial Lights Disrupt the World’s Ecosystems

Nocturnal animals sleep during the day and are active at night. Light pollution radically alters their nighttime environment by turning night into day.

According to research scientist Christopher Kyba, for nocturnal animals, “the introduction of artificial light probably represents the most drastic change human beings have made to their environment.”

“Predators use light to hunt, and prey species use darkness as cover,” Kyba explains “Near cities, cloudy skies are now hundreds, or even thousands of times brighter than they were 200 years ago. We are only beginning to learn what a drastic effect this has had on nocturnal ecology.”

Glare from artificial lights can also impact wetland habitats that are home to amphibians such as frogs and toads, whose nighttime croaking is part of the breeding ritual. Artificial lights disrupt this nocturnal activity, interfering with reproduction and reducing populations.

Artificial Lights Can Lead Baby Sea turtles to their Demise

Sea turtles live in the ocean but hatch at night on the beach. Hatchlings find the sea by detecting the bright horizon over the ocean. Artificial lights draw them away from the ocean. In Florida alone, millions of hatchlings die this way every year.

Birds that migrate or hunt at night navigate by moonlight and starlight. Artificial light can cause them to wander off course and toward the dangerous nighttime landscapes of cities. Every year millions of birds die colliding with needlessly illuminated buildings and towers. Migratory birds depend on cues from properly timed seasonal schedules. Artificial lights can cause them to migrate too early or too late and miss ideal climate conditions for nesting, foraging and other behaviors.

Ecosystems: Everything is Connected

Many insects are drawn to light, but artificial lights can create a fatal attraction. Declining insect populations negatively impact all species that rely on insects for food or pollination. Some predators exploit this attraction to their advantage, affecting food webs in unanticipated ways.

And there is a database of other research findings in this context:

http://alandb.darksky.org/

There are claims that brighter lighting greatly enhances public safety and these claims have been used to sell lighting but is this just a sales technique?

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There is a consultation at the moment by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Dark Skies Policy https://appgdarkskies.co.uk/dark-skies-consultation but it closes very shortly – Sunday 27th September 2020. Copied below from the website is further information:

Dark Skies Policy Consultation

The APPG for Dark Skies is seeking proposals and evidence from a range of stakeholders with expertise and experience in the subject of dark sky preservation and light pollution. 

The purpose of this consultation is to collect information, to identify the main threats and challenges that the cause of dark sky preservation faces in the UK, and identify the most effective and actionable ways in which legislators and policy makers can seek to address these challenges – for example but not limited to the compliance and planning policy frameworks. It will explore the environmental, economic, energy and health consequences of light pollution.

The result of this consultation will be to produce the APPG’s first policy plan since being established in January this year. It will provide a basis for the focus of our campaigns, policy briefs and the language that our extensive group of Parliamentary members use. 

Guidelines for making a submission:

  • State clearly who the submission is from, i.e. whether from yourself in a personal capacity or sent on behalf of an organisation, for example the submission could be headed ‘Written evidence submitted by xxxxxx’
  • Be concise – we recommend no more than 1,000 words in length
  • Begin with an executive summary in bullet point form of the main points made in the submission
  • Include a brief introduction about yourself/your organisation and your reason for submitting evidence
  • Include any factual information you have to offer from which the APPG might be able to draw conclusions
  • Identify any legal or quasi-legal frameworks your proposal would impact or modify
  • Include any recommendations for action by the Government or others which you would like the APPG to consider.CLOSING DATE: Sunday 27th September

Please contact the APPG Coordinator Chris Cook (chris.cook@parliament.uk) with any further questions.

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Does light pollution affect humans as well as other species?

I think this is still to be proven but my own experience over more than seven decades of life on this planet, is a great sadness at the gradual loss of an ability to see the stars at night. This has been exacerbated by the arrival, thanks to my City Council, of an LED lamp post right outside my home. It was probably placed there for good sustainable reasons but I now find it impossible to see the stars at night and, if I wake in the night, to be able to guess what time it might be, as it is always light now.

In another post on this site, I have written about “climate change grief” and I wonder if what I have described in the previous paragraph could be described as “light pollution grief”. I certainly believe that being able to see the stars at night gives us a sense of who we are as the inhabitants of a planet, which is just a small part of a diverse and beautiful universe. Can light pollution therefore lead to a loss of identity as an important species within this vast universe? And, going further, to a loss of responsibility for the benevolent stewardship of this planet or even to an impact on human mental health?

Related to this, as described in Chapter 3 of my book (Human Inventiveness and the Concepts of Freedom and Responsibility”), is the description of “space junk” currently circulating our planet and being added to on a regular basis.

It is now known that walking under trees can improve mental health – it is called “tree therapy”. Is it possible that standing and gazing up at the stars can be equally therapeutic?

Maybe this is important to me because five decades ago, I travelled by road from Darwin to Sydney, Australia and spent each night sleeping by the side of the road, under the starts. Is that why I miss them so much now? Certainly, I was gobsmacked when, returning to Australia 10 years ago, and staying at a small town with little light pollution, I felt like I was bathed in the Milky Way. It took my breath away. I had forgotten what I was missing.

See also:https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/full/10.1289/ehp.117-a20

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Further information about light pollution can be found at:

https://www.darksky.org/eyes-in-the-sky-exploring-global-light-pollution-with-satellite-maps/



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NBN National Diversity Report 2019

The Nottingham-based National Biodiversity Network has published its 2019 Report and it does not make good reading.

https://nbn.org.uk/stateofnature2019/reports/

It revealed that the UK’s most important animal populations are down by 60% compared to 1970.  One in four UK mammals and nearly half of our native birds are in danger of extinction. The most vulnerable animals include hedgehogs, hares and bats. One in four moths and one in five butterflies have already disappeared. The report shows no significant improvement since the last one in 2016, which said the UK was “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”.

UK-summary-cover

“The indicator for 696 terrestrial and freshwater species shows a significant decline of 13% in average abundance since 1970, and has fallen by 6% over the past 10 years.
Within this indicator, more species have decreased than increased. Since 1970, 41% of species have decreased and 26% have increased in abundance, with the remaining 33% showing little change. Over the past 10 years, 44% of species have decreased and 36% have increased in abundance, with 20% showing little change. The UK’s wildlife is undergoing rapid changes in abundance; the proportion of species defined as showing strong changes in abundance – either increases or decreases – rose from 33% over the long term to 53% over the past 10 years.

Long-term decreases in average abundance in butterflies since 1976 (16%) and moths since 1970 (25%) have not slowed. The mammal indicator shows little change since 1994; while an increase of 43% in the bird indicator has been driven by recovery of some species from very low numbers, conservation successes and colonising species, as well as increasing numbers of wintering waterbirds. These increases mask abundance declines in common and widespread breeding species; the total number of breeding birds in the UK fell by 44 million between 1967 and 2009.

Our indicator of average species’ distribution, covering 6,654 terrestrial and freshwater species over a broad range of taxonomic groups, has fallen by 5% since 1970. Because species tend to decline in abundance before they disappear from a site, this change could reflect more severe underlying abundance declines that we are currently unable to quantify.

Within this indicator, more species have decreased than increased. Since 1970, 27% of species have decreased and 21% have increased in distribution, with 52% showing little change. Over the past 10 years, 37% of species have decreased and 30% have increased in distribution, with 33% showing little change. The UK’s wildlife is undergoing rapid changes in distribution; the proportion of species defined as showing strong changes in distribution – either increases or decreases – rose from 17% over the long term to 39% over the past 10 years.

Of the 8,431 species that have been assessed using the IUCN Regional Red List criteria, and for which sufficient data were available, 1,188 (15%) are currently threatened with extinction from Great Britain and 2% are already extinct.”



 


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A New Deal for Nature

During his speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos recently, Sir David Attenborough drew attention to the environmental challenges we face and called for a New Deal for Nature. In an interview with Prince William, he said:

“We have to recognise that every breath of air we take, every mouthful of food we take comes from the natural world. And that if we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves…We have the power. We have the knowledge to actually live in harmony with nature.”

Davos

Sir David Attenborough discussing his New Deal for Nature at the WEF in Davos

A new global deal for nature and people would put the environment at the heart of our economic, political, social and financial systems and would integrate efforts to tackle climate change, biodiversity declines, threats to the environment of the high seas and development.

The deal would focus on solutions that address the underlying drivers of  environmental problems and requires action from everyone, from individuals to governments and businesses to tackle their global footprint on the natural world.

https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/sir-david-attenborough-calls-new-deal-nature

In response to this Unearthed have produced a series of  four youtube videos in a series called Life Support, which point out that changes in biodiversity is just as important as climate change:

 

 



 


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Arctic is now locked into destructive climate change: new UN Report

According to a new commissioned UN Report, there is no chance now of saving the arctic from devastating destruction:

http://www.grida.no/publications/431

The report describes scenarios where arctic winter temperatures increase by 3-5 degrees by 2050, compared to 1986-2005 levels, and by 5-9 degrees by 2080.  It is expected to happen regardless of the success of measures introduced since the Paris climate change Agreement in 2015.

According to the report, even if global emissions were to stop overnight, winter temperatures in the Arctic would continue to rise by up to 5 C by 2100 compared to average temperatures in the late 20th century. The temperature rise is described by the report as “locked in” because of greenhouse gases already emitted and heat stored in the ocean. This is because carbon emissions and greenhouse gas emissions have a delayed effect; the emissions being produced today (and which continue to be produced) will have effects for decades. The momentum of climate change is very strong in the Arctic.

According to the report, this would devastate the region and cause sea level rises across the world.

jan-dusik

Jan Dusic, author of the report

A massive melting of ice and a thawing of the permafrost is to be expected, threatening biodiversity and changing the living conditions of Arctic communities.

It appears that the thawing trend is now irreversible.

For further details, see:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/arctic-warming-locked-in-1.5056548?cmp=rss



And now, another report about changing Arctic temperatures from the Washington Post on 14th May 2019:

https://www.msn.com/en-us/weather/topstories/it-was-84-degrees-near-the-arctic-ocean-this-weekend-as-carbon-dioxide-hit-its-highest-level-in-human-history/ar-AABlBAQ?fbclid=IwAR2zQVt-AncQSZMfLRquEWKScHGttqeTsqJMTzfboKoz0a8-zoguLE1sREk

“Over the weekend, the climate system sounded simultaneous alarms. Near the entrance to the Arctic Ocean in northwest Russia, the temperature surged to 84 degrees Fahrenheit (29 Celsius). Meanwhile, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eclipsed 415 parts per million for the first time in human history.”

CarbonData

The recordings were taken in Arkhangelsk, Russia, where the average high temperature is around 54ºF this time of year. The city of 350,000 people sits next to the White Sea, which feeds into the Arctic Ocean’s Barents Sea.

The abnormally warm conditions in this region stemmed from a bulging zone of high pressure centred over western Russia. This particular heat wave, while a manifestation of the arrangement of weather systems and fluctuations in the jet stream, fits into what has been an unusually warm year across the Arctic and most of the mid-latitudes.

These changes all have occurred against the backdrop of unremitting increases in carbon dioxide, which has now crossed another symbolic threshold.

Saturday 11th May’s carbon dioxide measurement of 415 parts per million at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory is the highest in at least 800,000 years and probably over 3 million years. Carbon dioxide levels have risen by nearly 50 percent since the Industrial Revolution.