Although the Ford Field LED display and LED streetlights in Detroit were heralded as achievements of innovation and safety, the light pollution they produce could cause the city some problems.
The LED streetlights, which were installed in December, were described by Mayor Mike Duggan as a “sign of hope” for the city’s rebirth, but despite all the attention they received, little conversation surrounded their adverse effects. One of the more perceptible losses, starry nights, has been disheartening for many, including Charles Nielsen, president of the University Lowbrow Astronomers Club in Ann Arbor.
“There would have been a time that even in downtown Ann Arbor, you would have been able to see the Milky Way,” Nielsen said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press. “You have to get to a fairly dark site now to see it.”
The light pollution could have ecological effects as well, as evidence suggests that large-scale deaths in bird and insect populations have occurred because of the influx of blue-toned light. Additionally, the internal clock of the human body needs darkness to function, but the prevalence of screens and LED fixtures makes darkness is a rarity.
John Barentine, program manager for the International Dark Sky Association, told the Detroit Free Press, these large-scale changes are not unprecedented.
“Like in many other ways, as humanity, we have caused great, landscape-scale changes to the world, particularly in the last century or so,” Barentine said. “One of the ways is, we’ve fundamentally altered the nighttime landscape through the use of artificial light. That has so many impacts, and it goes beyond just being able to see stars in the night sky.”
The Ford Field light display, which cast a purple glow in the Detroit sky, faced many complaints about light pollution, prompting a petition that received over 1,200 signatures. The chief complaint was that the multi-million dollar display was not productive, causing major light pollution with no benefit other than its aesthetics. The light show was dimmed down in response.
Christopher Kyba, a scientist at the German Research Center for Geoscience in Potsdam, told the Detroit Free Press the goal of decreasing light pollution is simply to make it productive.
“The goal with all of these things is not to make things dark; it’s to have the right light, in the right place, at the right time,” Kyba said.