I flinch when I read the words “vanished” darkness as I have been fortunate to see truly dark skies in the American West and in other remote areas. Yet I understand what Paul Bogard professes when he says that the dark sky is “vanishing”. In his treatise aptly titled The End of Night, Bogard brings attention to the fact that generations born now don’t even know what they have lost when it comes to describing a dark and starry sky as light pollution is commonplace. How can you protect something that you don’t even know you are losing?
The End of Night presents a compelling argument for a resource that needs protecting; darkness. Through his book, Bogard not only paints a dire picture of a future without darkness but also calls for readers to take action by rekindling an inherent love for wild places and their connection to darkness.
Light Pollution as Metaphor or The End Of Night
One of the main culprit’s to rampant and ever growing light pollution is unregulated and widespread lighting. Examples of this lighting can be found both commercially and in homes across the world. Parking lots with widespread beams that are on all night. Homes with security lights and wall packs flooding into their neighbors living rooms. These lights make us feel safer from the monsters and robbers who roam at night but Bogard reveals that the research says otherwise. This harmful and wholly inherited stigma related to more lighting and less crime is detrimental to our health and clouds the skies with escaping light; obscuring even some of the more distant and darkest skies.
As a metaphor, light pollution is an example of a perennial and contemporary issue in society today; waste and excess. This waste and excess has unfortunately long been both a marker of industrialized society but more importantly speaks to a mindset that characterizes society today – ignorant of the impact and blind to the future. Though, when it comes to conservation, most people think of wildlife populations, carbon emissions, and rising sea levels, Bogard and other conservationist’s stress that dark skies are another metric in which to measure the impact of human’s on the environment.
Why protect the Sky?
Bogard and others before him stress that the night sky and darkness is not something just to be appreciated for it’s beauty. Aesthetics aside, the night sky is one of the last wild places. Why preserve Wildness? Like quality sleep is essential for the human body, wildness is essential for preserving the world and the biome we call home. It is a quality much taken for granted until you notice when it is lacking. Bogard stresses the world that exists after dark and how this wildness is essential for sustainable life.
Aside from impacting the nocturnal world and the species that exist after dark, by taming the night sky and flooding it with excess light, we disconnect ourselves from the lessons we can learn from wild places. Philosophers and conservationist’s emphasize that on an existential level, our ability as a species to question our place in the universe keeps us humble and moral as our significance is clearly before us every night. We disconnect ourselves from the rest of the universe when we cloud the night sky.
National Parks as Reservoirs
Without action, we will continue down our blind path of waste and excess. Light pollution is only one example of this mindset. Concerning darkness, Bogard introduces many organizations that are fighting to preserve darkness and wildness across the world. Groups like the International Dark Sky Association have already made strides in spreading awareness in order to preserve swathes of land and sky for future generations. Bogard stresses that the National Park Service is one such opportunity for night sky preservation and “Dark Sky Reservoirs”. These preserved pockets of darkness are not invulnerable however. As we know, unprotected lighting from neighboring cities encroaches on even the darkest skies today. An increase in awareness and a change in values, values that stress long term conservation of our finite resources as well as the impact of our decisions on the rest of the world, must be adopted by individuals and organizations alike to preserve the night sky for future generations.
“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise” – Aldo Leopold
“Night, full of newly created stars that leave
Trails of fire streaming from their seams
As they soar in inaudible adventure
Through interstellar space:
how, overshadowed by your all-embracing vastness,
I appear minute! —-
Yet, being one with the ever more darkening earth,
I dare to be in you.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
“…Though it is now dark, the wind still blows and roars in the wood, the waves still dash, and some creatures lull the rest with their notes. The repose is never complete. The wildest animals do not repose, but seek their prey now; the fox, and skunk, and rabbit, now roam the fields and woods without fear. They are Nature’s watchmen, – links which connect the days of animated life.” – Thoreau
Similar Books/Further Reading
Walden by Thoreau, Henry David
The Outermost House by Beston, Henry
The Forest Unseen by Haskell, David
Paul Bogard’s Website
Previous Commonplace Book Entries