“There are less than twenty stars visible in the sky in the city”

Since the beginning of 2021, the night sky over Séreilhac, a village of 2,000 inhabitants in the Haute-Vienne, is almost starry again. “We have decided to generalize the extinction of public lighting in the city center to the entire city from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. We can now better admire our beautiful Milky Way, even though, about twenty kilometers southwest of Limoges, we are still under the influence of the luminous halo of this city ”, informs Loïc Cottin, the mayor, elected in 2020.

“Our awareness gradually came from the 2010s after the conferences of one of our fellow citizens, an astronomer. We realized the harmful effects of night lighting: impact on ecosystems, decrease in insect reproduction, loss of bird landmarks… This also allows us to save money: at least €8,000 on a budget annual lighting of €30,000. And this without any influence on security, as the gendarmerie of Aixe-sur-Vienne confirmed to us ”, rejoices this mayor, conscious farmer “Of the Earth’s Vulnerability in the Immense Universe”.

Today, on the national road 21, which leads from Limoges to Périgueux, a three-star sign with “Cities and villages with stars” has been placed at the two entrances of Séreilhac. It was awarded to 364 new municipalities in 2019-2020 by the National Association for the Protection of the Night Sky and the Environment (ANPCEN), according to strict criteria. 722 French municipalities now have a valid label, a figure that is constantly increasing: + 26% compared to 2018 and + 860% since its creation in 2009!

“A real environmental topic”

According to Anne-Marie Ducroux, president of ANPCEN and Cese environment section (Economic, Social and Environmental Council), “Today, in modern societies, artificial light is no longer seen as progress, but as a nuisance. We moved from the perception of a leisure problem related to astronomers to an environmental issue with implications for biodiversity, climate but also chronobiology.” A relatively recent awareness in France, made possible by ANPCEN’s substantive work with local and national elected officials, but that started in the United States in the 1960s.

In a remarkably documented book, save the night (First parallel), Samuel Challéat, environmental geographer, traces its origin. “The act of incorporation took place on April 15, 1958, when the City Council of Flagstaff, Arizona, home to one of the oldest and most advanced astronomical observatories located more than 2,100 m above sea level, passed a resolution against the use of certain lighting equipment aimed at the prevent a rapid deterioration in the visibility of the starry sky. “ It is the birth of the Dark Sky Movement, “The Movement for a Dark Sky”.

It was not until 1992 that he arrived in France, with the adoption of a Charter “Save the night”, supported by renowned astronomers and scientists (Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Albert Jacquard or even Hubert Reeves). An advocacy taken up at the national level by ANPCEN which, thanks to its involvement (as of Grenelle of the environment, in 2007, to the Civilian Climate Treaty, in 2019-2020), gets four laws, and three ordinances and decisions regulating light pollution lighting and outdoor signage, and even managed to develop the concept of “Night landscapes” nasty “Common Heritage of the Nation”. And a motion was recommended at the last World Conservation Congress, held in Marseille in September 2021 “Action against light pollution” was accepted by all participants. It’s time.

In fact, in 2016, the document a new aworld of artificial brightness of the night sky has shown that 83% of the world’s population and more than 99% of the American and European population live under a sky marred by light pollution. And since the 1970s, satellite photos taken by NASA have shown that, except from the African continent, the Earth is increasingly glittering at night, as only a third of the world can observe the Milky Way. populated areas.

The rise of a “right to be forgotten”

On October 17, 2021, a collective of French scientists published into a grandstand the world warn that“In the city, fewer than twenty stars are visible to the naked eye in the sky.” In addition, many studies have shown the harmful effects of this light pollution on different groups of species, from bats to amphibians, not to mention humans, whose biological clocks are significantly disrupted (disorders of the body). irritability, etc.).

So much so that new concepts are emerging, such as the “right to be forgotten”. Samuel Challéat, our geographer and historian of the night, is one of those who wants to develop it in France, with his Renoir collective (Nighttime Natural Resources and Territories).

“Our belief is that darkness is a resource for all living things, but also a territorial wealth, says Samuel Challea. We have to tailor it, involve the residents. ” For example, with his collective he supports the municipalities of the Morvan Natural Park to obtain the label International Dark Sky Reserve (rice) of the Dark-Sky Association, already attributed in France to the Pic du Midi, to the Cévennes National Park and to the Alpes Azur Mercantour area (2300 km² located in the Mercantour National Park), and very recently on November 30 to the Regional Natural Park Millevaches in Limousin.

Pascal Pommé, Deputy Mayor of Chissey-en-Morvan (population 280), amateur astronomer turned “starry reference”, explains the approach: “In the park charter, we have already listed “the preservation of the night sky” as an objective and tourist asset for our 133 municipalities. And to raise public awareness, in addition to an information brochure sponsored by Hubert Reeves, we organize evening walks in the summer to show the full cultural and sensitive dimension of this approach. At night, all our senses are awake. Some may be upset by the darkness, which is never completely dark. Me, on the other hand, it fascinates and calms me. Under a starry sky we experience a kind of fullness, as if we are being sucked in by the universe. “

The National Association for the Protection of the Air and the Environment (ANPCEN) has published a guide for mayors who want to reduce lighting in their municipality.

save the night, by Samuel Challéat, First Parallel (2019).
Once upon a time, by Carole Reboul, Salamandre (2021).
In honor of the darkness, by Sigri Sandberg, Black on White Editions (2021).
The sky. From the earth to the stars, special edition of Life (2021).

Darell Goodwin

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