Look to the night sky in Singapore, and you won’t see many stars. The light pollution from artificial lights burning 24/7 across the modern city invades the dark of night. Singapore’s progress in the past 50 years has been widely documented. An unrivalled productivity central to the ethos of the small island nation has turned it into one of Asia’s key financial hubs. It is a city that never sleeps, evident by the sea of lights seen out of an areoplane window.
Office buildings stay illuminated well into the wee hours of the night and public areas and walkways are lit for the safety of pedestrians. About 110,000 street lamps line its alleys, roads and expressways.
A 2016 study by the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute put Singapore as the most polluted nation in the world, adding that it was “not possible to view the Milky Way Galaxy anywhere in the country”. Unsurprisingly, some of the biggest sources of light pollution are Singapore’s container terminals, the airport, and the Marina Bay financial district – the centres of trade, transport and finance.
Although fundamental to urban infrastructure, light pollution has detrimental effects on humans and the environment. Artificial lighting is known to affect the natural circadian rhythm of both humans and wildlife. Ongoing studies and modelling on its broader impact are looking at links to hormone imbalance and diseases, including the occurrence of eye diseases that may be attributed to the mixed sources of light often used in street lighting and advertising.
The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), a US-based nonprofit organisation, is a motivator in what is known as the dark sky movement. It aims to preserve and protect the night-time environment and heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting. The association promotes reducing light pollution by switching off lights when not needed and advocates using warm white LED lights instead of bright cool white ones, as the former have a less adverse impact on humans and wildlife. Motion sensors or timers, correct light shielding so the lights point downwards – which also reduces glare – and placing lights low on walkways are all steps to improve outside lighting.
The IDA also recommends maintaining night darkness at home by turning off electronic devices an hour before going to bed and closing curtains to keep the outside as dark as possible, which also helps prevent bird fatalities. Worldwide, artificial lights and associated light pollution have wide impacts on birds, which often collide with brightly-lit buildings. They also pose a threat to sea turtles. Hatched on beaches, the young must head to the ocean to survive, but they sometimes confuse the city glow with the brighter horizon above the ocean. Millions of young hatchlings die by heading in the wrong and dangerous urban direction each year due to light at night. Dark beaches are also becoming harder to find for sea turtles.
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