WE SHOULD PRESERVE ACCESS TO THE NIGHT SKY
2019. By Dharsanie Rampersaud
Growing up, I was fortunate and still am to relish in the beauty and grandeur of the night sky. Whatever I’m today is because of the perspectives I have gained by looking at the night sky, and contemplating my place in the cosmos. Yet that opportunity is not accessible to everyone. Light pollution is quietly robbing people of what could be the greatest scientific and spiritual experience they could ever have- simply looking up and humbly wondering what could be their place in the universe.
We are fortunate that this form of pollution has not plagued our beautiful Guyana greatly yet. But we have not escaped it either. Light pollution is slowly but surely creeping up in the more populated areas of Guyana. I live in hustling Skeldon in the county of Berbice. Nowadays, I crave for a GPL blackout in the night simply because that is when I get to see the night sky blazing in all its glory with the majestic Milky Way cutting across the sky. Luckily, on a normal night, I still get to see a plethora of constellations set like diamonds across the black velvet sky. To top that, Guyana is home to numerous rural landscapes, vast forested areas and some very high mountains. We have dark skies almost everywhere. In addition to being mostly free from light pollution, our country is also located at a unique vantage point.
Sitting next to the equator, Guyana gets the best of both worlds- the skies of the northern hemisphere as well as those of the southern hemisphere. The night sky is the most wonderful panorama in all of nature. Our starlit black sky is the most culturally and naturally pristine resource we own. We can scrutinize why in another essay. As a growing nation, we have the responsibility to preserve our dark sky and to not allow light pollution to diminish it. Fortunately for our planet, light pollution is that one form of pollution which is easy to remediate – it is entirely irreversible.
In our imaginations, a developed country must be ‘bright’. Urbanization seems to be the hallmark of development. If a country is urbanized, it is apparently thriving, prosperous and progressive. Except, with urbanization and the glare urbanization brings, we blot out the grandest spectacle of nature happening overhead. Bright is not better. Filling up the sky with artificial light cannot be the yardstick countries measure development with. Sure, Guyana is not the most developed of countries, and we have a long way to go yet economically and socially but we have something great. And having bright skies will take that great thing away from us. What we have is a rich starry dark sky to awaken curiosity, imagination and exploration in our people.
Admittedly, Guyana won’t be going to the stars anytime soon. At least not literally. Nevertheless, we can still go there philosophically- if we look up. See, it’s not urban life and lights that will make us great. It is our modesty, our simplicity, our urges for explorations and our culture that will present our nation with the possibility of achieving greatness. But, when we look up, the stars must be there. No obscurity. Majority of Guyanese seem unaware that we will gradually, like the rest of the world, lose our starry night sky if we do not shield it from man’s squandering illuminations. We have to show our parents, our children, our colleagues, our neighbours, our friends, our teachers and our students how unequivocally beautiful the night sky is.
Raising awareness and educating Guyanese citizens is of paramount importance if we are to combat light pollution and retain our dark night sky. Essay competitions like these and associations like the Guyana Amateur Association are the launching pads to what can be a consciousness nationally. When people truly know and appreciate the value of preserving the sky, they will take responsibility and play their parts in the effort to tackle light pollution. With education, we will eliminate ignorance and illuminate, not the sky, but a passion and love for it.
In the quest to minimize light pollution, every little step counts. With bigger problems like socio-economic issues and more adverse environmental challenges, light pollution might not be high in our government’s list of priorities. As citizens, we have the potential to lessen the load on our policy makers when it comes to beating light pollution. It is our individual actions that will create ripples across the streets, towns and ultimately the country. To address this problem, we do not have to live in the dark. We do, however, have to ensure that we design and set up efficient lighting systems that will not threaten to hide away our starry heaven. So how do we do that? Simple approaches, really.
We should only illuminate areas that need to be lit. We should turn off the light when we do not need it. We should use lights with motion sensors, and with dimmers. We should screen interior lights. We should set the lights at suitable angles so that light wastage is minimized. For instance, our outdoor lights can be fixed to cast light downwards. We should replace those outdoor lights with low glare fixtures. We should use warm coloured, reduced wattage, energy efficient bulbs. We should plan ‘switch off light’ days and advocate actions against light pollution in our neighborhoods. Most importantly, we should always be conscious that artificial light has a dark side, pun intended. These will all be small steps for us but giant strides for our nation as we attempt to connect with the universe.
There is so much to gain by ensuring that man made light does not mask star light. Looking at the sky is the most uplifting experience of all. It is therapeutic. Most days, I long for meaning and purpose in life. I am sure most people do. Looking at the night sky reminds me that I am a participant in something colossal, rare and beautiful. Our hidden Guyana is capable of so much greatness. The Guyanese night sky might be one of the best in the world. Alas, unknown. Let us recognize the unique opportunity we have to be a country brimming with dark skies, and let us safeguard these skies. Our starry black night skies will take us on great voyages- voyages to the stars as well as voyages within ourselves. What more could Guyanese want? What more could humans want?
Originally submitted for the Amateur Astronomers Association of Guyana Summer Essay Competition.