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  • Jenny Hill

Put the Birds (and Our Planet) in the Dark

Saturday, October 8 is the next World Migratory Bird Day! And as their slogan says: “Dim the Lights for the Birds at Night.” Why would you dim your lights? To help the birds who migrate by night be better able to navigate by the stars.

Light pollution and its impact on migratory birds is the focus of World Migratory Bird Day 2022, a global campaign that aims to raise awareness of migratory birds and the need for international cooperation to conserve them. Activities to mark the day will be held globally under the theme “Dim the Lights for Birds at Night.”

With less light, birds are not only able to navigate better–they are less likely to become disoriented, which would deplete their energy reserve. While migrating (or any other time), a depleted energy reserve puts birds at risk for predators and collisions with buildings.

According to the World Migratory Bird Day website, the second Saturdays of May and October are designated to “reflect the cyclical nature of bird migration as well as the fact that there are varying peak migration periods in the northern and southern hemispheres. The two-day observance of World Migratory Bird Day also gives more people the chance to celebrate and contemplate migratory birds during peak migration times in different parts of the world.”

The World Migratory Day website points out light pollution is increasing around the globe. More than 80 percent of the world's population is currently estimated to live under a “lit sky,” a figure closer to 99 percent in Europe and North America. The amount of artificial light on the Earth’s surface is increasing by at least 2 per cent each year and could be much greater.

Interested in more about light pollution? This site offers data on where you might find the darkest skies.

And as you have probably already figured out, there is a definite connection between the “brightness” of a country and the impact on the environment. So dimming the lights is not just for the birds (ha!), it's good for our planet.

In his 2021 non-fiction book, The Day the World Stops Shopping, journalist J.B. Mackinnon points out there is a correlation between a revved-up consumer culture and light pollution. “ much the same way as carbon emissions, [lighting] has tended to grow rather than shrink as energy efficiency and green technology have progressed.

“With few exceptions, both the amount of lighted area and the overall brightness of a nation–its radiance–correspond to the size of its economy.”

A Treatment for Frustrating Ironies

As I read McKinnon’s book, I discovered that lighting is not the only consumption area where green technology has seemingly backfired.

As televisions became more energy efficient, many households added televisions so that the net effect was the same energy usage (or sometimes even more!) Similarly, some people who purchase a more eco-friendly car drive more than they did before.

Do you find these ironies a little frustrating? I am right there with you! I was reading McKinnon’s book to be part of a new monthly discussion group at Happy Dancing Turtle called Change Exchange. Focusing on a new challenging sustainability topic each month, participants are provided a list of books, movies and podcasts to explore that topic. For more information, see “Change Exchange” below.

Flip a Switch

But there is hope! Unlike other forms of pollution, lighting does have a quick fix. As McKinnon states, “If you dump plastic into the ocean, or poison soil with mining tailing, or pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the effects play out for years if not centuries, making these problems difficult to truly solve.”

Mackinnon goes on to contrast this with light pollution which you can stop by literally flipping a switch.

So join me on Saturday, October 8, in turning off lights in your home or yard. Step outside and enjoy not only the migratory birds, but also the stars!

Change Exchange

And also please consider joining me, and my colleague Nora Woodworth, for a new monthly discussion group called “Change Exchange.” Focusing on a new topic each month, participants are provided a list of books, movies and podcasts to explore that topic.

The group will come together to discuss what they have read, watched, and listened to but also to generate ideas for change. Groups will be meeting both in our Pine River region and Driftless. You can learn more about Change Exchange here.


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