The End of The World As We Know It: Starless Sky

This is an ongoing column called The End of the World As We Know It, where I will attempt to show you what our future will look like if we continue to destroy the environment at our current rate. These stories may seem like worst-case scenarios. They are not. Based on predictions from leading scientists and my own personal experiences, know that, without a significant change, this is our future. Thank you for reading.

The End of The World As We Know It: Starless Sky

John Kirages, Staff Writer

A little boy, his face dotted with freckles and his red hair quickly drying from his bath.  He races out of the bedroom and dives headfirst onto his Mickey Mouse-dotted bed, landing sprawled out across the comforter.  As he sits up, his mother, shaking her head, walks in and tosses his Star Wars pajamas to him. He hurriedly dresses and jumps to his feet, still on the bed.  “Can we try to see the stars? Please? Please, please, please?”

His mother looks across the room to the LEGO Batman-themed alarm clock, which reads 8:45.  “Okay, but only for a few minutes. You have school tomorrow.” The boy grins widely and jumps off the bed, shouting “here, Ginger!” as he races towards the door to the apartment’s balcony.

The red-furred retriever, who had been resting just outside the door, leaps to her feet, padding after the boy, her head shaking slightly her head.  The boy throws the balcony door open and sits on the cool floor of the balcony. Ginger slowly treads outside and sits next to him, her large head on the boy’s lap.  As they look up at the sky, searching for stars, the boy’s mother watches them from inside, remembering her childhood home in the country where the stars had shone brightly each night.

While the boy searches the dark, hazy-orange sky for glimmers of light above, the sounds of the city buffet the apartment with renewed strength.  Horns blare, sirens wail, trains thunder, helicopters whir, and tires screech upon the cold black pavement.

The little boy, now several minutes into looking for any signs of stars in the light-shrouded sky, begins to lose hope and allows his eyes to drop from the sky, resigning his last few minutes awake to scratching Ginger.  His mother, noting the time, calls out to her son, “It’s time for bed. You can try again tomorrow.” The boy sighs and drags his feet as he makes his way to bed, downtrodden and melancholy. As he settles to sleep, trying to tune out the din of the city, he wonders to himself when he will next see the beautiful, twinkling lights in the heavens.

In our quickly expanding metropoli, light and noise pollution are both extreme and invisible.  When we think of “pollution,” we rarely recognize the flood of light or the urban din as examples.  However, light and noise can be just as dangerous to the environment as other types of pollution and even more dangerous to us.  Hundreds of millions of birds and countless trees die each year due to light pollution. These creatures, and many more, rely on how long the days are to determine the season, but the constant light in cities can prevent them from migrating or, in the case of plants, changing colors.  Even worse for birds, many rely on the light from stars to guide them and excess light can confuse them to the point where they never complete their migration.

Our own sleep and eating schedules are based on an internal clock called the “circadian rhythm,” which keeps time based on the presence of light — specifically blue light (the color of the sky during the day).  The amount of this light that invades every nook and cranny of our cities at night can make it significantly harder to sleep at night, reducing both quantity and quality of our already minimal sleep.

Finally, noise pollution can cause a significant number of health issues, and while the studies are still in progress, it has been linked to high blood pressure, child-development issues, chronic and episodic tension headaches, fatigue, and early hearing loss — about 20-25% of Americans aged 12 to 19 are suffering from the early stages of hearing loss already.  

Light and noise pollution are just as harmful to our environment and to us, and yet we don’t even consider them harmful.  There is barely any regulation or attention to this pollution and it is affecting all of us on a daily basis. Without a change, the words “peace and quiet” will lose all meaning and the twinkling stars in the night sky will disappear forever, shrouded by veils of smog and light.