July 2013

The stars are going out

By Paul Bogard
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Paul Bogard is afraid of the dark. But he’s more afraid of losing the dark.

His book, The End of Night, examines how we are slowly losing our ability to enjoy the night skies because of the spread of artificial light. The glare of commercial signage, billboards, parking lot lampposts and other sources of light pollution means that 80 percent of American children will never experience a sky dark enough to see the Milky Way, Bogard writes. The human race prides itself on having conquered darkness, that mysterious abyss that is home to werewolves, vampires and other scary monsters. But the urge to shed light on every dark corner is another way in which we humans have separated ourselves from nature.

The concern is more than just aesthetic. Bogard warns of health issues for people exposed to artificial light at night, including sleep disorders, diabetes and cancer. And other species, such as bats and moths, are in danger because of increased artificial light. “We are just beginning to understand night’s natural darkness has always been invaluable for our health and the health of the natural world, and every living creature suffers from its loss,” he writes.

So Bogard embarks on a road trip across the globe in search of darkness. It takes him from the world headquarters of light pollution, Las Vegas, to Paris, the “City of Light,” to Death Valley in California, one of the darkest places on Earth. Along his journey, he hangs out with casino gamblers, national park rangers, night-shift workers and stargazers to get their take on the night. One of Bogard’s more entertaining encounters with darkness is his after-hours trespass onto Walden Pond State Reservation in Massachusetts, where he tries to experience the night Henry David Thoreau experienced in the writing of Walden. He also returns to a lake in his native Minnesota, where he tries to overcome his lifelong fear of darkness by walking a gravel road at night.

Bogard makes some convincing points as to why we need to embrace the dark and halt the march of artificial light (although I believe he falls short in his argument that increased light at night does not improve safety). At the end of the day, The End of Night enhances our appreciation of the beauty of a starry night.

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The End of Night

The End of Night

By Paul Bogard
Little, Brown
ISBN 9780316182904

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