Not just some astronomers whingeing

I couldn't resist taking the quote from this Observer story on light pollution, March 2003. I have just read the Hansard transcript of the debate from yesterday. Before the debate the Select Committee were given an award from the Campaign for Dark Skies. Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab) said he thought it was the first time a Select Committee had won an award. I never realised that Westminster Hall debates could be so entertaining! Dr. Gibson really seems to care about light pollution and he pulls no punches with the Government.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con) followed him but went off on a tangent complaining about aircraft emissions - a worthy topic but not quite the one at hand. I guess airline emissions must be his personal bugbear. They mentioned recent reports, such as those by Dr. Paul Marchant of Leeds Metropolitan university, show that an increase in lighting does not necessarily deter criminals. The debate even mentioned a poem from the Macclesfield Astronomical Society (read their submission). At the end there were several concerns raised about the fact that when DEFRA finally respond, it will not be to the liking of the Committee. Here are a selection of quotes that I liked:

"I am sure that the Minister ... will explode like a star from the firmament when she rises to speak"

"Do the Ministers ever sit down together and discuss this issue? Have they ever seen a star?"

Dr Ian Gibson MP

"Each year, a handful of stars disappears from our night sky. That is a tragedy; not just for astronomers, but for every person who believes that it is important to inspire young minds to wonder what is out there."

Mr Tom Harris MP

"...brought us in to contact with the astronomical community, both amateurs and professionals, of the United Kingdom. It was impossible not to be caught up with their infectious enthusiasm for their subject, and quite a lot of that star glitter, or star dust, rubbed off on us all."

"When we visited Greenwich, it was ironic that we could stand at the Royal Observatory and not see a single star."

Dr Desmond Turner MP

I do not think that so many officials have attended a Westminster Hall debate before.

Yvette Cooper (Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister)

The picture from the Royal observatory at Greenwich on the front cover of the Committee's report shows two galaxies colliding. They are 420 million light years from earth and are seen against a backcloth of galaxies so distant that the light from them has taken nine tenths of the total age of the universe even to reach our eyes. Yet some invisible local authority or Highways Agency bureaucrat, with the inspiration of a marker pen and the impunity that only ignorance can bring, shines his light up into the sky, so that our children will never view the stars in awe and wonder, as is their birthright.

MP Bob Spink

On a related note I see that even RAF Fylingdales have decided to cut light emissions by three-quarters. Perhaps councils or architects, such as Will Alsop (who doesn't seem able to build a navigable/accessible website - Warning: requires Flash), seem to have no concept of light pollution. Will Alsop came up with halo of light around Barnsley as part of its regeneration which aren't helped by the council's attitude (page 5).

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 13th Feb 2004 (20:31 UTC) | Permalink
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