Belgium is at the forefront of the most enlightened countries in the world. Even the American New York Times and the British BBC mentioned this several times.
Compared to other countries, our Belgian roads and bike paths are noticeably lit. Football fields and greenhouses are beacons in the dark as churches, monuments, walkways and facades.
We are addicted to artificial light and this goes At the expense of our starry skies, biodiversity, and perhaps our own region.
How does light disrupt the animal world?
But how far does this effect go? I’m communicating with Robin Ivins, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Antwerp. Research on the effect of astronomical light pollution has recently begun (Pollution by scattering and reflection of light in the atmosphere) On the European nightjar.
“Life on Earth has evolved over millions of years based on natural sunlight and moonlight,” says Evins. “Now we have come to a point where This natural cycle of light and darkness was completely overthrown over a hundred years ago. More than 85% of the sky in Europe is affected by artificial light. So there is no living dark world here anymore. We cannot expect species to adapt to this new situation in such a short period of time after millions of years of evolution.
This is a great satisfaction. Evens’ research relates to Nightjars in Antwerp Calmthozzi Hyde. Estimates are made using online forms That the nights there are four to six times brighter than normal.
Many animals suffer greatly from this. It is very difficult to measure this effect for astronomical light pollution, but for environmental light pollution (The direct effect of a particular light source on a relatively small environment) A lot of research has already been done.
For example, we know that large tits that live near street lamps begin to sing very early in the morning. In large breasts, individuals who sing early are also the strongest. They are more successful with females and will produce more young. But due to the effect of artificial light, these are not necessarily the fittest or healthiest people. In this way, the weaker genes are probably passed on to the next generation. Evens explains.
Gives more examples. For example, radar images show migratory birds bending their migratory routes toward heavily lit cities. In America now there are initiatives to put tall skyscrapers in the dark as much as possible during the height of the migration of migratory birds, so as not to run into them.
Bats are also a major nuisance. Contrary to popular belief, bats are extremely sensitive to light. If there was too much artificial light, they wouldn’t hunt until later. As a result, they sometimes miss the peak of insects during twilight.
And while we talk about insects: there are studies that say that Light pollution is one of the biggest causes of insect crashes happening right now“The rule of the food chain has been tampered with, and that requires problems,” Ivins adds.
Not every animal suffers from the same amount of light pollution, but the overall picture has a balance. It affects the entire food chain. Entire ecosystems are disrupted.
This might sound a bit exciting now, but this is how I feel: There is a lot of attention to climate change, but light pollution can be safely on its side‘ warns Evins.
I always compare that to the plane we’re all in. We remove all kinds of parts without knowing anything about mechanics: screw for light pollution and screw for noise pollution. PFOS nut and fine dust bolt. But one day we’ll get to the point where we get the extra screw out of the plane and we all crash.
Where have all our stars gone?
Sten Vanderheiden of the Astronomy Society also shares this view: “People underestimate the problem. There is Too little knowledge of it and too little interest in it. How do you convey the gravity of the problem to a generation that has never seen the Milky Way? “
It is not visible in Flanders anymore. More than 50% of Europeans are in the same boat. We are already losing a lot of nature through strip development and urbanization. Now we’ve also lost the other half of the landscape, Vanderheiden sighs. “Soon we will all have to go to the desert to enjoy the stars. While they are also in the sky here in Belgium. We just don’t see them anymore.
In theory, the solution to the problem is very simple: just turn off the light. In practice things are not that simple.
First, you often experience a fear of the dark. ‘People feel safer with more light,’ Vanderheiden says.
However, there are many studies that indicate the presence of There is no connection between light and safety. Conversely, light can create a false sense of security. If a brightly lit cycle path is too far away, it can be more dangerous than a dark cycle path with more lanes. Moreover, our eyes are so accustomed to the light that it is difficult for us to see what is happening outside the light beam of street lamps.
‘Second is Policy does not followVanderheiden explains. ‘Who is coming?’ Partly due to lack of knowledge, partly due to lack of coordination“.
The KNAL Festival Opening Weekend! Last October, an event in Leuven about the universe and the Big Bang, astronomers were invited to set up their telescopes. Many left quickly. There was a great deal of cloud cover, but the biggest problem was the light pollution at the festival itself.
“This light pollution is from large skyscrapers,” Vanderheiden explains. These are the lights that shine in the sky. Not only can you use it in Flanders, but no municipality or official is aware of it.
What about politics?
I am looking for legislation in Flanders. Only necessary lighting is allowed. Obviously, stress lighting only shines on objects, not next to them. Allowing Skytracers to light a room in this way is expressly prohibited.
that The law is hardly enforced It soon becomes clear when I call the building office in my municipality. ‘The lights are where everyone hangs on their front or places in their driveway? This is exempt from permits. That shouldn’t be included in the building permit application, you know, the lady on duty answered.
“The fact that not everyone is aware of this law is one thing,” Vanderheiden says. It also dates back to 1995. More research has been done on this topic since then, but the law has yet to take this into account.
It is also very poorly organized. Flemish cities and municipalities are left to their own devices. There is hardly any initiative or direction from Flanders. One is now running from the counties, but it is All depends greatly on good intention from a handful of people“.
I contacted Mieke Hoogewijs, member of the relevant working group and biodiversity advisor for the province of Antwerp. She tells me that two studies are currently underway on the impact of light pollution on biodiversity and human health. ‘Hope it will be Raising awareness about the problemHoogewijs says.
In addition, Hoogewijs tells about a map of dark needs she has collected for several municipalities in the province of Antwerp. I went to find the areas most in need of darkness. “Green and blue networks are important, but if you don’t block these connections at night, animals won’t use them. The Dark Needs Map can be a good tool for municipalities to check and adjust their master public lighting plan accordingly.
According to a previous study by INBO (in the context of the effect of light on bats) Is it appropriate to use general lighting To put it out as much as possible, whether in time or space: It lights up only when necessary, and at times when it is needed.
“If we succeed in doing this, we may one day see a starry sky here in Flanders,” Vanderheiden smiles. “Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to marvel at the full moon at a festival of light, but if we could see the real spectacle every month, right over our heads?”
The lights flashed in his eyes as bright as the Milky Way in the desert.
Make sure to have a look www.lightpollutionmap.info To visualize global astronomical light pollution. Pay special attention to Flanders.
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