09 January 2008

A Light to the World?

Bountiful Utah Temple by tephdra

Anyone who has seen an LDS Temple at night can confirm its beauty and how it stood out as a "light to the world". Unfortunately, this literal interpretation of scripture has a significant downside which many are unaware of. It's called light pollution, and is a global problem that provides the Church a wonderful opportunity to take a leading role and set an example to the world of its concern for the environment. One building may seem like a small gesture, but taking into account how the Church lights the thousands of Temples and Chapels around the world, and this represents a significant issue. Does our symbolic need to be a light to the world outweigh our damage to the environment and waste of energy?

There are various forms of light pollution - Light trespass is unwanted light spilling onto others property. Over-illumination is the excessive use of light. Glare is caused when there is high contrast between bright and dark areas in your field of view. And sky glow is what happens typically at the scale of a city or metropolis.

Ways to reduce light pollution include improved fixtures, adjusted light sources, redesigned lighting plans, use of timers, etc. In this and other ways, lighting can be used more efficiently and with less waste.

Additionally, the Church is starting to use LED strings of Christmas lights for some of its holiday light shows. The Deseret News reported that Temple Square is beginning to use LED strings. And the Washington Post stated, “The Festival of Lights at the Mormon Temple in Kensington has replaced more than three-fourths of its half-million lights and hopes to finish the rest next year.” While they may cost slightly more than standard Christmas lights, they are cool to the touch, use only 10% of the energy of a standard incandescent bulb, and are virtually indestructible, lasting for many years. If you are interested for your home you can check out http://www.holidayleds.com/.

Probably more urgent than energy consumption, though, is the affect light pollution has on the surrounding environment. The main concern appears to be the disruption of nocturnal animals and migrating birds. This also begs for an increased density in our cities, rather than spreading out endlessly, but that is another discussion. Both birds and reptiles are at risk according to this National Geographic article. And the article, Is light pollution killing our birds? talks about how we are killing off the insects which many bird species rely on.

A Science News article by Ben Harder states, "A few trees that fail to show fall colors, or extra moths that become bat food aren't necessarily going to catalyze public opinion against light pollution." "However", says Kenneth D Frank, "when people consider that disturbing one component of an ecosystem may have ramifications for many other organisms, the case for reducing light pollution begins to look more compelling."

Harder concludes, "There are other signs that light pollution is entering public awareness. To commemorate the victims of the terrorist attacks, New York City beamed two pillars of light into the Manhattan sky from the former site of the World Trade Center. The memorial fomented some concern about its effects on spring bird migrations. Fortunately, the memorial's architects had taken ecological effects into account. After consulting the city's Audubon Society about peak migration times, they scheduled it to shut off each night at 11 p.m. and to operate only through April 13."

So it appears that there are ways to be a light to the world without also damaging the environment at the same time. All it requires is knowledge and action.

International Dark-Sky Association - Utah Section
Great images of light pollution
Utah Birds


Mr. Fob said...

I had no idea that light pollution could affect things like bird migration patterns. Fascinating.

When we went to Temple Square in Salt Lake this holiday season we noticed that there seemed to be fewer lights than we remembered seeing in the past. Do you know if there has been a purposeful effort to cut down a bit for energy reasons?

green mormon architect said...

Good question - I have not heard if they are scaling back, but will look into it. At the least, converting all to LED's would be a huge step in the right direction - plus it will save money, so it is a win-win.

Latter-Day Sustainablist said...

GMA - thanks for finding my blog. It is great to have some company in the LDS/Sustainability niche. Here is a link to company in Golden, CO who report to have conducted an energy analysis on a prototype LDS meetinghouse.

You and Mr. Fob may find it to be interesting.

green mormon architect said...

L-DS, this is a great find. Thanks for linking to it. I will be interested to see if this is adopted even on a limited basis. To my knowledge, no Church-owned buildings have received a LEED designation thus far. I would bet that the results would be cost-saving over the life of a church building. Initial costs may be more, but money saved over the life of the project would probably outweigh that.

The other challenge I foresee is having to deal with local climates. As an example, energy-saving strategies are very different in a desert vs. a forest vs. the coast. It would make sense to have several climate-based standards which could be applied to whichever local environment was most appropriate.

It would be a great day in the Church if they move forward with this, in my opinion. If LEED ratings were applied to all new and remodeled Church buildings in the USA, the impact would be enormous (both for the environment and for the Church).

LDS Anarchist said...

Just want to say that the lds "green perspective" is welcome. I wish more LDS were green-minded, too. I look forward to reading more of your interesting posts on this blog.

green mormon architect said...

lds anarchist - thanks for stopping by - your comments are always welcome.

Anonymous said...

As the person who took the picture that is being used here in your blog entry (tephdra - or Stephen Shelton as they call me in the real world), I just wanted to say thanks. Thanks for using it in this context. Light pollution has always been a pet-peeve of mine (I'd like to see some stars please). It's a funny position I'm in when I see how beautiful the temple looks (I am LDS), even with all that light, but at the same time I'm shaking my head because of all the waste.

green mormon architect said...

Stephen (tephdra) - the image you took is fabulous. It was a real eye-opener to me. I agree with you that I love seeing the temples lit up at night, but the image you took shows us the cost for such a position. I think simple things like downlighting rather than uplighting and putting the lights on timers would go a long way towards improving the situation while still maintaining some lighting on the temples at night. Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

I have climbed Mt. Timpanogos 400 times, often before dawn. As you go from the "dark" (east) side of the mountain to the "light" (west) side of the mountain, the mountain is palpably lit by the city below. And the single biggest light that caches your eye is the (ironically) the Timpanogos temple. From 7,000 feet above it is not distinct as a temple, but rather an annoying and bright distraction.

Gordon B. Hinckley once referred to a boyhood experience when he was in the back of a wagon looking at the stars. From this he spun his "polestar" metaphor, now used as a teaching tool. Many youth in the LDS church cannot relate to that lesson because they cannot see the stars from their homes. The LDS church has not caused this abhorrent situation, but has not mitigated it, either, and exacerbates it--greatly--with temple lighting.

It strikes me that a dialogue with the church architect should commence to rectify this situation. Education about dark sky policy and needs goes much further than fulminating about it. Just like a child that needs to be taught table manners, we should with love and patience guide the church to the knowledge that current temple lighting is inappropriate and sends the opposite message than what is intended, especially to those not members of the church who may be conscious of high carbon footprint, light pollution, and profligate energy waste in a time of energy and economic scarcity.

Seth Connors said...

Hi Stephen Shelton, I really like the picture of the Bountiful temple that you have on this blog! I was just wondering if I could use this image for a class project I am doing at BYU-Idaho? It will not be used to make money or anything like that, simply for learning how to use photoshop. I would really appreciate it if I had your permission. Thank you!

Kevin "The Dark Ranger" Poe said...

Great Post Green Mormon! I'm now a follower. Thanks for pushing my favorite cause "light pollution" so gracefully on such a delicate topic as divine light of LDS Temples.

Perhaps you'll like my vid on the subject.



The Dark Ranger