Is light pollution making darkness a luxury? Emma Beddington

Light pollution is everywhere, obscuring stars, bewildering bats and making insect decline worse. Is finding dark corner becoming a luxury?

Here’s a prediction for the next few years (possibly the only prediction not best expressed by a melting smiley emoji and a guttural wail): dark will become the new luxury. For once, I’ll be ahead of the curve. I love the dark, it’s one of my fussy mid-life obsessions. I’m moderately insomniac and obsessed with eliminating every sliver of light from the bedroom. My curtains have thicker linings than a radiographer’s apron, so heavy they regularly fall off the rail. I want to spend my nights like a troll in a hole; a bear in a burrow. Unfortunately, my husband is intent on filling our house with home-optimising gadgetry; you could night-land a 737 in our hallway with all the flashing and blinking digital displays. I’ve banned them from the bedroom, but they bleed in through the gap under the door, disturbing me: I’m the princess and the pea, but for pea read LED. I might have to resort to a rolled-up towel under the door: I already use that hack in hotels, and travel with Blu Tack to cover up impossible to extinguish TV, AC or fire alarm lights, red, white and blue pinpricks of irritation. Don’t suggest a sleep mask: I’d need a Vantablack balaclava.

It’s not, traditionally, seen as a Good Thing, the dark. Scripture and literature have told us for centuries that light is what we’re after: “the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light”, the Enlightenment, “Juliet is the sun” and all that. There are solid evolutionary reasons. Light has been fairly useful for our survival as a species – photosynthesis served us well for not starving to death, for a start – and we associate it with warmth. Then in the dark we were vulnerable: bad things happened there, so fearing it was rational and useful. Women still feel vulnerable in the dark as we walk towards the safety of brighter, busier places. Figures from 2016 suggested half of women felt unsafe in the dark on quiet streets.

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