Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Light and darkness…

A couple of nights ago, Jim Al-Khalili’s new two-part documentary, Light and Dark, aired on BBC Four: exploring how humanity has uncovered the secrets of the universe by using and manipulating light. According to Professor Al-Khalili, “The central premise of this series is that what the human eye can see is only a fraction of the vast amount of matter and energy that exists…”.

Deep stuff indeed from my favourite science communicator; but I have pondered similar matters, recently, when returning home – in the near darkness – from neighbourhood planning meetings.

Tysoe, currently, is quite a dark place at night – lit only by the very occasional streetlight; residents’ scattered welcoming front door lamps; the odd glowing window; and infrequent passing cars and bicycles… – hinting only slightly at the many lives that collide and separate; that help glue the village together and make it what, uniquely, it is. It is therefore not unusual to see folks wandering to and from the pub, for example, with torches; or using the LED flashes on their smartphones to help walk their dogs. To be honest, nothing else, really, is needed.

However, last night, I was lucky to have my one-mile walk home – from Lower Tysoe, through the churchyard – lit by an almost full, waning gibbous moon. I had no need for the torch I routinely carry; nor for the rude interruption of sodium street lighting. The sky was so clear that the light was pure and white, and cast crisp, strong shadows. It also meant, of course, that an uncountable number of stars were visible: with my favourite constellation, Orion, rising majestically over Old Lodge Hill.

Our ancestors must have revelled on such nights: appreciating that there were greater powers at play – but not, perhaps, understanding them – but probably worshipping whatever they believed those ineffable powers to be. Nowadays, we take the night sky – that is, when we can actually see it… – for granted; and, arrogantly, assume that we know how it ‘works’, and that there is no longer any need for awe, humility, or even simple appreciation.

At a recent Parish Council meeting, the chairman complained about the number of requests for additional lighting that are made (which the council, sensibly, turns down…); and I fear that the development of a large estate to the west of the village would produce a glow of light that would wipe the scene I witnessed forever from the eyes of a large number of both existing and arriving villagers.

A large part of the argument against such a development is its unsustainability – and I would argue that not only is there the smog of the many additional car and supply vehicles’ journeys into and out of the village to take into account (as well as the detriment to the environment of building so many houses all in one place, and at one time…); but that the resulting light pollution would also play a role in removing our children one further step from the nature that Tysoe is so intertwined with.

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