Seeing the Night Sky the Way it was Meant to be

Energy efficiency and light pollution

So here’s a fantastic topic that gets absolutely no discussion in politics, budgeting, or societal structures: Light Pollution. Many of you have heard of this and have a pretty good grasp of what this means, but how many can honestly say they know why it happens, or how to lessen it? To be perfectly honest I had no clue what caused it or why it happened other than it made sense that this was an issue in densely populated areas as opposed to sparsely populated ones.

So what is light pollution, what causes it and what are the effects? Light pollution is any time light effects the environment in an unnatural manner. The scientific definitions are:

  • Degradation of photic habitat by artificial light.[1]
  • Alteration of natural light levels in the outdoor environment owing to artificial light sources.[2]
  • Light pollution is the alteration of light levels in the outdoor environment (from those present naturally) due to man-made sources of light. Indoor light pollution is such alteration of light levels in the indoor environment due to sources of light, which compromises human health.[3]
  • Light pollution is the introduction by humans, directly or indirectly, of artificial light into the environment.[4]

The point being is that this is something we, and we alone are responsible for creating and thus we can effect it by eliminating it or reducing it to much more acceptable levels.

But Mr. Candidate why the hell should I care that this is a thing if nobody else in politics gives a damn? Well that’s an excellent question, here’s your answer. Light pollution by definition is waste, and in this case, especially with the way we generate electricity at the moment, it’s a huge waste and percentage of total power consumption in the United States. Here are some of the numbers to put that into perspective. First and foremost it must be understood that the US primarily uses petroleum to generate electricity not renewable energy sources, which means all energy generated causes some sort of environmental backlash. So now that the obligatory tree hugging statement is out of the way back to the numbers.

The US uses about 18.8 million barrels of petroleum per day. Of that 18.8 million barrels of petroleum per day 3.6-7.5 million barrels are used commercially, and residential use is anywhere from 1.8-5.4 million. So anywhere from 5.4-12.9 million barrels a day are used for energy purposes, which makes about 4-5 million of those for light alone. That’s a lot of numbers thrown out at once but I’m a nice person so ill simplify it further: 1/3 to ¼ of all energy use in America regardless of source or reason is to turn on a light. That should be a huge concern for every American citizen and organization since it’s your money that’s being used to power all of this.

The worst part of that isn’t that we use that much light, because let’s face it light is important, and we can’t afford to close up shop just because it’s dark outside, the issue is the waste and inefficiency. The US Department of energy estimates that 30-60% of lighting is excessive or unneeded. That means 1-3 million of barrels of petroleum are being used every single day that would otherwise be unnecessary and we’re not getting any more benefits out of them, their availability is slowly shrinking while costs are slowly rising.

This leads to a couple topics of discussion the first being cost, and the second being availability or output/efficiency. Renewable energy has the wonderful capacity to be absolutely 110% free for everyone and every organization since it uses sources that are naturally reoccurring and have no danger of disappearing ie. Solar energy. But we live in America where free means Socialism and Communism and you know what fine ill play along with that idea as well. Somebody has to make their money somehow right? So let’s convert current power plants to solar, or clean energy equivalents and after initial cost spikes, everything should or would regulate back to normal levels. It’s the same buildings, same people, different color.

Well wait a minute you’re thinking, if it’s that easy why aren’t we doing it now, and why wouldn’t someone be trying to cash in on this already? That’s also a great question. First the answer is big oil and the current administration coupled by the dependence on these fossil fuels currently set in place. The other part has to do with the relative “expensive” costs for these technologies that are only so high due to the influence and bullying of the current status quo. Another aspect has to do with newer technologies less interested market, and other boring made up economic hogwash that you, I and everyone else don’t understand or care about. The reality is fossil fuels used to be the new kid on the block and they out performed steam power immediately, then nuclear power out performed coal, and so on ... so why the big hang up with renewables?

Again the answer is big oil and industries currently dependent on it plus the initial investment and cost of implementation. Fine its going to cost a lot of money', a few hundred billion to a couple trillion to turn it over in one fiscal year, or over the period of 5-10. Fair enough that’s a lot of money upfront. Now take into consideration that 30-60% of all light production is unneeded, and that it costs 1-3 million barrels of petroleum a day how much money could be saved annually from eliminating the waste, be it from regulation or technology? As of 12/1/2014 one barrel costs 87.34 bright green crisp American dollars. Multiply that by 1-3 million, then multiply it again by 365 days in a year and you get some pretty big numbers! To the tune of $31.879 Billion dollars in savings from that alone. Woah that’s a lot of money but nowhere close to the hundreds of billions or even couple trillion I mentioned before?

Let’s look at that a bit further first shall we? $31.879 billion is what’s used in excess on the low end triple that on the high end, so lets say for the sake of argument we made electricity free by having installed clean energy all over the place by simply replacing current nonrenewable with renewable and absolutely nothing else, we’d save $599.327 Billion a year in energy costs. Do I have everyone’s attention now? By just up an saying all energy is free we save that much money, subtract the cost of building these factories at possibly half that, we still save a net of $299 Billion. $299 Billion of your dollars and corporate dollars that can be spent elsewhere. That’s 10% of the national budget to compare the savings to something we can all understand. Even taking into account maintenance and operation costs of the facilities themselves we’re only talking an additional 143 Billion (comparing the size of the DoD to the private energy sector which is way far and above what it’d actually cost). Which by the way still saves $156 Billion a year by going green, and making electricity an American guarantee, not an amenity!