Starry-eyed activism

Good set of satellite images of the earth published today, showing human impacts, on the Guardian’s website.

I particularly liked those (pictures 8-11) taken at night. They reminded me of an article I once wrote for CPRE’s (Campaign to Protect Rural England) membership magazine; my article was titled ‘Starry-eyed activism’. The article was a profile of David Gilburt, an amateur astronomer who wanted to revisit a childhood hobby that he shared with his father, and now wanted to share with his children. After driving around the county to find a good star-gazing location, they found themselves asking, ‘where have all the stars gone?!’ Single-handedly, via a range of small-to-larger activities, David ended up influencing Surrey County Council’s decision to install reduced-light-polluting street lights. Their bid (I think to the European Union), for £65 million, was eventually successful.

On a parallel note, Treehugger today have an article about street lights that respond to the brightness of the moon, dimming when the moon is brighter (and are 90% more energy-efficient than conventional):

People who live in cities are rarely aware of the natural cycles in the sky; even the moon, powerful enough to read by, is barely noticed. The Civil Twilight Design Collective won the Metropolis Next Generation Design Competition with this wonderful idea: “Lunar resonant streetlights sense and respond to ambient moonlight, dimming and brightening each month as the moon cycles through its phases. Utilizing available moonlight, rather than overwhelming it, saves energy and mitigates light pollution, while facilitating the urban experience of one of the most fundamental and beautiful cycles of nature.” They note that streetlights account for 38% of all electricity used for lighting in the US, and that 2/3 of Americans can no longer see the stars. A combination of LEDs and lunar resonance could save 90% of this electricity, and kids could see stars again.

Personally, I’m very disturbed by stories like the following. A former teacher of mine ran youth camps in a converted Suffolk barn, taking inner-city kids to the countryside and getting them to muck in, e.g. cooking, cleaning, and helping with evening entertainments. Early on during one such camp, one of the kids – who’s duty it was to sweep the communal spaces, including around the main entrance – was nowhere to be seen. The leader went in search, and found the boy paralysed to the spot outside, gawping at what he saw up above. ‘What are those?’ he asked, pointing up to the night sky.

I’m relieved that the kid had the encounter he did because, to my mind, it’s our contexts that give our lives meaning, root us, and help us to orientate ourselves to our futures.

A small coup for me, then, whilst I was a postgraduate student, was to persuade my department to include stars on the front cover of one of their core text books, below. A choice was to have a picture of the globe, with or without stars. Given an important concept in systems thinking is context, I found it strange that some were concerned the presence of stars on the front cover would appear to associate ‘systems thinking’ with ‘wishful thinking’. To my mind, stars are our – fairly amazing – natural context. (And, for those sceptics out there, systems thinking isn’t at all wishful in my experience.) So I found myself giving a stellar defence, and am pleased they heeded my perspective.


Note: of all the more-than-human presences on the front cover, only one isn’t scavenging off human society – namely, the dolphins in the sea; elsewhere, dogs scavenge from dustbins and farmer’s sacks of corn. It’s both to our and the world’s impoverishment when there is less wildlife and wilderness. If night-time pavement vomitting is your idea of wild, you need to get a life. And I’m pleased that the Battle at Kruger has been proving to be such a hit on YouTube. The video proves Love can overcome – even in the ‘natural world’.


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