Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Campaign for Orange Skies

The inevitable and protracted limits to our so far seemingly unstoppable growth are making their presence felt through the abstract of economics. Or if you prefer, the evil Tory cutbacks are having a tangible effect on our local night time environment.

Put simply, our local council have stopped lighting some of our roads, as a means of saving money.

Local Councillor, Leah Fraser (Con) has been inundated with outraged emails decrying the policy. For some of the roads, this policy makes sense. What, after all, is the point of illuminating a deserted industrial estate throughout the hours of darkness? But many of these roads, especially when the evening rush hour occurs in darkness, have become more difficult to negotiate. They're busy. They're pitch black. Drivers are encountering them after driving on well lit urban streets, just as the speed limit goes from 30 to 40, 50, 60, 70. Presumably the Council should close a library or old people's home instead. Or Councillor Leah Fraser should suggest to her parliamentary colleagues that they change their priorities.

Bill Bryson, in his book, "Home" recounts the tale of a Victorian Celebrity having sex on Westminster Bridge in the centre of London, and points out just how dark the pre-industrial world was once the sun had gone down. During the early phase of world war two, no lights were permitted, and crashes caused far more casualties than the Luftwaffe.

Welcome to the future.

Light is a two edged sabre. Without it, crime increases, accidents increase, personal happiness decreases. But light is also a part of the pressure of modern life. Blackbirds sing in the dead of night. Amateur astronomers whinge incessantly. And of course, the likelihood of a zombie apocalypse is brought that much closer.

A reduction in light level is a pain in the arse. Whether driving a car, or reading a book, or darning a sock. It limits our access to visual information. It forces us to slow down. Small wonder that we write irate emails to our politicians and local press.

Necessity being the mother of invention, we've seen big advances in lighting technology over the last decade of so, first with CFC's then with LEDs. My own car has snazzy lights that make us more visible in daylight (when you can see us anyway) I don't know the equations that govern the number of photons reaching the street, and the different methods of producing them. Are LEDs more efficient than sodium vapour? If so, is the capital cost of switching prohibitive? As economies of scale follow the growth in LEDs, would such an equation change over time?

Because of my particular circumstances, between a third and a half of my life is spent travelling along the roads of (mainly) Wirral. On a typical day I work from perhaps 8 in the morning to 7 at night. My hours of work mean I'm making the most of the daytime light at this time of year. My job becomes harder because it it more difficult to see what people are doing (checking mirrors, pressing pedals, etc) This is mitigated by the technology in my car. It has lights that dimly light the footwells. Most cars don't have this. Currently, the light is going by 3.30-4pm, which means a quarter of my working day is done in darkness. If you work in the bowels of an office building from 8-5, you get no daylight apart from what you can snatch at lunch hour. I count my blessings yet again. As far as actually driving on dark roads is concerned, I'm pretty neutral. I teach people how to drive in any situation. If light is needed, I will try to schedule a daytime lesson, or stick to well lit roads where possible. If we have to do dark stuff, there are methods of dealing with it that I need to teach anyway.

This time last year, I lived in a large town. It lay across a mile of open water from a major city. When I went outside it was well lit. The sky was orange. Now I go outside, and when the sky is free of cloud, I see Orion.

driving lessons in North Wirral? learn to drive in Hoylake? driving instructor in Birkenhead?

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