The issue of light pollution is an overlooked but important problem. A scientific conference organized by the Light Pollution Think Tank will be used to exchange knowledge about the effects, as well as the fight against light pollution. Piotr Nawalkowski - president of the Polaris-OPP association - talks about clean sky activities and upcoming events.
Wiktor: Let's start with the basics. What does the Light Pollution Think Tank and the Polaris-OPP association do?
Piotr Nawalkowski: To begin with, it is necessary to distinguish between two initiatives. The Polaris-OPP Association has been operating for almost thirty years. The Light Pollution Think Tank, on the other hand, is a venture without a legal form. The legal form is lent by our organization to the activities that have just been initiated as the Light Pollution Think Tank.It is a venture funded by the National Liberty Institute and the Center for Civil Society Development under the PROO4 program, that is, to support civic think tanks to consult, advise in order to make more accurate decisions at the local and governmental levels.We are primarily interested in this in order to draw some attention to the problem of light pollution. The event is hosted by Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, and the main organizer is Professor Mieczyslaw Kunz.
Piotr Nawalkowski - president of the Polaris-OPP association
© Author's Archive
The genesis of the Light Pollution Think Tank came from two sources - ours as activists with a strong track record in the context of effective forms of light pollution reduction and an expert group. We have been able to obtain funding with dissemination of think tank activities, support of conferences, publication or development of a report on light pollution. We are trying to merge this team, thanks to us the first meetings were initiated.
Wiktor: You mentioned what you are dealing with.What have you been able to achieve so far, including in Sopotnia Wielka?
Piotr: This is an extensive topic. At the beginning of our activities at the end of the 1990s, our organization paid attention to the problem of unnecessary light emission in the place where we conducted astronomical observations - in Sopotnia Wielka. The key was the need to act in "our own backyard". We managed to convince some residents and local authorities to reduce artificial light at night, by extinguishing lighting for specific days. The idea was to have better conditions for astronomical observations.
This was not enough, then we solved it by upgrading all street lighting. We managed to convince residents, local youth and local authorities to do this. Protection of dark skies became a local product in the form of astro-tourism. It became part of the local development strategy for the Żywiec region, as well as for our municipality or town. We were the only ones in Poland at the time. The key was to replace the street light, to reduce the escape of light into the upper hemisphere - there was no pollution with the light stream straight into the sky. The entire infrastructure of the locality was modernized.
workshop conducted by OPP Polaris
© Author's archive
Wiktor: What was successful in Sopotnia is translatable to other localities?
Piotr: There is no other model in Poland yet. The modernization of the street light was the beginning. Then the astronomical observatory was built, and the last project was the "Rational Lighting Policy" funded by Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein from the EEA Funds (Active Citizens - Regional Fund). It was successful in raising money for lighting upgrades and working with private owners. About 200 households out of about 400 in the village joined the program. Private infrastructure has also been brought into line with this policy. That's why Sopotnia Wielka is claiming the title of International Dark Sky Community. We have gone through the whole process to win this title. Perhaps we will be the first organization in Poland to obtain this title.
Guidebook published by Light Pollution Think Tank
© Light Pollution Think Tank
Wiktor: How do you assess the level of knowledge about light pollution in Poland. Roughly half of the households in Sopotnia Wielka, however, are a phenomenon. What does it look like on a Polish scale.
Piotr: I would say it's not an evangelism, but the result of thirty years of work, where we simply went from house to house and talked to people. As part of the project, we launched a social dialogue council for night ecology. A team of several people, including representatives and representatives of our community, who raise awareness about the idea of this reduction of light pollution. These effects are visible after several years.
In Poland, it looks much worse. A survey conducted in 2015 indicated that a significant number of people have no idea about light pollution. Many people equate it with wasting electricity - which is only part of the phenomenon, along with things like safety, health or national heritage. We are losing the view of the night sky that was observed by Nicolaus Copernicus, which is worth highlighting in the Year of Copernicus 2023.
Victor: From your perspective, what does the popularization of this topic look like. What barriers do you face as a popularizer of the idea of dark skies?
Peter: It is a river topic. We were the first to start talking about it more loudly. Astronomers noticed this topic back in the 1980s. It's a problem that, until recently, we were perceived as nuts and crazy. We always show an affinity for fighting air pollution. We try to implement systemic solutions. The same approach needs to be taken in terms of outdoor lighting. This is already changing.
Back in the 1990s, lighting companies didn't want to hear about this problem. They produced light sources that emitted light into the sky with low efficiency. Today's LED modules and diodes, which are increasingly commonly installed in our cities and villages, come with a flat glass or module and shine downward. This does not scatter light in all directions. There are also shortcomings related to installation, that is, shining on the stiles, which shine unbeknownst to whom, often people directly into the windows. These are various cases that often arise from the popularization of environmental issues. This is still difficult grassroots work.
Downplaying is also a problem. Some people say that it is enough to make the proverbial "snap" and the problem disappears. That's right, we don't take a "snap" and the problem of water or air pollution disappears. Light pollution is an easier problem to solve. Unfortunately, this "snap" in this case almost never occurs. We condemn ourselves to living in a so-called artificial day. We disrupt our circadian rhythm unknowingly.
A monograph related to this problem has been published in 2022
© Lodz University of Technology
Victor: What is the purpose of the conference you are organizing? Four years ago you published a sizable monograph on the subject. What is the next step?
Piotr: The first goal is to raise awareness and exchange information. It is also important to consolidate the community in a multidisciplinary dimension. It's no longer just astronomers and enthusiasts, but also biologists, architects, geographers, sociologists or lighting designers. We are committed to making the conference a place to exchange experiences. To jointly push for changes in laws to reduce excessive light emissions. This was the subject of the Memorandum issued by the Metropolitan Institute, edited by Katarzyna Szlachetko. It's a document that brilliantly demonstrates the problem and the need to change this state of the law, which is really the lack of legislation to reduce light pollution, which doesn't exist at all. We are fresh from a visit to Slovenia, where you can see how the relevant legislation is making a huge difference. We don't need as much light at all as we think we do. There are more and more examples of responsible regulation of outdoor lighting around the world.
In the country of Nicolaus Copernicus there are no such regulations.
The 7th National Conference on Light Pollution will be held on September 14-15 in Torun, Poland.
© Light Pollution Think Tank
Wiktor: Who will be able to participate in the conference?
Piotr: The spectrum of participants is very large, they are mainly scientists, researchers and people related to the fields I mentioned earlier. There is also a group of people who are interested in this issue occasionally. Mostly employees of offices or institutes, or environmental organizations. We recently extended an invitation to the Ombudsman, who noted the problem. We are counting on the participation of people who have problems with light pollution on a daily basis. To draw attention to this problem in the Copernican year, our institution will exhibit in Toruń a special exhibition of large models of the solar system planets. If we are successful, we will expose nine objects. They will be deliberately described and gently illuminated. We will provide information about light pollution on site.
We talk about light pollution with Piotr Nawalkowski
Photo by Sabina Bajracharya © Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4 0
Wiktor: You mentioned the planets, plans for the conference and publication issues. What are your plans for the future, besides those around the conference.
Peter: We are a non-profit organization. We benefit from grants, grants and funding. It will not be easy, because we want to maintain the existence of this multidisciplinary group, which is a think tank, as part of our activities. Funding for these activities ends this year. We will apply for more grants and continue to try to change the lighting in Sopotnia Wielka to make it even better.
The element that we are preparing is certainly more conferences. There is a quiet idea that it will be held in two years in Gdansk. We hope that government and local authorities will take an interest in this topic.
Wiktor: Thank you for the interview.
You can find more information about the conference on the orgranizer's website.