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Development indicator? Phenomenon of light pollution unheard of by Indian authorities

By Shankar Sharma* 

The increasing illumination of the skyline in our towns and cities due to artificial lighting should be a major environmental concern in addition to the pollution/contamination of air, water, soil and noise.
“The Guardian” report “City of London proposing to make skyscrapers dim their lights at night” says, "City (London) officials are concerned about energy wastage and light pollution caused by the unnecessary use of lights in office buildings that have few or no workers after a certain time of night."
But here in India, our authorities seem to think the more the light in the night sky, the more it is an indication of development. Light pollution seems to be a phenomenon unheard of for our authorities. What a way to look at our life and ecology!
To quote from an expert report, "Light pollution, or artificial light at night, is the excessive or poor use of artificial outdoor light, and it disrupts the natural patterns of wildlife, contributes to the increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, disrupts human sleep, and obscures the stars in the night sky."
In addition, the same is one of the multiple ways in which we are wasting electrical energy, and hence, leading to multiple ecological issues, including Climate Change. The percentage of annual electrical energy used for artificial lighting on our country is not inconsiderable.
I assisted a group of engineering college at Mysore city few years ago in their final year project which focused on the illumination level in public places in that city. Actual measurement of light intensity in about 10 public places during nights indicated that the illumination was about 2 to 2.5 times the guided value by bureau of Indian Standards. It will not be too far fetched to extrapolate the same level of wasted artificial light energy across our towns and cities.
It is estimated in India (by Lighting India Magazine), lighting constitutes around 18% of total annual energy (electrical energy?) developed/ produced. Hence, the enormity of the benefits/savings feasible by adequately focusing on public lighting should become evidently clear.
A scientific report carried on the website of National Library of Medicine says:
"According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2013, almost 20% of electricity consumption and 6% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions worldwide were attributed to electricity for lighting. Lighting is one of the major end-use of electricity that accounts for approximately 48% of the building electricity in the commercial sector and 28% of the building electricity in the residential sector globally in 1997. Due to the long operating hours and a large number of lamps installed in the commercial sector, its electrical energy demand for lighting tends to be higher than the residential sector. Without a rapid change in policies and practical implementations to transition to energy-efficient lighting such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs), the global energy consumption for lighting is expected to rise by 60% by 2030 and this will also increase the energy-related CO2 emissions, thus causing more warming of the Earth and further climate changes in the future.”
Because of the obvious relevance of minimising the wastage of electrical energy through outdoor lighting, civil society groups need to effectively draw the attention of our authorities to the phenomenon of light pollution.
It may not be an exaggeration to state that minimising the wastage of such artificial light energy in India can save several thousand hectares of thick forests/ vegetation, and several million gallons of fresh water each year, in addition to several other ecological and economic benefits.
Can we hope that the entire society provides adequate focus on such critically positive economic activities; as compared to building ghastly ropeways, tall statues, glitzy airports etc.?
*Power & Climate Policy Analyst


Colin Henshaw said…
A study carried in the Italian town of Certaldo revealed that it wasted 60% of its energy consumption on street lighting. If this is expanded up to include all the cities on the plane, then the degree of energy abuse must be absolutely enormous, and it will be a major contributor to climate change.

37) Fiaschi, D., Bandinelli, R., Conti, S., A case study for energy issues of public buildings and utilities in a small municipality: Investigation of possible improvements and integration with renewables. Applied Energy, 97, 101 – 114, September 2012.


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