Depressing as autumn and winter’s darkness can become, electricity seems to have been mistakenly exalted as the saviour of our winter mood. The UK, where Moot is based, is on a bit of the globe where we get a clockload of daylight hours in summer and barely any in winter.
But, Christmas lights aside – a whole bag of flashing tricks I don’t want to even begin to unwrap – autumn and the January blues bring a miserable proliferation of ‘let’s leave the lights on all night’ tactics from the City district where Moot meets. Cheering, it surely ain’t.
When I was about 11, Blue Peter ran a competition for children to design creative lighting for local monuments and suchlike, and the winners had their lighting projects made reality. I’m 25 now, and I’m optimistic that an idea like this these days would get shot down at the concept stage because ‘light pollution’ is now a recognisable phrase. Hopefully this shows how far we’ve come.
But on the flipside of ‘how far we’ve come’ flashbacks, J.M. Barrie had Peter Pan tell the Darling children in 1904 that they had to take the ‘second star to the right and straight on til morning’ to leave London for Neverland – and they only lived in Zone 1 as we now know it. Imagine J.K. Rowling trying an equivalent for London kids these days. TheStars are extinct in central, and greater, and even peripheral London now.
Waking home past civil service offices of Westminster, and, when I come through the City district, a lot of very clean glass or stone-pillared banking buildings, the lights are left on to show empty desks and grey ceiling tiles. I think the logic is an aesthetic one. And with 16 hours’ darkness a day at the height of our winter, it’s not hard to see how we got here.
But the waste of electricity is scandalous – and it is waste, because it isn’t useful and nor in most cases is it even beautiful. When did it strike someone as interesting to see other people’s messy (or, even more annoying, tidy) desks lit up all night? More London is terrible for it – Boris Johnson, bringing us bikes but not switching off lights, evidently.
As a good little book called ‘change the world for a fiver’ puts it: ‘ivory was considered beautiful once’. But then, fur is back in. I might be less universally agreed-with than I’d like to imagine. After all, the banks and businesses I’m walking past don’t agree. Every evening someone in that building doesn’t agree.
http://www.dark-skies.org.uk is the British Astronomical Association’s website for their campaign for dark, starry, natural skies. They say the UK alone is wasting £1 billion a year through pointless or inefficient lighting, and that (and this is really sad) less than 10% of us can see natural skies at night. http://www.saveenergy.co.uk is the energy saving trust’s very practical website with some do-able stuff for everyone, and some well-thought-through possibilities for businesses and the public sector.