Memorandum from Professor Sir Martin Rees,
I'd first like to welcome the Select Committee's
decision to devote some of its precious time to the issue of "light
pollution", and to express my thanks for the opportunity
to offer oral evidence.
The issues have been well addressed in the written
submissions from the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the British
Astronomical Association (BAA) and the Council for the Preservation
of Rural England (CPRE), and in the evidence from individual expertsamong
whom I would single out Bob Mizon, who has for many years been
a leading advocate of the astronomical case for "dark skies".
Rather than repeating the cogent arguments and
specific proposals made in these submissions, I would like to
emphasise the breadth and diversity of the caseinterest
in the topic extends far beyond the astronomical community, as
symbolised by the key involvement of the CPRE in the recently-launched
Van Gogh painted his "Starry Night"
in the same spirit as his portrayals of sunflowers and cornfieldsthe
night sky is part of everyone's shared environment. Indeed it
is a uniquely universal feature: it has been viewed and wondered
at, essentially unchanged, by all cultures throughout human history.
But unless we live in exceedingly isolated parts of the UK, we
are now deprived of this experience.
There is a substantial and expanding amateur
astronomy community, just as there is a large community of amateur
botanists or ornithologists. But goodwill towards the campaign
extends far widerindeed, it surely has the support of all
who care about our natural environment in the broadest sense.
All of usnot just those who are keen birdwatcherswould
feel environmentally deprived if songbirds disappeared from our
parks and gardens, and if "nature" wasn't one of our
formative experiences from childhood. Likewise, it is an impoverishment
if children grow up without ever seeing a "real" starry
sky in the way earlier generations did: astronomy and space have
a special appeal and an effective role in stimulating general
interest in science.
The case for controlling light pollution is
a multi-faceted one: it has scientific, educational, environmental,
aesthetic and economic dimensions. Modest changes in the planning
and regulatory system could stemand indeed reversethe
current trend. Such measures would certainly earn the gratitude
of the next generation and would surely command broad support