The Point of No Return

21st August 2023

Can the lighting profession survive the new public awareness of the problems of light pollution? Dr. Karolina M. Zielinksa-Dabkowska investigates.

This article reviews various recent publications and initiatives to extend our understanding about the impact of light pollution on the natural world, human health, flora, fauna, and the night sky. Consequently, it’s clear an immediate change in design practice of the lighting profession is required because new approaches for external illumination are generally worsening lighting conditions instead of improving.

Based on recent research, light pollution has increased annually by almost 10%, prohibiting visibility of stars in the night sky [1]. When this statistic is compared with other findings from 2016, and the estimates made then of 2% – there’s a significant increase [2]. Unfortunately, this type of pollution has generally not been considered a threat by regulatory bodies, local and regional decision makers. However, this attitude has started to slowly change more recently.

To better understand the overall impact of this type of pollution on biodiversity, in December 2022, the European Commission announced a research call under Horizon Europe Framework Programme in order to monitor and mitigate its adverse effects on the conservation status of species and habitats affected. It was titled “Impact of light and noise pollution on biodiversity” [3], and €7m will be awarded to two project teams – one covering terrestrial (both urban and rural areas), and the other aquatic (fresh water and marine environments). These two projects will start in January 2024, and they will last four years. Based on their outcomes, European Parliament will introduce the necessary regulations. The consortium partners building these two teams will be officially announced in autumn. The results of the project are expected to contribute to the following outcomes:

• The impact of light pollution on biodiversity and ecosystem services is better understood, and nature restoration activities, as planned in the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030, are supported.

• Private and public stakeholders become more aware of the impacts of light on biodiversity.

• Specific measures are developed to assess, prevent and mitigate the negative impacts from light on biodiversity.

• Networking capacity is built around the impacts of light on biodiversity.

Then in June this year, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in the special section of their peer-reviewed academic journal Science Magazine, called “Light Pollution”, published review articles and a policy forum [4]. This recent issue confirmed the gravity and relevance of the topic, as this weekly journal publishes top research themes from around the world.

In the “Measuring and monitoring light pollution: Current approaches and challenges” publication, researchers investigated measuring and monitoring methods of artificial light at night (ALAN) both from the ground (including single-channel photometers, all-sky cameras, and drones), and through remote sensing by satellites in Earth’s orbit. Moreover, the authors identified several shortcomings and challenges in current measurement approaches [5]. Another review, called “Effects of anthropogenic light on species and ecosystems”, discussed the impact of man-made light on mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and plants, and how solutions and new technologies could minimise these negative ecological effects [6].

Adverse aspects of outdoor lighting on human health were discussed in “Reducing nighttime light exposure in the urban environment to benefit human health and society”. This covered impacts such as eye strain, stress to the visual system, circadian desynchrony, sleep disruption and suppression of melatonin secretion, and included the increased risk of developing chronic diseases. Moreover, critical areas for future research were identified, and recent policy steps and recommendations were introduced for mitigating light pollution in the urban environment [7].

The topic of the impact of artificial light at night, radio interference, and the deployment of satellite constellations were also analysed in “The increased effects of light pollution on professional and amateur astronomy” [8]. Lastly, an article in the policy forum called “Regulating light pollution: More than just the night sky” examined the hard and soft laws connected to light pollution in the European Union, France, Korea and the UK [9].

Most notably, the cover of this magazine featured a wild little penguin silhouetted against the brightly illuminated city of Melbourne.

On the 12 July, 2023, the European Parliament passed a new nature restoration law [10] to boost biodiversity and climate action, and terms such as “light pollution” and “artificial lighting” were used throughout this document [11].

Moreover, earlier this year, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee of the UK Parliament conducted an oral public inquiry into the effects of artificial light and noise on human health [12]. In the published report, the committee reported evidence for claims made about the effects of artificial light on human health, the inadequacy of the existing policy and regulatory framework for addressing light pollution in the UK, and options for reform to address any harmful effects that were identified [13]. Based on all the information provided, the committee confirmed that light pollution is “poorly understood and poorly regulated”. Representatives of the lighting profession were present as witnesses: Guy Harding, Technical Manager from the Institution of Lighting Professionals; Allan Howard, Past-President of the Institution of Lighting Professionals; Stuart Morton, Professional Head of Highways and Aviation Electrical Design at Jacobs; Andrew Bissell, President of the Society of Light and Lighting.

The Way Forward

In the past, misinformation on various lighting related topics has been spread by many companies. A good example is the “ban the bulb” initiative where, for example, lamp manufacturers tried to convince lighting professionals and the general public that compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) were the best light sources to be used due to their energy savings, instead of the old-fashioned General Lighting Service (GLS) incandescent lamp. Not only that, but they were also falsely promoted as healthy and environmentally conscious. We know now the folly of those claims, as the lamps contained harmful mercury in liquid and gas form, and there was also no proper process for recycling. The same could be said about the ban of incandescent sources for LEDs. We now know that many people cannot tolerate LED lighting technology, and yet, we’ve gone ahead with the banning of this safe and side effect-free light source, without anything else comparable to take its place.

In order to understand the current situation on light pollution, objective unbiased research is therefore necessary, so we can act and apply this new knowledge in our lighting projects. In order to do so, a few steps are required: quantifying the effects of light pollution has to be established first, then specific lighting level targets need to be set, and it should be a priority to create a framework for regulations. Applying the ROLAN manifesto in lighting projects can be a starting point to minimise the impact of the polluting effects of LED lighting technology. Another way to learn about this important topic and be informed about responsible outdoor lighting, and how to apply it in day-to day lighting practice, is to watch recordings from the inaugural ROLAN conference [14]. These recordings connect both research and practice, and they are provided free of charge. This work utilises the immense depth of knowledge, expertise, and innovation that currently exists, in order to broaden horizons, increase understanding, and improve communication on the topic of light pollution. The ultimate aim is to facilitate much-needed collaboration and support to improve lighting practice, and to also enhance research, as well as networking opportunities between researchers, practitioners and manufacturers in order to enable responsible illumination in our towns and cities.


1. C. C. M. Kyba, Y. Ö. Altıntaş, C. E. Walker, M. Newhouse, Citizen scientists report global rapid reductions in the visibility of stars from 2011 to 2022. Science 379, 265–268 (2023).

2. F. Falchi, P. Cinzano, D. Duriscoe, C. C. M. Kyba, C. D. Elvidge, K. Baugh, B. A. Portnov, N. A. Rybnikova, R. Furgoni, The new world atlas of artificial night sky brightness. Sci. Adv. 2, e1600377 (2016).

3. Impact of light and noise pollution on biodiversity. Available online: (accessed on 31 July 2023).

4. K. T. Smith et al. Losing the darkness. Science 380,1116-1117 (2023).

5. M.Kocifaj et al. Measuring and monitoring light pollution: Current approaches and challenges. Science 380,1121-1124 (2023).

6. A.K. Jägerbrand, K. Spoelstra, Effects of anthropogenic light on species and ecosystems. Science 380, 1125-1130 (2023).

7. K. M. Zielinska-Dabkowska et al. Reducing nighttime light exposure in the urban environment to benefit human health and society. Science 380, 1130-1135 (2023).

8. A. M. Varela Perez. The increasing effects of light pollution on professional and amateur astronomy. Science 380,1136-1140 (2023).

9. M. Morgan-Taylor, Regulating light pollution: More than just the night sky. Science 380, 1118-1120 (2023).

10. New Nature Restoration Law boosts biodiversity and climate action across Europe. Available online: (accessed on 31 July 2023).

11. Nature Restoration Law. Available online: (accessed on 31 July 2023).

12. Call for Evidence. Available online: (accessed on 31 July 2023).

13. Light and noise pollution are “neglected pollutants” in need of renewed focus. Available online: (accessed on 31 July 2023).

14. ROLAN 22 Video Access – Registration. Available online: (accessed on 31 July 2023).

Nowadays, with extensive utilisation of outdoor electric lighting, the majority of human beings on Earth no longer experience darkness at night (Image: viagalactica/unsplash)