While driving home late one night a few weeks ago, I noticed an eerie, yellow-orange glow in the sky. From far, I thought something had caught fire, but as I drove closer, I realized it wasn’t that at all. Rays of light were coming from tomatoes.
Well, not the tomatoes themselves, but rather, the large-scale commercial greenhouse they were growing in. If they don’t get enough sunlight, which is often the case in the wintertime, artificial lights are used to help them along.
But the success of the plants comes at the expense of the night sky. Bright, colorful hues are the result when it’s overcast, and on a clear night, the light blocks out the stars.
It’s called light pollution, and while it’s a way of life in cities, its sudden rise in rural areas has many people complaining and worried about the impact it has on humans and wildlife alike.
CBC News reports it’s become a real problem for the people of Kingsville, Leamington, and Pelham, three towns in Ontario, Canada. Many complaints are also filing in from Langley, B.C.
These are just some of the breeding grounds for Canada’s latest cash crop: recreational cannabis. Now legal, commercial greenhouses that once grew vegetables now grow marijuana instead. Brand new, massive operations are being built by the day.
Let There Be Light
Of course, like any other crop, cannabis plants have stringent light requirements. In the flowering stage of growth, they need 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. But in the vegetative stage, seedlings or clones often do best with at least 18 hours of light, sometimes more.
I spent some time in both Kingsville and Leamington several months ago and was amazed by just how many greenhouses were either already standing or were in the process of being built.
They’re all you see for miles.
The darkness in those towns has been replaced by orange, yellow, and even purple skies. In Leamington, cannabis company Aphria explained to CBC the color coming from its greenhouse is violet because it uses LED lights, which are better for the environment. So, it’s not all bad.
But a group of residents in Kingsville is complaining the greenhouse glow they see is altering sleep patterns, especially those of children.
They say if noise bylaws exist, rules should exist about light as well.
The same complaints are coming out of Loudon, N.H. where a greenhouse specializing in baby greens at LEF Farms gives off an orange hue seen for miles.
Residents there say the growing operations are going up without much consideration to the environmental impact the change in light has on natural ecosystems.
Why We Need Darkness
The International Dark Sky Association (IDA) says studies have proven artificial lights have a negative impact on amphibians, birds, mammals, insects, and plants.
For nocturnal animals, light pollution turns night into day, which alters the hunting process, and ultimately, their survival.
When lit up at night, wetlands fall silent. Frogs typically begin croaking when the skies turn dark as part of the breeding ritual, and evidence shows brighter skies have impacted reproduction levels.
Artificial lights have also been shown to be fatal to migratory birds, which often fly by moonlight and starlight. Without the natural cues of the universe guiding them, they can either migrate too early or fly off course.
As for humans, the IDA says bright nights throw off our biological clocks, and research has found that can increase our risk of obesity, depression, sleep disorders, diabetes, and even breast cancer.
A Growing Glow
In 2017, a German study revealed that satellite observations over five Octobers show the artificially lit outdoor area on this planet grew by 2% from 2012-2016. That doesn’t even consider the LED-generated color blue, because the satellite is unable to detect it.
In my neck of the woods, dark nights are something I’ve long taken for granted. Are you lucky enough to experience them?
Featured image courtesy of Rensselaer Plateau Life.