Not so terribly long ago, people everywhere experienced nights so black that even the Milky Way could cast shadows on the earth. According to some estimates, around 80 percent of people now live under night skies so polluted by artificial light that they’ve never seen the Milky Way at all.
As with many aspects of modern life, light pollution represents both a triumph of technology and a minor disaster. Along with increased safety, convenience and economic benefits, an artificially lit world brings heath problems, environmental degradation and another layer of inefficient energy consumption. It also disrupts a fundamental relationship that has evolved between humans and the natural world. Far from the province just of goblins and bandits, historians such as A. Roger Ekrich have noted how darkness influenced cultural and social practices. The territory of intimacy and imagination, night can also carve out a refuge from the never-ending responsibilities of the day.
This notion, that night is an integral, and profound, part of the human experience, not merely a few inconvenient hours away from the sun, underpins author Paul Bogard’s impassioned defense The End of Night: Searching for Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light.
In the book, Bogard, who teaches creative nonfiction and environmental writing at James Madison University, and often lectures on the subject of light pollution, charts a geography of night across Western Europe and North America in which the maj...