Tell Us How to Make It Better

Do You See the Stars Where You Live?

May 31, 2022 George Siegal Season 1 Episode 40
Tell Us How to Make It Better
Do You See the Stars Where You Live?
Show Notes Transcript

May 31, 2022
40. Do You See the Stars Where You Live?

Have you ever traveled to the mountains or the desert, looked up at the night sky, and a whole universe of new things appeared before your eyes? This week’s guest Cindy Luongo Cassidy wants everyone to experience that and she’s working with the Texas Chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association to make it possible. 

Here are some important moments from the podcast: 

At 5:43 Cindy talks about the five principles of responsible outdoor lighting.

At 16:46 Cindy answers the question “Do you feel like you can see a difference with what you are doing?”

At 22:15 What are the biggest obstacles you face as you’re trying to make this problem better?

Here's the website to learn more about the International Dark-Sky Association:
https://txnsf.org/

Here are social media platforms to follow Cindy and the Dark-Sky Association:

Twitter: 

https://twitter.com/IdaTexas

Instagram: 

https://instagram.com/ida_texas?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=

 Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/IDATEXAS

https://www.facebook.com/TexasNightSkyFestival

If you enjoyed listening to this podcast, please share it with your friends. Also make sure to like it and subscribe to become a weekly listener. And if you can leave a review that would be great too.

If you have ideas for podcasts or want to share your thoughts on what you’ve listened to, we’d love to hear from you: https://tellushowtomakeitbetter.com/contact

InstinctReady.com

Sawyer.com

George Siegal:

This is a much bigger problem than people probably normally think about. Isn't it?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

It's a huge problem. And people are so used to it that they just think they're stuck with it. That that's the way it is. And as you say, most people haven't seen the Milky Way. Haven't seen the stars. And when sometimes when they see it, they go, what is that up there? Is that a cloud? No, that's the Milky Way.

George Siegal:

I'm George Siegal, and this is the Tell Us How to Make It Better podcast. Every week, we introduce you to people who are working on real world problems and providing actual solutions. Tell Us How to Make It Better is partnering with The Readiness Lab, the home for podcasts, webinars, and training in the field of emergency and disaster services. Hi everybody. Thank you for joining me on today's Tell Us How to Make It Better podcast. Every week on this podcast, I try to introduce you to somebody who in their job or in their life has identified a problem and is doing something to try and make it better. Well, here's something that's a problem. And maybe you've thought of it. Maybe you haven't have you ever gone outside to look up at the sky at night and you don't see that much up there? And then maybe one day you're in the desert or you're in the mountains and you look up there and you go, wow, there's a lot of stuff up here. Well, that same stuff would have been where you were originally looking up at home. You just couldn't see it. But there are people that are working on this problem. My guest today is Cindy Luongo Cassidy. She leads the Texas chapter of the international dark sky association. In 2019, Cindy was awarded the Crawford hunter award, the highest honor that the international dark sky association bestows to individuals who during their lifetime have contributed in extraordinary effort to light pollution abatement. Cindy, thank you so much for coming on this morning.

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

Thank you for having me, this should be fun.

George Siegal:

Yeah, no, I really love what you're doing and I'm fascinated to learn more about it. Now. I want to, before we get going with that, I want to give people a chance to get to know you. So I want to try something new that I did on one other podcast. And we'll see how this goes over. Tell us something about you that most people don't know, but you won't be bothered by the fact that they're hearing it first on this podcast.

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

That would be the, that I like to get things organized and in fact I probably organize most things on itself spreadsheets so that I can sort them and play with them and look at, look at the information and analyze it and then, you know, share it with other people. This is how things are happening.

George Siegal:

So when people are talking to you behind the scenes, you're taking notes to put in those things. So your all the way

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

back in my mind, it's going into a spreadsheet.

George Siegal:

Cindy, you get to go out and just have fun today. You can go do anything you want, what would you go do?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

I go get in the swimming pool and have fun?

George Siegal:

Do you have a pool?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

I do.

George Siegal:

That helps.

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

In fact, I built my own house and I had the swimming pool built first. So I would be in the house, maybe setting tile, get hot and tired. I go swim and then come back. That'd be bummed break.

George Siegal:

Very nice. Now you're in Texas. So do you have, do you have a heater in the pool?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

No. Well actually, yes, for the spa but I don't use it for the regular pool, but yeah, no, I'm in central Texas in the Hill Country.

George Siegal:

Yeah, people think it's always hot in Texas, but it can get pretty cold in the winter. That pool can be pretty cold.

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

Absolutely. Absolutely. We will go get in that spot in the winter, had that, crank it up, get it warm.

George Siegal:

Okay. Now, the reason I wanted to have you on today, because the subject we're going to talk about, which is the light pollution is such a big thing. And a lot of people don't think about it, but they'll be at home and they'll look up to see stars. Maybe the weatherman has told them some things that are going to be in the sky and they can't find it. And then one day maybe they're at the beach or they're in the mountains and they go, wow, there's a whole world up here that I didn't even know existed. Now I was reading a national geographic article that said more than 80% of the world's population. And 99% of Americans and Europeans live under sky glow. It sounds pretty, but sky, sky glow caused by anthropogenic activities is one of the most pervasive forms of light pollution. This is a much bigger problem than people probably normally think about?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

It's a huge problem and people are so used to it. That they just think they're stuck with it. That's the way it is. And as you say, most people haven't seen the Milky way. Haven't seen the stars. And when sometimes when they see it, they go, what is that up there? Is that a cloud? No, that's the Milky Way. It's gorgeous, but it also helps us connect to the universe. And psychiatrists are showing that there's a connection there that makes us more stable as people that that's very important for our mental health.

George Siegal:

I have a couple of apps on my phone that show you what's in the sky. I live in Florida and a lot of nights I look up there and a lot of that, stuff's not up there that, that the app is telling me. So you've identified this problem. You're choosing to be involved in doing something about it. But when I first heard about you, I was going, what's she going to do? Get people to turn their lights off? How, how do you fix this? What, what steps can you take? Cause on your website and everything. I see. Wow. This is really, this is, I think anybody can acknowledge it's a problem, but what's the solution?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

Well, the solution is for us to follow basically what's called the five principles of responsible outdoor lighting. When we do those five things, we can have the lights that we need without creating all the light pollution, because we do not need to be sending light you know, miles away from the things that we need to eliminate to be safe and walk in on a parking lot or attend an outdoor event at night, that type of thing. Those five principles you can download from that website we talked about it that I know you're going to have a link to, but first of all you think about is this light necessary. You know, maybe it was put up a long time ago. Maybe you just had it forever. Maybe your local utility said, oh, if you want electricity, we're going to give you a big pole light right here. Do you really need it? Hmm. Think about that. So is it useful? Is it doing something useful for you? Is it targeted? Is it focused on the area that you need to eliminate or is it just sending light everywhere and you know, you may think, well, it's mostly pointing down, but if it's at an angle at all, then it's going to be sending light up in the sky. It's going to be sending light to your neighbor. One of the things that I suggest people do is to take a flashlight that has a flat lens or take your phone, go in a room that doesn't have any windows. It's often a bathroom in their house or you may be stuck with a closet, go in there and, and just turn your phone so that it's all the light is going down. Because you think, oh, okay. If I put the light down, it's good. Keep it going down. And then look up at the ceiling. I think you'd be surprised at how much light you're actually reflecting up in the ceiling. So to see that surface that you want to see, you may have to reduce the lights and that's another of the principles is to only use the amount of light that you need. So reduce it until you could see what you need to see, but you aren't reflecting light everywhere.

George Siegal:

Yeah. Before you get the other ones, let me, let me just jump in on that because in the production or film business that I'm in, we bounce light off of things like the room I'm sitting in right now. I'm actually bouncing a light off the ceiling. That's lighting me sitting in this chair, you don't directly light it. With my house we uplighted, which is probably exactly the opposite of what you're talking about. You know, you'd probably tell me not to do that because of the way it gets shadows and effects on the house and the trees, but it's, it's causing a different problem for people isn't it?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

It is. It is. I mean, if you uplight your house, say turn those lights on when you're having a party and people are coming and going. That's not a huge deal, especially if you have relatively small landscape lighting. If you have, you know, a monstrous, you know, 1500 lumens spotlight, then that's going to be causing problems.

George Siegal:

Do the new led lights improve this. Do they help?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

Ah, there's not an easy answer to that. They can certainly improve the amount of electricity that we use. And so many of us go for it for that. Ah, you know, but what happens is early on most of the LEDs were very bright, white looking, and that meant that they had a whole lot of light in the blue wavelength. That takes us to another issue that some of these lights can cause with our health. So if it's very bright white it's can cause damage to our health and other living things. It also with that very bright white led causes more scatter in the back of your eye and you think, oh, okay, scatter, what's that going to do? Well, that's glare. We see that as glare and glare reduces our ability to see. So a lot of the LEDs that cities have put up the streetlights if they are not shielded, which is another one of the properties that we re would, would want to follow one of the principals. If they're not shielded, say has a 360 degree shield down below the level of the LEDs in the light, then they are going to be causing a lot of glare and keeping you from seeing lights should help us see, not cause glare and prevent us from seeing.

George Siegal:

Yeah. Did I deflect you from the list? So where were you at? Number two? We were, okay.

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

I talked about useful. I talked about targeted, you know, where you pointed at that, then you want a tough but low light levels and, you know, with having the amount of light and then turn it off when you're not there. Use motion detectors, if you want to worry about something, moving in a particular area. But control it, turn it off at at certain times, have it timed. Or motion detectors, et cetera, so controlled. And the last one is the color temperature. I talked about those LEDs being so bright white. If instead you pick an led that is a lower Kelvin temperature which means that it's going to be maybe a little bit more yellow, then it doesn't create all that glare and that it is less likely to cause you health issues.

George Siegal:

Now to see a difference in what you're doing, does it, does it require everybody buying in. Because let's say I live on it in an area where I'm in. But my neighbors just don't care. It's not a problem for them, or they don't want to do anything. I mean, how many people does it take jumping on board for us to actually literally see a difference?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

I see a difference. Actually every single light could make a difference. So depending on how large your property is, if you change your lighting, it can help you see better. And help you keep light from trespassing on to other properties. It may even make your neighbor say, you know, your property has a nice look to it. Doesn't have all that glare coming from it and you can educate them about it. So I can't answer the question of how many people need to do it. I would like for it's certainly our cities and communities are departments of transportation to do it, large entities to do it where, you know, like the botanical gardens and science museums should do it and, and have signage up about why they're doing it. I know our national parks are doing it and putting signage up about it. In Texas many of our state parks are doing it and putting signage up. So we educate people. And once you get, you know, more and more people educated about it, Every time they see a light, they're going to go, Ooh, that light is glaring in my eyes. If you know, if I tilted it differently or chose a different light, that that kept me from seeing the source of the light, then I could see better.

George Siegal:

Okay. Now, when I look at your list, cause one of the questions I like to ask is how does this problem affect other people's lives? And you gave examples ranging from, you know, jeopardizing security, reducing safety. Diminishing property values. I kind of struggling and go, ah, who really cares about that because I don't necessarily see that. But then you talk about damage. Our immune systems interfere with plants and wildlife, and then not being able to look up and see the stars. Those resonated with me and made me go, okay. Now I care.

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

Because everybody has different things that they care about. So, what you do is, is explain the things to them that they care about. I mean, if I have facts and figures on things like diminishing property bags, when you know, neighbors have gone in and put up agregious lights next door. I mean, we can physically track how much that property value decreased. So, you know, I can show that, but I would talk to you about the things that, that means something to you. So you were talking about experiencing the night sky and, and rebuilding your immune system. So for instance, when you pick the color of light that has less light in the blue wavelength, that blue wavelength shows up as a bright white light. If you pick lights that have a lower Kelvin rating, or if you put up say a bug light, you ever used a yellow bug light outside, you can see. You can see, but what happens is it doesn't have any, it doesn't produce any light in that blue wavelength that blue wavelengths stops us from producing melatonin. So you may think of melatonin as the, the hormone that we produce that helps us go to sleep. So it, it does, but it also, during the night helps us rebuild our amune system. When melatonin is in our body at the level that it should be during natural darkness, then it will stop the growth of many cancer cells as cancer cells, like breast cancer and prostate cancer that are hormonal based. It stops the growth of those cells during the night when your melatonin is at the level, it should be, if you haven't been exposed to all this blue light.

George Siegal:

So the light you're exposed to outside does the damage that you bring inside? Cause if I'm sleeping in my room, but my yard's lit up.

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

Nope. The same thing happens with the lights inside. So if you have you know, lights, if you choose to have bright white lights indoors, it's going to stop you from producing melatonin. If you choose to be looking at your phone or, or computer screen late at night, it's going to reduce and probably stop your production of melotonin.

George Siegal:

Do you feel like you've made a difference so far? Do you feel like you, can you see a difference? Are you?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

I do I put together the nominating package and wrote, I mean I spent close to 300 hours of volunteer time writing the nomination for of a city here in drip and central Texas called dripping Springs to be what turned out to be the first international dark sky community in the state of Texas. Why once that happened. It got people's attention and everybody looked and said, whoa, Dripping Springs can do it. We can do it. And now we have a list of not only communities, but parks and reserves. We just recently had designated the largest and I think only international dark sky reserve. That's Texas is part of it. And, and it goes into Mexico where there's a group effort in that area to reduce light pollution.

George Siegal:

Now, it seems like in, in, in Dripping Springs and Blanco in places that are smaller towns outside of the bigger cities that it's doable, but to get Austin to do it, maybe Austin's a bad example because people that are pretty conscious about that stuff, but Austin, San Antonio, and then Dallas and Houston, how are you going to get them on board? Because there's so big. So it seems like a bigger task?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

A lot of education, a lot of education I mean, I look at cities like Flagstaff are, you know, that that are international dark sky communities. There's no reason that some of these larger cities in any place in the country, not just Texas couldn't do this because a lot of what a community has to do is to say, okay, here's here are the rules that we're going to follow. They have to have an ordinance. And then obviously enforce it, but that ordinance doesn't have to be even as strict as the one in Dripping Springs, but what they have to do is to educate their, the people in their city. Have the city owned lights, do certain things and work towards getting more and more of the lights, especially any lights that are new, that are going up. Get those new ones to comply with these five principles. And, you know, the five principles aren't that hard to follow. You can still have plenty of light and an, and there are the sports lighting that's offered that follows this. That is very you know, well designed at this point, you know, a few years ago it was much harder to get, but right now the manufacturers are offering this. So, yeah, a big city can do it. A big city being designated as the international dark sky community does not say that every light in that city is perfect. It says that that they are working towards it. And they're educating people about it. And, and that new lights that go up follow these certain principles that are in their ordinance. Another challenge that we're facing is the issue of environmental justice. There has traditionally been a tendency to put it's specially I should say, I shouldn't say cheap, but huge lighting in areas that are economically challenged and, and the thought in the past was that this would help control crime, et cetera. And what we have learned is that it doesn't, and that it actually is causing issues with health and safety. Yeah. Do you need lights there, but you need to control them. They need to be done with the same five principles that are used to have better lighting everywhere.

George Siegal:

Now, when I go walking at night and I see some people have green light bulbs, some people have blues, some people have red. Do the colors make a difference on the actual ball by no not temperature color, but the actual color of the bulb?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

That can make a difference in the way that your eye reacts to it and the way that animals react to it. It's more, the amount of light that is put out the what's called the lumens. You know, a number of years ago, we were all attuned to our wattage and you know, which LEDs and other sources of light were introduced that wattage didn't mean much. So we're learning to use lumens. Most of us, you know, when you started, you look at the package and say, okay, this light is equivalent to my old, you know, 60 white ball or whatever, and you could get a feel for it. I think people are starting to get a feel more for the lumens now. So it's the amount of light that it puts out.

George Siegal:

Okay. What are the biggest obstacles you're facing as you're trying to make this problem better?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

Well, the first one is that people say, oh, you take, take my security light away. I've got to have my security light. Well, nobody's trying to take their security light away. What you want to do is to change that security light to make it better. For instance, if you have a big spotlight off your house, if it's not shielded, if it is to the point that you can see the, the actual bulb, you can see the source of the light, then that light is causing glare in your eyes and the way the human eye works, it makes other things beyond that bright light look very dark, which is a place for somebody with ill intent to hide. So if you have that light, not only turned down, but choose one that has a shield on it so that you can direct it to illuminate what you need to see. Then as, as it gets, you know, there's not a, a stark difference between the, the brightly lit area and the next area, it's a softer difference. And then you can see beyond that bright area when you don't have that light in your eyes. So you change, you've worked with them about how to change their security light so that they can actually see better, which means if you see better, you are safer. So, and make people understand. If they're not there, it doesn't stop a criminal. It stops a criminal from having to bring their own flashlight, perhaps, but it lets criminal see that, oh, they've got a cool house. I bet there's good stuff in it. So if you have. You know, have it all lit up it does not stop crime and professional studies have proved that that's true. So my second obstacle, once we get past the security lights is for funding. You know, we do a lot of volunteer work and we have a nonprofit organization. So that for instance is here in Texas, we've got we're no such a large area to work with. And so many challenges that we would like to raise funds and hire a small staff that could help direct volunteers and help coordinate efforts around the state.

George Siegal:

That's it. So you guys are all it's everybody's a volunteer pretty much that works there.

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

Yeah. In Texas. Right now we have a small staff in our global organization, but it's a small staff. Worldwide, wow we are volunteers all of over the world.

George Siegal:

Okay. Is there what advice would you have for people? I mean, you put in a lot of hours, you said you've got 300 hours on one, one area that you were working on. If somebody has an idea or a thought, whether it's involving lights or anything, it's just an idea that they want to try to do because they want to try to make a problem better. What would you encourage them to do to move forward with whatever they're thinking about?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

First, I would expect that somebody who has an idea has more than one idea and they need to figure out what to focus on. Once they do that, then maybe do a little research on it. Get more information, start to build your elevator speech, so to speak, so to speak and talk with some other people in your community. Get some like-minded people together. And then start educating other people, maybe reach out to city staff. If it's a problem that they could help with, you know, your city or county staff or elected officials, just start reaching out into the community and get other people involved.

George Siegal:

At what point do you think you'll be able to just sit back and go the dark sky association has been successful. It's a, it's accomplishing that. What I wanted it to. Do you feel that right now, or is there a, a benchmark, is there some type of goal you're shooting for?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

Oh, wow. I think this will be an, a problem for a long time. I think that we, we make progress in different areas and I can can see in Texas, certainly where, you know, 18, 20 years ago it was just educate, educate, educate, and now we've got enough people educated that we can, you know, I feel, I feel a lot of movement with more and more people interested in it. And so we're getting close to what I would think would be kind of a watershed event with it. But as far as, as As, as stopping, I think there will always be more people to educate. I would love to see our state has some statewide rules about, about lighting and light trespass. I think that would be huge. I I'd like to see every state do that to have some you know, some rules to stop people from creating light trespass, but then we're going to have somebody shooting things up in the air and putting all those cells startling, you know, have light pollution where we can't reach it and change the ball. So we can't have to keep educating.

George Siegal:

Is this a political thing at all? Is there like one side that's for, for fixing this and one side that's not, or is this something everybody can get on board with and go, this isn't a political issue. This is a totally different?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

Yeah. To me, it's not a political issue at all. This is an issue that anybody can look at and say, oh, I get that. You know, once they see once. You know, see some lights and say, wow, I can keep my lights. You're not taking away my lights, nobody was doing that. You know, and they see, oh, I just need to change things a little bit. And wow I saved money. It looks better. It's better for my health. It's a, win-win all the way around.

George Siegal:

I think that'd be fascinating to take a Republican and a Democrat outside at night and have them both look up at the sky and see what they're each seeing. Probably be completely different sky. All right, well listen. So how do people get in touch with you? How do they get involved? If they want to send money, if they want to be a volunteer for the organization, they just want to follow what you're doing?

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

Well, the website that I gave you Right. There's a place there where they can donate. If they're not in the state of Texas, then an A1C or on state of Texas, I highly recommend that they join the international dark sky association. The that website is dark sky dot org. So go there and join.

George Siegal:

Okay. And the ways to get in touch with you will be in the show notes. You've provided me with that and hopefully people will get involved. I mean, this is a kind of problem that anybody that ever has gone out to the desert or the beach or somewhere where it's dark, all you have to do is know there's a whole world up there that you're missing.

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

And it's up there everywhere. It's, you know, when you're in the city, it's there, you just can't see it.

George Siegal:

Very good, Cindy, thank you so much for coming on today. I appreciate it. And continued success in making progress with this thing.

Cindy Luongo Cassidy:

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for having me on. It's been fun.

George Siegal:

That's going to do it for today's episode of the Tell Us How to Make It Better podcast. I appreciate you stopping by if you could subscribe to the podcast, follow us, leave a review that would all be really helpful. Share the link with your friends so they can become listeners to all the information about my guest Cindy and the dark sky association will be in the show notes. And there's also a form there that you can reach out to me with ideas. And it's a contact form that you can say, I'd like to see this on the show. This is what I liked, or this is what I didn't like. And I always love to hear from you and see what you're thinking about, what I'm trying to do here. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you next time.