Pollution is a word that seems to walk hand in hand with our modern society. From ocean plastics to greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuels, we are making a strong mark living the lives we do. But one source of pollution that is rarely discussed, but one that forms a fascinating statement, is light pollution.
According to Wikipedia, “Light pollution is the presence of anthropogenic and artificial light in the night environment. It is exacerbated by excessive, misdirected or obtrusive use of light, but even carefully used light fundamentally alters natural conditions.” In other words, the generation of light from man-made sources. Namely electricity.
At this particularly uncertain time, when most of the world is isolating and practising social distancing, we felt there was no better time than now to explore global data with particular reference to human impact. While this data isn’t virus related, it does give a strong visual context to worldwide information, and helps echo the sentiment that we are all in this together.
Using the ‘Night Time Lights’ data set from the experts at NASA / NOAA / NCEI / EOG & DMSG (2010), our GIS Cartographer Heiko Lang created a colour composite of the 3 years explored in this detailed data set. 1992, 2000 and 2008 each tell a unique story with strong global context, and when assigned their own identifying colour, we can explore particular areas of light pollution with historic and geographic significance.
1992 = Blue, 2000 = Green, 2008 = Red.
The contrast of colour has been enhanced to show all the detected lights worldwide, including the dim lighting often detected in populated rural areas. The locations that had bright lighting in all three years are visualised in white. There are many rural areas in India and elsewhere that have a bronze colour, this indicates they had no detected lighting in 1992, and just dim lighting detected in both 2000 and 2008.
It’s when we see this data visualised in confronting colours that we are able to truly grasp global connections, and in this instance, the power of global light pollution. To see a significant amount of the world in bright white, we know light pollution has been a consistent part of modern society since atleast the early 90’s, especially over densely populated areas like the UK, the West and East Coasts of the United States, Japan, Brazil and mainland Europe. We can also see other interesting features worth highlighting:
1. Blue Lights in the Former USSR (1992)
Notice the areas of blue lighting in several parts of the Former Soviet Union? This is the result of the USSR’s collapse in the mid-1990's. The loss of reduction in night light from 1992 to 2000 and 2008, showcased by the lack of green or red colouring, illustrates the loss of light after the USSR’s collapse into 15 independent countries.
“The final act began at 4:50 PM on Sunday, August 18, 1991. Soviet Pres. Mikhail Gorbachev was at his dacha in the Crimean resort of Foros when he was contacted by four men requesting an audience… They had come to demand, in the name of the State Committee for the State of Emergency in the U.S.S.R., that Gorbachev sign a document declaring a state of emergency and transferring power to his vice president, Gennady Yanayev.” (Britannica)
2. Red Lights in Eastern China (2008)
Notice the areas of red lighting covering the Eastern coast of China?
This illustrates growth in the coastal cities, and perhaps a sign of the real estate boom in the country in that decade - which has only continued into recent years.
“How these cities found themselves here is a confluence of urbanization and the promise of quick capital gains. Some 90 million people have relocated from rural areas since 2012, encouraged by better job prospects and policies aimed at giving migrant workers social welfare that’s more akin to urban dwellers. Some local governments, for example, have eased access to schools and hospitals, privileges traditionally enjoyed by residents born in those cities.” (Bloomberg)
3. White Lights in Mainland Europe (1992,2000,2008)
Notice the bright white across most of mainland Europe?
This could be the result of the synchronous grid of Continental Europe being the largest synchronous electrical grid (by connected power) in the world. It could also be the result of fossil fuels and electricity produced from natural and derived gas.
“Fossil fuels continue to dominate the EU-28 electricity mix… The electricity produced from natural and derived gas increased by 142% between 1990 and 2013, at an average rate of 3.9% per year. The use of these fuels increased rapidly between 1990 and 2005 (+8.0% per year) but, on average, it decreased from then on (-3.3% per year). The observed coal-to-gas switch during the nineties was driven by several factors, including greater health and environmental concerns, consistently falling gas prices in the late 1980s and 1990s, and the attractiveness of combined-cycle gas plants.” (eea.europe)
There is no doubt that our human impact on the planet is one we can no longer hide from. So, while we remain focussed on reducing that impact – for the likes of Climate Change – it’s important to note other impacts too, like light pollution. As we have said before, this is one world and it must be a collective effort to reduce pollution of any kind.
Thank you to Heiko for visualising this ‘Night Time Lights’ data set, and for always being committed to telling data stories with global significance.
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