What Simplifying May Save For Us
When was the last time you gazed at the night sky and could identify more than three constellations? There are 88 of them, 36 in the northern sky, 52 in the southern hemisphere. They’re almost impossible to see in Crawfordsville, many are difficult to see in the country these days, even if you have a keen eye to spot them. Such is light pollution, the topic of one out of two short films that wrapped up the Green Series film discussion season of 2023.
It seems funny to pen a retrospective on a film viewing and discussion when the Green Series is on hiatus until next summer. Why look back, if readers who missed out can’t anticipate another film discussion in September? Not because of FOMO (fear of missing out), to be clear, but the two short films, which seemed wildly unrelated, actually had a throughline, and it starts with re-embracing a youthful passion for astronomy.
Perhaps when you were young, if you were fortunate, you lived or camped in a remote area, and around a crackling fire, you laid back and someone older than you began to point out images in the night sky that, if you stayed out there long enough, arced over you as the globe turned. The easy ones are Orion, the hunter; Ursa Major, the great bear, and Ursa Minor, the small bear; Andromeda; Perseus; Hercules; Cassiopeia, who sits on her throne and as the year progresses she is flipped on her head. Named for the vainglorious wife of King Cephas of Ethiopia, this eight-star constellation also known as “the sitting queen” flips upside down half the year, a punishment for bragging about beauty. She claimed she was more beautiful than the Nereids, 50 sea nymphs fathered by a Greek Titan. Apparently, her entire family suffered from a bloated sense of their awesomeness because the gods banished her spouse, daughter and son-in-law to the heavens, though they fared better than her. For all eternity, she spends half the year ostensibly with the blood rushing to her head.
Maybe she’s relieved we cannot gaze upon her shame, but if you want to find her, look for a W shape, with five bright stars and three dimmer ones in the northern sky. Do a quick Google search to verify what Cassiopeia’s formation looks like, grab a sleeping bag and some bug spray then head out where there’s almost no light pollution, far from the glow of cities and steel mills, the street lights and cheerfully persistent twinklies or Edison bulbs we string up outside nowadays.
While you are out there, see if you can spot a satellite gliding across the sky between the dots of stars. Should you succeed, claim two achievements: one for escaping light pollution, the second for an act of simple living.
Light pollution, we learned from the film “Into the Dark” (not the horror series) is not merely a matter of nostalgia, wherein we say, “remember when it was dark enough to spy constellations” or “when the earth had polar ice caps.” One of the team members in the film notes that his kids will never experience the polar caps as he did. Nature Communications projects that by the 2030s, we will reach “blue ocean events” in the summer. There will be virtually no polar ice in the warm months. Ice shields deep sea creatures key to the food chain.
“Into the Dark” – watch it here https://www.newday.com/films/into-the-dark — follows scientists curious about what photosynthetic responses artificial light in the Arctic trigger. The microscopic creatures at the start of the food chain have a natural rhythm that has been disrupted since the advent of the light bulb and the exploratory “conquer the planet” campaign of humans. (It’s been labeled the “Anthropocene” era.) Creatures that once lay dormant in then polar winter now wake up early because of false light. Their early flourishing is followed by early death or overproduction, depending on conditions.
Hapless in the environment being manipulated by human artifice, life explodes into existence when the artificial light switch is flipped on. It’s reminiscent of cancers, many of which are triggered when one part of a cell’s reproduction switch is flipped by a chemical or condition, and it just reproduces in a frenzy.
Not only do small creatures respond unnaturally to light pollution; so do other creatures, including humans. Artificial light at night, – blue light from phone, computer and tv screens, but also incandescent light – interferes with the body’s natural cycle of releasing melatonin in the dark, resulting in sleep deprivation, fatigue, headaches, stress and anxiety among other health problems, reports the National Geographic. Johns Hopkins University reports that melatonin disruption – which is acute in night or swing shift workers – increases the chances of cancer. Multiple studies indicate that melatonin is an active cancer fighter because it is an immune regulatory agent, a powerful antioxidant and prevents healthy cells from dying when undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.
While each cancer is unique, many cancers are the product of human-introduced toxic chemicals. The cause-effect of smoke on lungs is easily proven. Colo-rectal and pancreatic cancer appear to have relationships to highly processed foods. Once again, the complexity of the Anthropocene demonstrates its insidious effects. The obvious response is to return to simple and clean living, as the second film of the series, a short film by MoCo resident and theology professor Derek Nelson urges. You can view “Framing House and Home” on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/798504995), and it will only take 10 minutes.
During the pandemic, Nelson felled trees on his property and obtained other locally sourced wood to build his portable, timber frame home. Because it uses older, more sustainable methods of building and because it’s compact, it is more energy efficient than traditional homes.
Smaller homes may be in our future. They’re financially more sustainable, as the Wall Street Journal reported this week, which is why U.S. new home starts shrank by 10 percent since 2018 to an average of about 2,400 square feet. Homes were once far smaller. Apartment Therapy reported in 2019 that the average home in the U.S. was 2,300 square feet. Compare that to Denmark’s 1,475 sq. feet, France’s 1,216, Spain’s 1,044, Ireland’s 847 and the U.K.’s 818 square feet. They require less stuff, less energy and less lighting. With one-fifth of Americans paying to store excess, unused goods in storage units, it seems we’re paying twice for our excess. As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
Enjoying the simple things in lieu of owning them may guide us back to the nostalgic joy of our past and reap higher dividends for our health as well as the planet’s.
-The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan, multi-issue political organization which encourages informed and active participation in government. For information about the League, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org; or, visit the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, Indiana Facebook page.