For the week of March 31, 1999  thru April 6, 1999  

Behold the dark skies

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

In its eternal and frantic attempt to improve on Mother Nature, humankind has wrought some pretty indecent damage to the most precious environmental gifts.

The tales of poisoned drinking water and air are legion. Ditto the history developers destroying America’s woodlands and southwestern desert to erect communities of ticky-tacky housing and strip malls, the next century’s slums.

Now the bill is due. Billions piled on top of billions of dollars are being shelled out by industry, government and working stiffs to salvage what we can of the mess, with only marginal success.

One form of irreparable environmental abuse given scant little attention is light pollution –a clear nighttime view of brilliant galaxies in the universe, blotted out by the fetish for garish lighting of businesses and homes.

The Wood River Valley so far has escaped that hideousness fate, just as crisp, pure air and pristine water continue to be signature treasures of the area.

But the debate is underway about light pollution, embodied in the so-called Dark Skies ordinance.

The kid in me continues to marvel at what the skies here yield on a clear night – what seem to be rare jewels sprinkled on a black velvet carpet, so close they can be snatched out of the sky by human hands.

I’ve yet to see a neon sign or tree lighting to equal that.

May we assume our elected officials to whom we entrust the future also understand that, and will resist any attempt by interests whose eyes are on the profit and loss statement down here, and not on the heavens up there?

Those of us who’re expatriates from the frantic urban pace can attest to the irreparable loss of nighttime skies. My own former town of metropolitan Phoenix is gaudy with lights.

Sensible folks just 100 miles south from there in Tucson had the foresight, however, to restrict upward lighting – and the Tucson area now has one of the world’s greatest concentrations of astronomical observatories studying the skies.

Sure, even our community needs outdoor lighting – for security on the public streets, for example. But how it’s installed and whether lighting shines upward is the issue that needs to be strictly regulated.

The line between necessity and excessiveness is crossed when lighting becomes a tool for dazzling passersby and gaudily hyping a commercial establishment – as Las Vegas joints do to make the visiting suckers believe they’re in a fairyland.

We have our own fairyland, thank you. On moonlit nights, we can stand back and take in the breathless sight of Bald Mountain and the white ribbons that’re ski runs.

And while at it, we can stand outside, whiff air so pure it should be bottled for the unfortunates in Los Angeles, look upward and behold a sight reserved only for lucky people.

And thank our lucky stars for that.


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