Let's light up the stars!

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Who would have thought that after Thomas Edison's widespread lighting of homes and factories in 1879, the electricity fairy that illuminates our cities and countryside would become a source of waste? Night light has become a cause of pollution in just a few decades. It affects the biology of animals and plants in a very sensitive way by modifying the natural alternation of day and night during the course of a day. It is for this reason that the Territories are gradually taking ownership of the fight against light pollution, thus demonstrating that the issues of energy and ecological transitions are being taken into account in land use planning policies.

Protecting biodiversity, saving energy, preserving health and well-being are social demands that are difficult for public authorities to ignore. According to the National Association for the Protection of the Night Sky and Environment (ANPCEN), the number of light points in France has increased by more than 90 % in 25 years. This increase has led to an increase in light pollution, including far-reaching consequences : formation of luminous halos preventing the observation of the starry sky...alteration of the " dark resource The "vitality" of many animal species, or the disruption of the Circadian rhythm of melatonin secretion in humans.

The fight against light pollution is today emblematic of the transitional logics that are at work in the planning of rural and urban areas. Protecting biodiversity, saving energy, preserving health and well-being are social demands that are difficult for public authorities to ignore. The recent referral to the Council of State by two environmental associations to ensure that the 2010 law on light pollution is enforced.

Local initiatives to combat this pollution exist. These experiments draw on emerging international and national labels, older institutional environmental protection systems, or even on crafts which give a place to field surveys conducted among inhabitants and users of urban lighting. A brief overview.

At the Pic du Midi

The International Dark Sky Reserves (IDSR) is a international protection label of the Dark Sky, awarded by the International Dark Sky Association. This North American association for the defence of the night sky defines a RICE as "a private or public space offering a nocturnal environment and starry nights of exceptional quality and explicitly protected as scientific, natural, educational and cultural heritage and/or because of its mission to offer the public the enjoyment of a vast territory. »

In France, the RICE of the Pic du Midi was created on 19 December 2013. A pioneer on the national territory, it is located in the Occitanie region, in the Hautes-Pyrénées department. It brings together 251 urban and rural communes. The protection of the starry sky surrounding the Pic du Midi joins a old tourist value and well anchored territorially.

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It is in this development trajectory that the actors of the labeling of the Peak. By making the starry night a new territorial resource, they carry representations and interests that force us to consider light pollution and its effects in their scientific, cultural and energy dimensions.

With the experimental approach of Dark Screen led by the Pyrenees National Park and the Regional Natural Park of the Ariège Pyrenees, in relation with the RICE, the planning and development of territories are now open to the protection of nocturnal biodiversity.

Time lapse at the Pic du Midi Observatory (Romain Montaigut, 2014).

In the Provençal Baronies

Complementing the Law on Energy Transition for Green Growth (2015), the Law for the Reclamation of Biodiversity, Nature and Landscape (2016) endorses the concepts of the environment and night landscape by enshrining them in the Environmental Code. By virtue of their mission of innovation, The Regional Nature Parks (RNPs) are in the front line in implementing the protection and enhancement of the environment and landscape at night. What is happening in the PNR des Baronnies Provençales is a good illustration of this.

Created in January 2015, this Park straddles the Rhône-Alpes Auvergne and Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur regions. It brings together 130 municipalities for 39,000 inhabitants and aims to make the experience of nature a factor of territorial integration and attractiveness. With this in mind, it has made the "landscaping" of the territory a modality of its territorial project, which includes "a policy of preserving the dark sky against light pollution".

Around the Baronnies RNP, other territories are also working to protect the nocturnal environment (Écrins National Park, Mercantour National Park, Luberon and Bauges RNPs, etc.). Bringing these initiatives together would make it possible to lay the experimental foundations of a black screen within which each PNR would constitute a reservoir of nocturnal biodiversity.

In the Grenoble conurbation

In the fight against light pollution, municipalities also play a role. 12,000 of them dim or switch off their street lighting during certain times of the day. Among them, 750 apply the ANPCEN's good practices under the Starred Cities and Villages label. Others are experimenting, doing unlabelled DIY projects based on "territorialities", i.e. taking into consideration what users do in and around the night. Thus, in their pursuit of a " just lighten "A growing number of municipalities are drawing up a planning compromise. Through field surveys of residents, questionnaires or the organisation of night-time strolls, local elected officials identify the needs and uses of night-time spaces in order to adapt public lighting.

For example, this type of experimentation has been implemented in consultation with the population in the commune of Crollesin the Grenoble conurbation. Over a period of ten months, from February to November 2015, the city's inhabitants were heard at public meetings, during which they were able to express their fears and expectations regarding the switch-off of public lighting during certain time slots (from 01:00 to 05:00). Questionnaires on the experimentation, night walks were organized to find out the needs and habits of the population.

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Public lighting in Crolles (Town of Crolles, 2016)

This approach allows the inhabitants to overcome false representations - particularly on night-time delinquency - as much as it disseminates scientific knowledge on health and biodiversity.

Taking ownership of territorial policies

These various experiments in the fight against light pollution show that the issues of energy and ecological transitions are gradually being taken into account in land-use planning policies. Although they are included in territorial planning documents, they have difficulty in finding their audience. Confiscated by urban planning design to the detriment of an urban planning of usesfaced with the renewal of experiments and limited by the scientific uncertainty about its consequences, they are a tough issue. Hence the need to rethink both the terms of the analysis and the conditions of spatial planning.

A serious lead is emerging that brings closer. the tradition of socio-ecosystems of social geography on the territories. In other words, the experimental sciences and the social sciences are making progress in bringing their questions and methods of analysis closer together.

But the difficulty remains the "how to do", i.e. the application of these analyses in spatially located planning policies. Here, the methods of knowledge production (participatory science, action research, committed research) challenge the social significance of scientific knowledge and the practical experience of planning professionals.

Beyond the scientific questions raised by light pollution, the challenge of a more general appropriation of policies for transition and protection of biodiversity is emerging. In this perspective, certain territories give you the opportunity to live a sensory experience of the night. So, during your excursions, don't sulk your pleasure! Dare to carefully observe the nocturnal landscapes during your bivouacs, hikes to meet the nocturnal fauna, or more simply the animations proposed by the astronomy clubs near you.

Samuel Challéat, Researcher in environmental geography, University Toulouse - Jean Jaurès, in collaboration with Dany LapostolleUniversity of Franche-Comté

This article is republished from The Conversation, UP' Magazine's editorial partner. Reade the original article.

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