In conjunction with Earth Day today, we take a look at the issue of light pollution in the urban areas of Klang Valley
AWARENESS on light pollution takes centre stage on the last Saturday in March every year, when hundreds of cities worldwide observe Earth Hour.
Chances are, all the non-essential lights which were switched off are turned back on after the hour, and the pollution continues.
The same happens in Kuala Lumpur.
Light pollution happens when artificial lights are used wrongly and excessively.
National Space Agency (Angkasa) science officer Jong Tze Kian explained during a briefing in conjunction with the Earth Hour celebration at the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council (MPAJ) that streetlights were the major contributors.
“Besides that, lights at home, on billboards, buildings and vehicles also contribute to light pollution.
“Although it is not as harmful or hazardous as other kinds of pollution, it has a negative impact on the environment and general health of living beings,” he said, adding that it also hampers astronomers’ research activities.
Jong said there were four types of light pollution, which were:
- Urban sky glow — excessive lights reflected to the sky in residential and urban areas;
- Light trespass — lights shinning in inappropriate places;
- Glare — Lights that are too bright; and
- Light Clutter — Too many bright lights in one place.
Take a drive into the city or look out from a high building at night and one will notice that the sky is not very dark, even in the absence of the moon.
The colourful lights along Jalan Sultan Ismail are vibrant and lively, reaching a climax at the Jalan Bukit Bintang junction. There are just too many light sources — billboards, digital advertising, lights from buildings, decorative lights and street lights — that the skies above are bright.
Similar situations can be found in other tourist sites, like Central Market, and Brickfields.
Some of the streetlights have more than one bulb each, some with up to four bulbs, like those found along Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock. The street lights in the middle of the road there have four light bulbs each. Although not all the bulbs work, the area is still very bright.
Many streetlights sport conical covers but this was not very effective as the bulbs bulged out from the covers below, throwing the light upwards. Similar types of streetlights were spotted in Brickfields, Central Market and Jalan Perdana.
Jong quoted the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), which said that light pollution affected human health and wildlife while compromising safety and being a waste of energy.
“Even astronomers and stargazers are finding it hard to research here in Kuala Lumpur.
“Our observatory in Langkawi is also underutilised because development there is growing very fast and the light pollution grows with it,” he said.
Stargazing enthusiast Wan Ahnad Daknam said photographs of the beautiful stars in the night sky will never come out right in this light-polluted city.
“Being in a tropical country, there are many tiny water particles in
the air. Every time a photo is
taken, the water particles reflect light and this is captured by the camera sensors. The photos will be interrupted.
“That is why we need to go to the outskirts where light pollution is minimal, to get a good shot.
“In the peninsula, the best place to go would be to Tasoh Lake in Perlis and Janda Baik in Pahang,” he said, adding that a beautiful starry night sky was almost impossible to see in the Klang Valley cities.
“We can only gauge the position of the Milky Way, which should be visible in the sky during this period. Since the Milky Way is at the tail end of the constellation of stars known as Scorpius, we know it is there although we cannot see it,” he said.
Sabah Stargazers central committee member, Harris Jeffrey Harun, said the closest place to Kuala Lumpur for stargazing was in Sekinchan.
“Janda Baik is okay but due to its proximity to Genting Highlands, you have to move further away. Other options in the peninsula would be the Belum forest, and for Johorians, there are Batu Pahat and Mersing,” he said.
The good news is that, light pollution is one of the easiest forms of pollution to overcome.
Jong explained how minor adjustments could improve the situation.
“By fixing proper covers above the lights to focus the projection on the intended area, will help. Low-wattage bulbs will suffice and this will also save energy.
“Brighter does not mean safer, as it can cause glare. So use the appropriate brightness with devices like dimmer switches.
“It is also best to invest in compact fluorescent lights or LEDs instead of incandescent light, which uses more electricity and wastes more heat,” he added.