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Convention Report: Under One Sky 2021

Convention Report: Under One Sky 2021

By E Kinnersley

On Saturday, November 13, I had the pleasure of attending the International Dark Sky Association’s Under One Sky Event, or at least the parts of it that were friendly to North American time zones. I’ve collected a few thoughts on the sessions I attended and tried to assemble them all here.

Alejandro Sommer – Misiones, Argentina’s Dark Sky Reserve
Alejandro described his work adding dark sky status to an existing nature preserve in Argentina. I don’t know if he’s a poor speaker overall or just has more trouble with English than the organizers planned on, but this wasn’t all that instructive. He ran a slideshow of people he worked with in the parks department and the local Guarini tribespeople, but not how they participated in the project or what he learned from them in particular.

Something that came out of the chatroom is that dark sky tourism can be a starting point for evangelism for darker skies in cities, and the idea that whether UNESCO’s world heritage site program might be something dark sky parks can leverage.

Alejandro ran a Spanish-language workshop that probably was more useful. Here’s a write up on his project that goes more in-depth https://www.darksky.org/a-dark-sky-mission-in-argentina/

Daniel Mendoza – Urban Lighting and Social Inequality
Daniel has just launched a dark sky studies minor program at the University of Utah. He opened his talk with what feels like the barest basics on circadian disruption and its related harms. As we got past this, he began to break down lighting levels and color temps by income level in Salt Lake City; highlighting how some neighborhood lighting is almost punitive when you look at the income level of the area. He also started graphing proximity to bright lights that seem to increase pedestrian and bicycle accidents (grain of salt on that, Salt Lake City has 132 ft wide streets. People crossing the street are offered hi-vis flags at crosswalks).

Due to time constraints, he got cut off before he could draw any conclusions. Or perhaps there are no conclusions here and maybe the IDA should think twice before wading into the culture wars. It might be best to stay technical and spiritual. Associating with any divisive agenda; even if there is a loose sociological correlation, presents unnecessary and unproductive risks.

Remi Boucher – Mont-Mégantic Reserve
This was the first and biggest dark sky reserve (not to be confused with park or community) centered at an observatory on the mountain. Even though the certification went through years ago, he’s still been working with the 34 nearest municipalities to keep up their lighting ordinances. He actually had a lot of good material for people deeply involved in lighting, comparing filtered white LEDs vs PC amber and other low-kelvin alternatives; a great exploration about snow removal and surface albedo in sky glow, photometric projects, and installing curtains on 24-hour greenhouses.

The most useful presentation at the event for those who actually want to do something about the dark sky problem.  Perhaps the IDA should consider expanding the technical content in all their offerings.

Art Hushen – Workshop: lighting for safety and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design
Art doesn’t directly address dark sky lighting, but what he does bring up is that glare is as bad for security as it is for wildlife, the value of uniform lighting without any dark spots even if that level is low. The real keys to security at night are using everything (landscaping, access control) to reduce hazards and to decide what purpose this space has at night, and creating a lighting profile that supports it. More responsible and practical tips.

The Awards Ceremony
This was just a slide show; none of the winners were present, and each winner was described very briefly. There was a cocktail half-hour with randomly assigned breakout rooms. It’s interesting to bump into other enthusiasts on this topic and to see what brought them into it. It would have technically been easy and a lot more exciting had the recipients had two or three minutes to offer some gratitude.

Closing Talk – Astronauts Ron Garan and John Grunsfield
Astronauts tend to be really cool people, genuinely the people whose resumes most closely resemble silver-age Marvel Comics. But everyone asks them the same questions. So, at a show for astronomy buffs, it’s really just about what the sky looks like up there, the overview effect, and how light pollution is growing every trip up. The most interesting anecdote from their talk was that while the overview effect was coined by Frank White to describe how viewing the earth all at once changes astronauts’ perception and perspective on politics. White first considered it on a commercial flight, something that was exciting once but now one of the most frustrating things you can endure. When space tourism hits the level of being affordable, will we be just as jaded about that as we are now? We might need something more than awe to save the planet.

They call this event Under One Sky, and while everyone who attended has the same interest in better, smarter light outdoors, it doesn’t seem like there’s much call to point everyone there in one direction. Under one sky, but nowhere to go…


E Kinnersley has worked as an independent technology and policy commentator for the past years and has recently turned to work as a marketing consultant for the lighting and electrical industries.


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