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Light pollution erases the Milky Way from Spanish skies

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Light pollution hides the Milky Way from Europeans and, above all, from Spaniards. Six out of ten Europeans are unable to find in the night sky the characteristic band of light (composed of millions of stars) that reminds us that we are not the only ones in the stellar neighborhood. Despite this worrying trend, light pollution continues to grow. According to a latest study carried out by the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), pollution caused by city lights has increased by almost 50% in the last quarter of a century.

The researchers describe this figure as “alarming”, which is also higher in Spain, the third European country with the highest rate of light pollution and with higher spending on public lighting per inhabitant. In our country, this growth was at least 57% between 1992 and 2012. It is not surprising, since Spain currently lacks control over light pollution, except for some specific areas, such as La Palma , the north of Tenerife and Catalonia.

In preparation a worrying regulation

Currently on public display is a new draft decree law whose objective is to reduce energy consumption and light pollution. However, scientists and stellar observation associations have positioned themselves against the Decree-Law arguing that “it does not give any guarantee that what it pursues will really be done.”

In fact, this rule could even increase the problem, say the scientific and astronomical entities that have mobilized to file claims against it. Hence, the draft of the regulations has not passed the second public hearing process and has been stopped since November 2021.

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Light pollution is caused by artificial light emissions, which cause an imbalance in the ecosystem. If the luminaires are not located and designed correctly, they end up emitting light into the sky and cause this type of pollution, which ‘blots out’ the stars by flooding everything with light. The use of excessive light power and in places where it is not necessary is also detrimental to the species.

LEDs have made the problem worse

The study, which examined light emissions from 1992 to 2017, highlights the hidden impact of the transition to solid-state light-emitting diode (LED) technology. LEDs emit more blue light than previous lamp technologies, but satellite sensors are blind to blue light and therefore underestimate the level of emissions.

“Our study shows that the problem is much more serious than we thought and that we could talk about an increase that can reach 270% worldwide and 400% in some regions”, highlights Alejandro Sánchez de Miguel, a researcher at the University of Exeter and a doctor linked to the IAA-CSIC who coordinates the study. Therefore, blue light pollution in Spain could have risen “only” 15% more than in 1992 or increased by up to 300%.

In this sense, already there are some companies that are trying to differentiate themselves to find alternatives to the serious light pollution that the planet suffers. “It is time to go one step further, it is not enough to use lights that reduce spending, it is also important that institutions encourage the use of those that are more respectful of the environment,” says Raquel Pereira, the company’s marketing director. Roblan.

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These Spanish manufacturers of LED lighting products have obtained the certification from the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC)which proves that road or outdoor lighting is suitable for installation even in the most delicate areas because it is respectful of the environment.

This problem not only affects spending, possibility of generating traffic accidents due to glare or in the impossibility of enjoying the starry sky; light pollution is altering the biological cycles of people, animals and plants.

Specifically, they are birds and pollinating insects are the most affected by disorientation and changes in their cycles, something that harms the biodiversity of the species. Lighting systems change their behavior patterns, disorient migrations and modify feeding and reproduction habits. And it is that the vast majority of animal and plant species, including man, need night darkness to live properly.

“It is crucial that these areas are illuminated with efficient and non-polluting systems such as certified LEDs, projecting the exact color of light and avoiding waste towards the sky,” says the director of projects at Roblan, María Hernández.

Reference Study: https://zenodo.org/record/5524240#.Ym-bCh4ukVE

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Environment section contact: crisisclimatica@prensaiberica.es

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