letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor: Stop Light Pollution in Golden Gate Park


“In ways we have long understood, in others we are just beginning to understand, night’s natural darkness has always been invaluable to our health and the health of the natural world, and every living creature suffers from its loss.”  The End of Night by Paul Bogard

The night sky, like the air, land and oceans, is a precious resource and belongs to everyone.  It is our human heritage and the night sky truly gives meaning to our lore, literature, history and art.  Alternating day and night, natural sunlight and natural dark, are essential to all living things on this planet.

“We need to reinvent our relationship with planet Earth. The future of all life on this planet, humans and our societies included, requires us to become effective stewards of the global commons—the climate, ice, land, ocean, freshwater, forests, soils, and rich diversity of life that regulate the state of the planet, and combine to create a unique and harmonious life-support system. There is now an existential need to build economies and societies that support Earth system harmony rather than disrupt it.” From a statement by a group of academics including 13 Nobel laureates issued on April 29, 2021 (as reported in the SF Chronicle)

Light pollution is the opposite of what’s needed for a “harmonious life-support system.”  We need electric light for human safety, comfort and health but lighting up the night sky for amusement or displays should be kept to a minimum.  It is especially important that artificial light be kept to a minimum in our urban parks.  At night, our city parks can be an oasis of dark in the otherwise unrelenting glare of electric light that engulfs most of our city.

Illuminate, a non-profit arts organization, seems determined to add electric lights to Golden Gate Park. Its mission (from the Illuminate website): “Illuminate rallies large groups of people together to create impossible works of public art that, through awe, free humanity’s better nature.”  Somehow, this quixotic double-talk translates into putting lights in Golden Gate Park.  And what does “rallying large groups of people” mean?  Are we all going to meet in Golden Gate to celebrate the colored lights that Illuminate puts up?  How does that create anything?  If you want to have a Human Be-In why don’t you say so?  Concerts and planetariums are good places for light shows; parks, not so much. 

“We are approaching the planet’s limitations … We are undermining the very ecological systems which allow life to continue.”  Annie Leonard, founder of Story of Stuff.

“… light pollution poses a serious threat to nocturnal wildlife, having negative impacts on plant and animal physiology. … The rhythm of life is orchestrated by the diurnal patterns of light and dark, and disruption of these patterns impacts ecological dynamics.” Connie Walker, A Silent Cry for Dark Skies, The Universe in the Classroom.

Why Golden Gate Park?  Why not Union Square, the Ferry Building, the Moscone Center, Market Street or Civic Center?   Perhaps it’s because Golden Gate Park is there for the taking. And what’s better than free space in the center of one of the world’s most famous parks?  Mark Buell, head of the Recreation and Park Commission, and Phil Ginsburg, General Manager of the Recreation and Parks Department, are happy to welcome a 150-foot high lighted Ferris Wheel (brought to you, in part, by the SF Parks Alliance) for a four-year stay, so why not have Illuminate light up the band shell with garish colored lights (also brought to you in conjunction with the SF Parks Alliance) for two years and put bright white lights on top of it?  All in the guise of celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Park.  Actually, light pollution is not good for the Park.  Some birthday present.

And, while we’re at it, why not have Illuminate light up the Conservatory of Flowers indefinitely? “…the dazzling light projection on the historic building’s exterior continues nightly into its third year.  Working in close collaboration with …, San Francisco Recreation and Park, (and) the Californian Historical Society, ” (from the Illuminate website.)  Add in the 100,000 plus watts of lights from the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields, the lights from Kezar Stadium and the new tennis courts and you’ve got quite a display.  When Outside Lands comes with its light shows and three weeks of night time security and work lighting, we’ll really get going.  It’s an electrician’s dream.  Do Mr. Buell and Mr. Ginsburg, who are responsible for maintaining and preserving Golden Gate Park for future generations, think they know better than all the environmental organizations and scientists?  

There was also Entwined, where Peacock Meadow was filled with colored lights. Once again, SF Parks Alliance plays a prominent role; “SF Parks Alliance and SF Recreation and Parks look forward to bringing more temporary public art installations to parks in the future” (from the Golden Gate Park 150 Years website.)  I think we can see where this is headed.  Private companies like Skystar, LLC, and private nonprofits with corporate donors, like SF Parks Alliance and Illuminate, are simply taking over Golden Gate Park with the full collaboration of Rec and Park.

Fireworks are for a few hours; light shows at outdoor concerts might have a run of a week; a MLB night game doesn’t happen every night. Stadium lighting isn’t on every night at Oracle Park like it is in the sports fields in our parks. Like it is at the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields in Golden Gate Park, a hundred yards from Ocean Beach.

 “Artificial light at night disrupts a wide range of natural processes. Recent research has shown significant impacts of coastal lighting reducing foraging of intertidal invertebrates, disrupting marine food webs, suppressing movement of juvenile fishes, increasing predation on nesting seabirds…” Dr. Travis Longcore, Associate Adjunct Professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Before Mark Buell and Phil Ginsburg sell out our parks to every dog and pony show (or amusement park ride and light show) that comes along, they might read about Prof. Longcore’s research.  Our parks are not an inexhaustible resource.  Golden Gate Park is one of the few places in San Francisco where wildlife can find a refuge.  Parks need darkness at night.  The health of our environment and the future of planet Earth depend on mitigating the impact of human activity on the natural environment.  There is no Planet B.

David Romano

Photos by Ann McPherson.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s