By Dominic Borbon, Finalist & Honorable Mention in the NYT Editorial Contest
For ages, light has been prized for its ability to combat the darkness – turning night into day and illuminating a path for human modernity. But, in recent years, a fatal trend has emerged with the brightening of the night skies. As a result of an increasingly illuminated night, the world has been thrown paradoxically onto a dark path of environmental havoc.
The phenomenon known as light pollution – the steady brightening of the night sky due to excessive artificial light – has birthed a multitude of problems as it has endangered the biodiversity of our natural habitats. Because all life on earth has adapted to depend on regular cycles of night and day, today’s imbalance of light brought on by light pollution has misaligned the rhythms of all organisms from corals to plants. Corals, for example, are one of the many animals that are being impeded by an encroaching world of light. Coral polyps, who normally rely on the moon’s glow to initiate periods of reproduction, have been brought into a night of disorienting artificial light; consequently, the growth of coral ecosystems have slowed over the years as the amount of light filling the night sky has increased.
The effects of light pollution are not limited to wildlife, however. Humans have an equally negative reaction to artificial light. Studies have shown that excess light and the subsequent misconfiguration of sleep patterns in humans can promote the onset of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cancer (Gaston). Like animals in the wild, humans have been fine tuned to the daily transitions between night and day; however, with the introduction of the electric light bulb in the 1800’s, the delicate human sleep cycle has become scrambled. More than ever, electric light is facilitating sleeplessness as illuminators such as blazing billboards and searing street lamps are fostering a growing nightlife. Consequently, it has become progressively harder for humans to find rest in a blinding world of light thus increasing their susceptibility to chronic diseases.
For much of human history, light in all its forms – from the flickering campfire to the blazing fluorescent lamp – has been viewed as the facilitator for human civilization. Without it, the first ancient cities could not have risen from the darkness of barbarity, nor could have our bustling metropolises, in the light of innovation, been erected. However, today, humanity is approaching a turning point in how we see light. We are now faced with a choice – a choice between a blindingly barren future and a future of prosperity under an undisrupted night sky. What kind of future we choose is up to us.
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