Look up into the sky on any given night in any of Ventura County’s cities. What do you see? Chances are, not much, thanks in part to light pollution. We live in what the Ojai Valley Green Coalition’s Dark Skies Project calls “perpetual twilight,” never seeing true darkness in all of its grandeur. Stars and celestial bodies aren’t the only things we’re missing out on; our personal and environmental health has taken a hit, too.
On Friday, Sept. 15, time-lapse filmographers Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan will present SKYGLOW in Ojai, a hardcover photo book and time-lapse video series exploring North America’s remaining light-pollution-free night skies via a historical trek from the early days of the dinosaurs to modernity, and will discuss the increasingly pressing issue of light pollution and what cities and individuals can do to abate it.
VCReporter: There must be places out there where you can see clear sky sans light pollution because you’ve got a whole book about it, right?
Gavin Heffernan: There are some optimistic things we have seen. If anything, what we’re seeing in the last couple of years is that the issue is coming to the surface and kind of becoming what people are talking about on scientific fronts or artistic fronts. There is an awareness that is building, and that’s part of what we’re trying to do as well is raise awareness through the photographs and through seeing some of the best places in North America to highlight this endangered resource, almost how you would with an animal going extinct. Our hope is that we can turn it around. The other thing we’ve learned that gives us hope is that the changes that are required are not necessarily massive.
How much of North America is free from light pollution?
The west coast is considerably better off than the east coast. When you look at the [light pollution] map, you’ll see the dividing line about where the Mississippi is, a lot of that is because of population, it’s more densely populated areas versus the west where there are deserts. In terms of actual percentage, it’s not great.
How does light pollution make for a “grave threat” to our environment?
There’s a lot of factors. A lot of them are still being discovered and still being learned. From a human perspective, the theory is that we’re not designed to live in a 24-hour daylight scenario, that our body has circadian rhythm and production of melatonin that are meant to be designed for a body living half in the day and half in the night. On another front, we’re learning that bird migrations are thrown off, trees are budding earlier. These sound like small potatoes, but because the environment is interconnected, we’re seeing essentially that a lot of the natural order of nature is being thrown off. The other side is the cost. It’s an excess of energy use that is not needed. The last front is something we’ve talked about as a psychological loss. That was kind of where Harun and I connected on this project, in the sense of what is being lost in people because of this complete lack of the night sky. We had lived in L.A. for so long, once we got out into the desert, it immediately opened up our minds and hearts and it gave us this much greater perspective on the universe. The small stuff seemed completely irrelevant.
The city of Ojai has the Porch Light Project and the Dark Skies Project — do you see Ojai as a model for other cities?
Ojai sounds like a perfect example for it. It definitely is one of those things where communities need to work together and get inspired by the success of neighboring communities. It’s an issue that is interconnected, and a town 10 miles away does make a difference. We also saw along our journey that other towns are using this as a way to draw tourists because the big cities are getting so blown out and the idea of seeing the Milky Way is becoming like a unicorn for some people. I think Ojai already has that reputation as a bit of retreat and nature perspective and it fits into that model.
The Ojai Valley Green Coalition hosts Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan’s SKYGLOW on Friday, Sept. 15, at the Thacher School Milligan Center for the Performing Arts, 5025 Thacher Road, Ojai. $10 suggested donation. For more information, visit www.ojaivalleygreencoalition.org. To learn more about the SkyGlow project, visit www.skyglowproject.com.