Let there be less light
The blight of Malta’s light pollution epidemic is bound to eventually reach epic proportions unless proper light abatement measures begin being imposed on future developments and remedial action is taken with respect to the thousands of existing glaring sources of light pollution. Some time ago NASA published a photograph of Europe at night, which showed Malta to be a massive orange light bulb in the middle of the Mediterranean. A recent reputable scientific paper showed that Malta was only outdone by Singapore and San Marino in terms of light pollution. That paper also highlighted the fact that Malta suffers so heavily from light pollution that the glowing band of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is no longer perceptible from our islands. In fact, the Milky Way cannot be seen from 89 per cent of Malta and Gozo.
But in light of this, poor outdoor lighting practices persist across the country’s roads, industrial installations, football pitches…just about everywhere one looks.
Light pollution detracts from our own quality of life, as well as that of the country’s sensitive fauna and its bird populations.
But despite the fact that better controls against light pollution also mean more cost-effective lighting, there seems to be little effort being made in this regard, and the country can do much better through the right legislation, rules and regulations.
Better legislation should be implemented to reduce light pollution in future development through the planning and enforcement systems, particularly within a prescribed number of kilometres around ecologically sensitive areas, while also implementing a Dark Sky heritage concept for the country. This could be coupled with a public awareness campaign encouraging residents to switch off lights and remove or replace unnecessary or inappropriate outdoor lighting, as well as a business awareness campaign to prevent over illumination of hotel porches, windows and grounds.
Globe lights need to be removed from all public areas, together with a complete prohibition on their future use, as well as the prohibition of unnecessary external lighting, the replacement of other types of street lighting with a full cut-off design in a rolling programme, a reduction of over-illumination, which will also contribute to a reduction of CO2 emissions.
Light pollution, after all, is mostly wasted light being emitted from poorly designed fixtures that emit light upwards instead of downwards where it is needed. Outdoor lighting is, of course, indispensable but we definitely need to use more devices that give light facing downwards.
Light pollution also needs to be controlled through the use of cut-off lighting, which does not emit light upwards, in OutsideDevelopment Zones.
For example, football pitches should only be lit by asymmetric full cut-off floodlighting which prevent the nuisance to the neighbourhood while still perfectly illuminating the play area. There are dozens more ways and means by which light pollution can be put under better control, but what we need is the right incentives to do so. Recent controversies that have erupted over the lighting in dark sky areas such as Dwejra, Gozo, and it is hoped that the spotlight being shed on the issue will urge the authorities to take more concrete action.