Sitting in Stockholm’s Airport I try to rap up these last three days. I must say everything went much above expectations. I met a few remarkable people, Tor Nørretranders and Abraham Haim in the first place. But also a group of young lighting designers with an open minded approach. I was surprised by the number of times natural light was mentioned while talking about night environment. And the need for making a step backwards, the need of getting back in touch with darkness.
Although I had made my point very clear on the first day, I had one more occasion yesterday, after the talk of a Japanese professor who described the way they are going to refurbish the lights in a large Asian metropolis. This town, which I will not name here, certainly does not suffer from insufficient lighting. They just want to make it more glamorous, bright, attractive.
I could not stand this, because the message which was passing was extremely dangerous, especially for the young generation.
So, I raised my hand. The moderator was quite reluctant to accept the question, and he was suggesting to have it at the end of the session, during the panel discussion. But no: that was the right moment. I stood up and I simply said what I thought. In very clear terms, I believe. “In ancient times, men used to declare their superiority showing off certain parts of their bodies. Today, to do the same, we use photons”.
There was quite some laughter in the audience, but that was not my purpose. The speaker probably did not even get the point, which the moderator had to explain, adding that probably this would require a longer discussion during the final session.
And so it went. They called me to express my opinion, which was very plain. “Let alone astronomy, now. You could put all the astronomical community in a small village, bomb it and be done with it, once and forever. Here we are talking about something much more general. To me this excess of light is a pure ostentation of richness, power and control. Why on earth are we doing this?”.
The reply by the speaker was very mild, possibly because of the cultural difference. He simply concluded that he did not agree with me. But without saying why. And, personally, I think that made a great service to the cause, so to speak. It was very clear to everybody that the only reason for that absurd increase of lighting level, in a town which is already shining like a Xmas tree, is done for the pure fun of it (and for the profit it produces, I dare to add here).
On the first day, right after me, Abraham Haim (University of Haifa) gave a very worrisome talk about the effects of light pollution on human health. He has been running very serious studies about the incidence of prostate and breast cancer in Israel, finding a very clear correlation between their frequency and the level of night-time illumination. He gave a very clear account on the effects of melatonin production, level of alertness, sleep disruption and so on. He also mentioned the effects on body weight. The experiments show that if one is exposed to light during the night she needs to eat less to gain the same weight. And this is the effect of a modified metabolism. The results have been published in PNAS. Now, next February, his results on breast cancer are going to be published. He says they will make lots of noise…
Finally, this morning, Ann Web, president elected of CIE, gave a keynote speech which, once more, raised the level of awareness on the effects of bad lighting. She started off saying that we should go back to a darker environment. She mentioned the stars, astronomy, animals, human beings. I think the point was hammered down pretty well.
But the best of all was the talk given by a light designer, now working for a large lamp manufacturing company. He started with a nice, poetic and inspiring talk about the beauty of the dark sky, showing satellite pictures of Earth at night, and declaiming how awful this is. Then he showed a really beautiful realization he had done in a museum in Atalanta, together with no less an architect than Renzo Piano. Beautiful, indeed, using daylight in a very effective way. Strange – I thought – where is the trick? And, in fact, the hidden contradiction appeared only in the end. When we were presented with a real showcase. Admittedly not as glamorous as the skyscrapers of that famous Asian town, but still a waterfall of light. Plainly and blatantly throwing light upwards. Contributing to the same satellite pictures he had used at the beginning to capture the audience’s attention.
But he was a very good seller, and the thing was almost camouflaged under architectural beauty and poetry. Almost.
A lady from the audience, probably not tricked by the nice words and the way things were put, made exactly that point. To which the speaker’s reaction was not really convincing.
The guy was not there during the first day (as usual these big shots come just for their talk). He would probably had shaped his presentation in a different way. But that was good, because, once more, it exposed the audience (which much to my delight was quite sensitive to these themes) to the clear contradiction, and the lack of a convincing reason.
In fact, lots of emphasis was given to natural light in this conference. And it was the explicit intention of the organizers to bring together people from other fields, with rather discordant, out of the choir, voices. And those voices were heard very clearly.
In half an hour I will be flying back to Germany. I’m bringing home new faces, thoughts and ideas.