How ‘stars’ help the French keep the night sky dark

Picture of a street lamp.

There has been a steady stream of concerns that artificial light is steadily eroding our ability to see the stars. And a recent essay published in Science describes how artificial light affects the timing of events such as greener plants in spring and fall leaf coloring. This is one of the many recent studies showing the direct or indirect impact of light pollution on plants and animals.

‘People are becoming aware that darkness is no [longer] darkness. This is one of the elements that contributes in particular to the decline in species variation as well as the decline in biodiversity, ”says Jacques Falcón, research merit at the French Scientific Research Center (CNRS).

Now, thanks to a voluntary program in France, more communities are taking steps to limit light pollution.

Organization to darkness

Despite this growing body of evidence, the use of artificial light has been steadily increasing over the last few years. A study from 2017 shows that from 2012 to 2016, the amount of area lit by artificial light around the world grew by 2.2 percent per year.

While the laws of France recognize light pollution, public awareness of this issue is not the same as it is for air or water pollution. To overcome this problem in France, the organization ANPCEN (Association for the Protection of the Sky and Nocturnal Environment), of which Falcon is a member, was set up to encourage the fight against light pollution in France. Every two years, the association publishes a list of French towns and villages that receive stars for their efforts to control artificial light.

“We started the brand, from one to five stars, in 2009. It was 10 years after our association was founded. It is not only a great valuation exercise for the recipient municipalities, but also an encouragement for progress for the nearby towns and villages, ”said Anne-Marie Ducroux, Honorary President of the ANPC.

An indication of the growing popularity of this initiative can be measured by the increase in the number of municipalities that have participated voluntarily over the last 12 years. While the first list published in 2009 has only 39 municipalities, the one published this year has 364.

According to Ducroux, the ANPC advocates a global approach to combating light pollution. “We deal with various aspects related to biodiversity, energy, health, climate, astronomy and public spending, all at the same time, in order to aim for consistent choices. We are raising awareness not only at the local level in the municipalities but also nationally. “We are also involved in advocacy, which in particular has resulted in light pollution being included in four laws and several rules,” says Ducroux.

To get a star

The participating municipalities must fill in a questionnaire of about a dozen pages, which among other things concerns energy consumption, biodiversity, citizen awareness and measures taken to avoid disturbing light. Each point in the questionnaire has a score and the sum determines the number of stars.

One municipality that received three stars is Veyrac, located in the south of France. According to Franck Selleret, who is a city councilor responsible for sustainable development for the municipality, the key aspect of the ‘star village’ initiative is that it motivates you to investigate some aspects of the administration such as energy consumption and to correct any problems you find.

“Undoubtedly, it also gives credibility to get these stars when it comes to requesting funds for the development of the municipality,” he says. Personally for Selleter, dark nights also mean an opportunity to pursue his interest in astrophotography.

Ducroux wants to see an increasing number of municipalities and private actors involved because all light sources contribute to light pollution.

Falcón says that even though he lives in a small village, the quality of the night sky is poor because of its proximity to a big city. “Even though small towns shut the light down at night, the big cities release so much that it can be seen miles away,” he says. He says it should be made mandatory for big cities to implement measures against light pollution.

Falcón adds that if the problem of light pollution is not solved, it will ultimately have a dramatic impact on species, including humans.

“A recent study has shown that artificial light triggers a decrease in the population of nocturnal pollinating insects. This affects the plants directly as the pollination is not achieved properly. As the plant species decline, the diurnal insects that depend on these plants decrease. also because they do not get enough food to survive. It affects insects at night, plants and also has a rebound effect on insects during the day. “

According to Falcón, artificial light also affects mammals. “All species are interconnected. When an element of the system is affected, the whole system begins to feel the effect. So even if the whole system does not collapse totally instantaneously, studies show that this is likely to be the problem in the long run.”

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