For an amateur astronomer and seeker of dark skies, the International Dark-Sky Association Annual General Meeting was an exercise in contrasts. On one hand light pollution is increasing rapidly and humanity is not too slowly loosing our view of the stars. On the other hand, legions of scientists, professional and amateur astronomers, community activists, park rangers, artists and others are working feverishly, with many success stories, to mitigate artificial lighting.
By any measure the conference was hugely educational and inspirational. Held in Snowbird, Utah in the mountains above Salt Lake City from Nov. 9-11, attendees heard talks, saw film screenings, participated in poster sessions and generally talked about the night sky.
I was at the meeting after the organizers accepted an abstract I submitted months ago that proposed to show how photography can advocate for the night sky. Originally in a workshop with two writers talking about advocating for dark skies through storytelling, my presentation was moved to the final gathering of the conference before the closing remarks.
For much of the two days before my talk I was able to enjoy the blizzard of information presented to us. Each talk and workshop presented a combination of grim statistics or satellite imagery detailing the spread of artificial light and then showed novel solutions or actual success stories of a city, community and even an oil/gas company shielding and reducing their lighting.
The state of the world seems to be ever more encroachment of light into the sky but also more solutions like “dark-sky friendly” light fixtures and lower color temperature LED bulbs. “Looking Up!: Celebrating 30 Years of Dark-Sky Advocacy” was the theme of the conference which the organizers said had two meanings. The call to look up at the sky above us and the optimism that exists among advocates that real solutions exists to current problems.
One of the more astonishing successes was reported by Bill Wren, an astronomer at McDonald Observatory in West Texas whose full-time job is protecting the dark skies around the telescopes. He talked of working with the oil and gas industries to mitigate light coming from wells drilled to the north and west of McDonald. Meeting and doing a demonstration project with Stacey Locke, CEO of Pioneer Energy Services led to an article published by the Society of Petroleum Engineers outlining their collaboration.
Nichole Rodriguez from the IDA Phoenix chapter and University of Utah researcher Daniel Mendoza discussed how light pollution impacts urban communities. Rodriguez spoke on how to approach local governments and communities to adopt 2700 kelvin LED street lights. Mendoza showed data from Salt Lake City on socioeconomic differences in neighborhoods and how streetlights are placed.
Representatives from state, federal, university and non-profit agencies from Utah explored their multi-tiered effort to promote dark skies.
Christopher Kyba, a Canadian working at the German Research Center for Geoscience gave one of the more entertaining talks on the role of citizen science and advocacy in mitigating artificial light. Chris ended his presentation by singing a reworked Bob Dylan classic titled, “The lights they are a changin’”.
Author Paul Bogard (The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light) read exerts from his book and told more stories about his search for dark skies in a keynote address.
Just before outgoing Executive Director J. Scott Feierabend gave the closing remarks, Sky & Telescope senior editor J. Kelly Beatty introduced me to the group and I showed a selection of the night sky photos, many from the dark sky sites talked about at the meeting.
Though the meeting was officially over, talk about lighting and the sky continued into lunch and a late-afternoon presentation of the SKYGLOW Project by filmmakers Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan.
Though we are all in one of the most light polluted countries in the world, the meeting did give hope that individuals and groups can make a difference in maintaining our view of the stars.