I remember the first time I went camping. I was 12 years old, and my swim team went on a rafting trip to the Delaware Water Gap. We got into camp in the dead of night, and I was blown away by the brightness of bodies in the night sky. I’d grown up well inside the nimbus of artificial light surrounding New York; what I remember most vividly is the feeling of disorientation as I stared up at the jam-packed firmament, streaked by the fluid, wispy smoke of the Milky Way, all of it animated from time to time by the fiery trail of a meteor. That looks so fake. Are those really all stars? How could there be so many up there, and how could I not have known about them until now? The unpolluted night sky, to me, was a revelation.
Filmmaker Ian Cheney had the opposite experience. Growing up in rural Maine, he saw the unfiltered night sky as a friend, a familiar, map-like indicator of home. It was only after he’d moved to New York as an adult that he started thinking about his connection to the night sky, and what happens when we as a species lose the reality of night - indeed, of darkness - in our daily lives. In a new documentary that’s making its way across the country, The City Dark, Cheney takes a thought-provoking and lively look at the disappearance of darkness across our planet and the disruption of our natural cycles of light and dark. […]
And it’s more than just humans who are losing the night. Nature is, too. Footage of just-hatched sea turtles trying to find their way to the ocean in Florida is one of the more heartbreaking scenes in the movie, when the disoriented hatchlings head toward the bright light of nearby apartment complexes instead of toward the moonlit water.
Light changes habitat just like a bulldozer can. In the film, Cheney says that he sleeps better up in Maine, positing that in New York he misses not just the stars in the night sky, but the dark that comes with it. From talking with leading epidemiologists and cellular biologists, he finds that the health effects of 24/7 light can be severe; studies have found almost double the incidence of breast cancer in night shift workers, and evidence points to disrupted circadian rhythms from exposure to light at night. He discovers that the World Health Organization has identified night shift work as a probable carcinogen.
Read more at The Atlantic Cities. [Image: Wicked Delicate Films]