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Who will guard the dark sky?

Project: Guardians of Dark Sky
Area 3. Building democratic culture and civic engagement at local level (including activism for environment and climate change)

Before you start reading this text deeper, take a look at the pictures below. Amazing, beautiful images, aren’t they? Did you know that the number of places where you can see the starry sky at night is constantly decreasing? Smog is harmful – we know that, but light smog? What is it anyway?, you may ask. Still not many people in Poland know what it is, so why should they even bother? And it’s a phenomenon that threatens plants, animals and people. Did you know about it?

Why stand up for dark skies?

Excessive artificial light at night alters the natural daily cycle. In us humans, it can cause more frequent headaches, fatigue, stress, feelings of restlessness, insomnia. It can also be a factor in breast cancer, by reducing the amount of the hormone melatonin, which is produced at night. Animals lose spatial orientation. The natural relationships between different species begin to change. Acquiring food, reproduction or communication becomes more difficult. Plants do not like light smog either. Lighting in plants causes them to flower, while darkness triggers the need for rest. Furthermore, wasting energy on unnecessary lighting has economic consequences and contributes to climate change. When night is as bright as day, we all lose out.

So it turns out that the night sky needs protection today more than ever. It needs the Guardians of Dark Sky.

They have found a way for people to look at the sky

“Do you want to find out how you can protect the night environment from artificial light pollution? Do you like photography and want to learn how to capture the beauty of the starry sky in a photo? Join us!” – this is how they have announced the call for applications for the project, or rather the call for photographic workshops.

There was no scaremongering, no declarations of an impending climate catastrophe, there was a question: “do you like photography?” The idea was to appeal to what people already engage with, what they enjoy, what they are passionate about. Well, and there were photographs, consistently used in the project’s communication, showing this ‘beauty of the starry sky’ from the announcement. For a person who takes photographs, this could be (and was) a strong message and an attractive promise.

The people working at the Association for Innovation and Technology Transfer “Horyzonty” in Rzeszów and the Non-investment Fund “Teleskop” from Snina in Slovakia are doing a lot to make more and more people aware that light pollution is a problem, just as important as water, air or soil pollution. But they didn’t want to stop there. They wanted to build a civic network, a group of people, whistleblowers, who would be able to document and report the problem of ‘light smog’ to the relevant institutions.

Workshops on both, or combining the pleasant with the useful

There were workshops dedicated to the preparation of cameras and accessories for night-time photography, teaching of night landscape photography, the basics of image processing and the use of dedicated software, the planning of night-time photographic expeditions and their health and safety. There were also discussions about the legal aspects of artificial light pollution, lighting investments and cooperation with local residents, the possibilities of protecting the dark sky in Poland, or promoting the dark starry sky using elements of local culture.

Theoretical classes were interspersed with field activities, sometimes in the nocturnal environment of so-called Dark Sky Parks, i.e. places free from light smog. Among other things, those taking part were able to: experience night sky observation at an astronomical observatory, learn sky photography using telescopes, photograph the Sun and the path of the planets around the observatory. And all this under the guidance of experts and practitioners at the same time.

In Subcarpathia they are already guarding

And they have succeeded. The first network of the Guardians of Dark Sky has been established. It operates in Podkarpacie (Subcarpathia) Province. It consists of nearly 30 people who are able to monitor and report to local authorities and the media the problems associated with the increasing pollution of the environment by artificial light.

Authors of photographs: Marek Sokołowski, Tomasz Ziajor, Tomasz Żurek, Radek Kaźmierczak

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A publication summarising the project:

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