[Darksky]Re: from France

Jan Hollan
Thu, 30 May 2002 18:23:57 +0200 (CEST)

> Dear Sir
> I'm a french science journalist working for Le Figaro, a daily news at
> Paris. I'm preparing a story about the 1st june in Czech Republic.
> - I would like to know if the dark sky legislation will change the
> life of people.

I am sure it will, but there won't be many cases where it will help
immediately, say this June already. I hope there will be some, however. Of
course I'll try to achieve some positive changes in my city, Brno, as soon
as possible. 

> - Do you think that it will work?

Within years, definitely. The whole topic is very new to most people. A
lot of articles in all media is needed before people begin to notice the
vast differences between the badly designed, obtrusive lighting and a
quality one, serving just its task.

> - Are people aware of that decision? Do they accept it easily?

I guess that most people have heard about light pollution already, thanks
to the interest of media in the past months, but many think it concerns
astronomy only. A non-negligible fraction of the population may know that
the prevention of light pollution became a part of the Czech law.
Astronomy is very popular here what surely played a role during the
preparation of the law, and people are quite happy that the deterioration
of the night sky will stop. A true breakthrough may appear when most
people realize that excessive, poorly directed artificial light at night
makes a profound damage to our environment in general. That it concerns
everybody. That the health of hundreds of thousands of Czech people is
endangered by light-at-night, leaving no true darkness for a quality
sleep. Then the polluting lighting systems will begin to be adapted and
replaced offensively, good lighting will become a pride of each
municipality and the people living there.

The professionals in the field of outdoor lighting are slowly adapting to
the new legal situation. Some of them were doing right decisions years
before already, these are quite happy with the support of the law and have
no problems to use just the proper type of lamps, sending all their light
just downward. Another feel endangered in their position, as they have
made wrong decisions before, having now thousands of polluting, glaring
new lamps and fearing perhaps of being accused of doing their job not the
right way. There is no legal threat to them, however -- further on, they
should change their bad habits, that's all.

> - When you were child, do you remember if the sky was dark during the
> night? Where did you live your childhood?

I lived all my life at the same house, quite near to the observatory. Both
places are not even two kilometres from the city centre.

I am sorry I began with my interest in looking into the Universe quite
late, I was fifteen then. But even in those times, the sky in Brno has
been quite rich and attractive. Of course, never so deep and sparkling
like somewhere on mountains, where everybody gets fascinated by it, if not
disturbed by some ugly lamps nearby. But it has been far better than it is

In the seventies, we were able to observe meteors by large binoculars from
the roof of the observatory, with not at all bad results. The
deterioration came towards the end of that decade, with the spread of
strong mercury and then sodium lights.

> - Do you know if other countries will prepare the same legislation?

Yes, they will. We have spoken about that at the meeting in Venice at the
beginning of May, see e.g.
 In Slovenia, Hungary and Croatia it is still a new theme, but it is taken
very seriously alrady. In Italy, there is an excellent legislation in
Lombardy, another will be in Lazio and it's just a matter of time when it
will apply to the whole country. Also in Spain the shift from a regional
level (Catalonia, Canarian islands) to the country-wide will happen. And
there are more and more laws in the whole states within the USA.

> - Do you consider Czech republic is a pioneer in that way? How do you
> explain that phenomenon? Is it because of Vaclav Havel?

There are many countries and regions with a better outdoor lighting. But
there is no other country paying attention explicitly to the light
pollution in its fundamental legislation.

We were lucky. We had to prepare a law protecting the atmosphere, to adapt
the rules valid in the EU. And one member of parliament, Stanislav
Fischer, being an astronomer, realized that protection of the air against
unwanted light should be included there. Another members, like Libor
Ambrozek, got the same idea later. This has been the fundamental step.
Shortly afterwards, most MPs have agreed that it is a reasonable and
important amendment of the law. A lot of work of the key astronomers,
supporting the idea and educating everybody about it, helped to the
success. We had a good background and persuasive arguments. Reducing the
light pollution is a win-win process, nobody loses.

Light pollution should be of course included in the environmental
legislation everywhere, that's where it belongs. Taken broadly, it's not
just protection of the night sky. It's a protection of the night
itself. Night environment is the most quickly vanishing part of the
nature, fortunately it is the easiest to restore as well, if we will
decide to do it. We need some lit paths somewhere and sometime -- but the
artificial light should be confined there as precisely as possible,
not exceeding the necessary amounts.

Our president did not playe a role directly in the preparation of the
law. Of course, his signature has been necessary and it happened really.
But his example to analyse the problems from their very sources, not being
misled by the usual superficial concepts or deeply rooted prejudices, was
important for many of us. 

> Thank you very much for your help. It's urgent. I would like to get
> the answer before Friday at the beginning of afternoon. Yours. Yves

There is much more information accessible from
http://www.astro.cz/darksky -- I'll answer any other questions with a
pleasure. I've devoted lots of time to the education on quality lighting
already, and it's wonderful that it becomes more effective thanks to the
interest of the people like you. 
> Le Figaro
> Yves Miserey
> 37 rue du Louvre

best regards,