The night sky in the small, rural Virginia community I call home is a big deal, but I didn’t realize how big until our local schools considered installing stadium lighting for nighttime sports. The controversy that erupted surprised me. I thought there’d be arguments about the cost of installing and maintaining lights—and there were. I just never expected the most intense debate to revolve around the potential light pollution of our famously dark skies. When the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors heard public comments on the issue, eight residents spoke in favor of the lights. Nine spoke against. Readers of the local newspaper also weighed in. “Our children will have the opportunity to play more sporting events,” wrote one supporter of the proposition. The lights “will fundamentally and unalterably change the quality of life,” countered an opponent.
Light pollution is a rather new, unintended consequence of technology in the arc of human history, reports Verlyn Klinkenborg in our cover story. The beauty of an ink black night aside, darkness turns out to be as essential to our biological well-being as light. The cyclic rhythm of waking and sleep parallels the cycle of light and dark on Earth. Tampering with it may turn out to have biological repercussions.
Back to the light storm in my own backyard: After an anonymous donor offered financial help, the measure passed, four to one. It was “best for the kids,” the superintendent of schools said, but the jury may still be out on that one.
Photograph by Jim Richardson