As the clocks change for winter, bringing early nightfall, I find myself in a small wood near my home in west Wales, immersed in the cold, listening to the stream’s gentle rush and the rustle of wet leaves. The full moon over the weekend has left the nights luminous, with a faint bluish light casting a gentle glow under the trees. However, my quest tonight is to find true darkness.
Walking in the dark holds a certain allure for me, and I am fortunate to reside in a place where it is safe to do so. Moreover, I am blessed to be in an area where real darkness still exists. Sadly, the same cannot be said for many urban areas, which are increasingly being stripped of their natural darkness. London, for instance, is 24 times brighter than the dark regions of south-west England due to excessive illumination, according to a report by the London Assembly. The effects of light pollution from trunk roads and motorways can even be observed from satellites. But on a moonless night, as I traverse these woods far from the glare of streetlights and houses, the familiar pathways, trees, and contours vanish into obscurity. If I extend my hand in front of me, it remains invisible. My only confirmation of my presence lies in the sensation of my wellies against the earth.
Experiences like this are becoming increasingly rare. Darkness is disappearing from our world at an unprecedented rate, a phenomenon unparalleled in human history. For 80% of the global population (and 99% of the US population), the once breathtaking spectacle of the Milky Way gracing the night sky has vanished into obscurity. While some attempts have been made to combat light pollution, such as New York City’s groundbreaking lights-out laws passed in December 2021, or reductions in illumination on municipal buildings in Germany, France, and Spain, these efforts are insufficient to rectify the harm caused by artificial light.