Category Archives: public policy

Grinspoon: Earth in human hands

David Grinspoon himself wonders how an astrobiologist wound up writing a book about the human impact on Earth. Grinspoon, author of Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet’s Future (Grand Central Publishing, 2016), answered the question during a Science in the City lecture recently at Pacific Science Center.

David Grinspoon

Astrobiologist and author David Grinspoon talked about his new book, Earth in Human Hands, January 10 at the Pacific Science Center. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“I am struck by the unique strangeness of the present moment,” Grinspoon said, noting that we are at the controls, if not actually in control, as we enter a new epoch in human history. Some find the proposed name of Anthropocene—the age of humanity—a touch self-centered or self-aggrandizing, but Grinspoon feels it is a fitting moniker.

“It represents a recognizable turning point in geological history brought about by one species: anthropos,” he said. “Our growing acknowledgement of this inflection point can be a turning point in our ability to respond to the changes we’ve set in motion.”

In fact, Grinspoon finds it promising that there’s some recognition that we the people are a major factor in what is happening.

“We need to learn all that we can about how planets work so we can make the transition from inadvertently messing with Earth to thoughtfully, artfully, and constructively engaging with its great systems,” he said.

A long history of planetary change

Grinspoon noted that it’s always fruitful to take a close look at the long-term history of Earth.

“We are not the first species to come along and radically change the planet and cause problems for the rest of the biosphere,” he said. In fact, the first one was not nearly so clever as we are. About 2.5 billion years ago the humble cyanobacteria caused a terrible calamity.

“They transformed the planet, the most radical chemical transformation that our planet has ever experienced,” Grinspoon explained. “They flooded the atmosphere with a poison gas that spelled certain doom for most of the other species that were living on the planet at that time.”

What they learned to do was photosynthesis, and the poison gas they spewed was oxygen. The oxygen also destroyed much of the warming methane in the atmosphere of the time, which led to a global glaciation that turned Earth into a giant snowball, a condition that lasted until volcanoes pumped out enough carbon dioxide to warm the planet up again.

“Cyanobacteria presumably never discussed that fact that they were starting to ruin the world,” Grinspoon quipped.

Four types of change

Grinspoon identifies four broad types of planetary change:

  • Random
  • Biological
  • Inadvertent
  • Intentional

The classic example of the random is an asteroid strike, something that just happens that there’s little control over. The cyanobacteria fall under the biological change. We’re in the midst of great inadvertent change right now, with automobiles, population growth and other factors driving a spike in carbon dioxide levels that began in the 1950s.

We’ve barely dipped our toes into the intentional. Grinspoon explained that our first stab at intentional change came with regard to fixing the hole in Earth’s ozone layer. The solution came from scientists studying Venus and trying to explain the planet’s lack of oxygen. They realized that chlorine destroys oxygen and ozone. Other scientists connected the dots and concluded that chlorofluorocarbons in refrigerants, propellants, and other products on Earth were eating away at our planet’s ozone layer.

Fixing the ozone

Interestingly, Grinspoon noted that this created an argument that may sound familiar. Some called the notion a hoax, there were attempts to discredit it, opposing “science” was created, and there was lengthy debate.

“The truth won out,” Grinspoon said. A global agreement was reached: the Montreal Protocol. Alternate chemicals were developed that didn’t deplete the ozone. Grinspoon said it’s working.

“It’s still going to be another fifty years or so because it takes time for the ozone layer to come back,” he said. “The natural chemical reactions that re-create ozone take fifty to one hundred years.”

“Assuming we stay on track, this is actually a success story, and it’s an existence proof that this kind of global change is possible,” Grinspoon added. “Not that it’s easy, and there are some ways in which fixing global warming will be inherently harder than this, but it shows that we are capable of a different approach.”

Thinking long term

While global warming is an important challenge, Grinspoon said it is a relatively short-term one, and that we need to think even further down the road. He said such random events as asteroid strikes don’t have to happen.

“We have a space program; the dinosaurs didn’t, and look what happened to them!” he quipped. We know how to identify possible threats and have a pretty good idea about what to do when they occur.

Further, Grinspoon said that we have an illusion that climate is always more-or-less fine, only because we’ve been lucky enough to live in a time of relative stability. We need to think about the next ice age, which he said will eventually occur.

“If we get over the near-term climate harm that we’re doing, we will have the knowledge that will allow us, when the need arises—we’re talking 10,000 or maybe even as much as 50,000 years in the future—we’ll have the ability to interrupt that cycle of ice ages and preserve the relatively benign climate, not just for ourselves but for other species as well,” Grinspoon said.

Who is out there?

All of this allowed Grinspoon to put on his astrobiologist hat and talk a little about the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI).

“When you do the math of SETI what you realize is that the question of is there anybody out there to talk to comes down to the question of longevity,” he said. “You can show this mathematically, that if civilizations last for a long time—that is, if this problem is soluble of how to create a stable technological civilization and use technology in the service of survival rather than self destruction—if that’s possible to do and if it happens on other planets, then there ought to be other civilizations out there that we could discover and maybe even communicate with.”

Thus the Anthropocene epoch represents something of a turning point. There are those who regard it as doom and gloom, as something we can’t beat, but Grinspoon doesn’t see it that way.

“The true Anthropocene is something that should be welcomed,” he said. “Though it is yet only in its infancy, it can be glimpsed. Don’t fear it; learn to shape it.”

“It is the awareness of ourselves as geological change agents that, once propagated and integrated, will provide us with the capacity to avoid doom and take our future into our own hands,” Grinspoon concluded.


Books by David Grinspoon:

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Gorge night sky symposium sparks good lighting conversations

A diverse group of night-sky enthusiasts, business people, lighting designers, and government officials gathered last month in Goldendale, Washington and The Dalles, Oregon for a two-day symposium for discussion of measures that might be taken to protect the supremely dark night skies in the Columbia River Gorge. While Seattle Astronomy was unable to attend because of travel, we did speak recently with symposium organizer Jonathan Lewis, who said the event was a big success because it got some great conversations started.

LEDs can be good

Goldendale Observatory

The Goldendale Observatory was one of the sites for a two-day symposium about dark skies in the Columbia River Gorge. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Notably, Lewis said that author Paul Bogard portrayed LED lighting as the enemy during his keynote talk to open the symposium, but participants were able to change some minds.

“By the end of it we realized that the LED technology has a lot of potential to make the dark skies much better if it’s done properly,” Lewis said. “That was really the goal, to get that message out.”

Lewis gave several examples of talks that were learning experiences for symposium attendees. Gary Chittim of a lighting company called PlanLED discussed human-centric lighting that takes into account our circadian rhythms and other factors. LED lighting can be turned down low in the evening and much hotter during the day to mimic the Sun.

“Our relationship with lighting can, with LEDs, mimic a more natural environment, not only at night but also during the day,” Lewis noted.

Another speaker, Rob Leonard of Echelon, demonstrated interesting possibilities for the control of LEDs to provide as much light as needed when it is needed. LEDs can be set to dim at certain hours, and to get brighter only when people move near them. There’s even an app with an emergency button that can allow a person to turn up the lights if they’re concerned they’re being stalked at night.

“Amazing sci-fi stuff that they have available right now,” Lewis said, adding that Echelon is helping to put in controlled lights in Goldendale.

Lighting the ballfield

Sports teams have been among the loudest objectors when strong lighting ordinances are suggested, but Leonard also talked about arena lighting, and said that sports stadia can now be lit more evenly with minimal glare or light trespass.

“All of those things are greatly improved with the newer LED technology that’s available, so a lot of the arguments that sports groups might have against lighting ordinances maybe will go away because of the new technology,” Lewis said.

Building political support

Most of the “right people” attended the symposium, according to Lewis, including officials from Wasco County in Oregon, city commissioners from Hood River, and representatives from Columbia Gorge Scenic Area groups. State Rep. Gina McCabe (R-Goldendale) attended and stated that the attraction of the dark skies is important for tourism in the area.

“She’s definitely a leader in the business community, and having the businesses hear what she had to say and to have that be an important part of her agenda was really important,” Lewis said. He’s hoping McCabe can help engage on some statewide issues. For example, sometimes lighting ordinances aren’t enforced adequately in smaller communities because they don’t have their own electrical inspectors and rely instead on state inspectors through the Department of Labor and Industries. State legislation could allow L&I inspectors to enforce or urge compliance with local ordinances even though they serve different jurisdictions.

“Some conversations like that were able to get started,” Lewis said.

The conversations are continuing, Lewis said. There’s some talk about creating a Gorge-wide dark sky area project, which he called, “a very exciting possibility.” There’s also a movement afoot to start collecting data about light levels in the Gorge. Lewis noted that people who wish to follow these efforts can sign up for newsletters from the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District and the Friends of the Goldendale Observatory.

If you missed the symposium as we did, you’ll find videos of the various presentations below following our podcast of our interview with Lewis.

Podcast of our interview with Jonathan Lewis about the symposium:

Videos of presentations from the dark-sky symposium:

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Symposium to tackle dark-sky issues in Columbia River Gorge

It’s still really dark at night in Goldendale, Washington. Goldendale Observatory State Park has been designated as an international dark-sky park by the International Dark-Sky Association, and the area sits at the northern end of what is arguably the best stretch of good, dark, night sky left in the United States, running south through eastern Oregon and even into northern Nevada and California.

“We’re really blessed with dark skies,” said Jonathan Lewis, a board member of the Goldendale Chamber of Commerce who heads up the renewable energy division for Hire Electric in The Dalles, Oregon. “People buy property out here so they can see the Milky Way.”

“We’re close enough to Seattle and Portland that it makes it practical for people to come out here just to enjoy the night sky,” Lewis added.

That sky needs some maintenance.

Threats to the night sky

Goldendale Observatory

The Goldendale Observatory State Park sits on a bluff above the city and has a spectacular view of Mt. Hood. A symposium aimed at preserving dark skies in the Columbia Gorge will be held in Goldendale and The Dalles Aug. 18-19. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“We’re realizing that the night sky, even in our rural communities, is in danger with the rapid deployment of LED technology, primarily,” Lewis noted. “It’s just getting cheaper and cheaper to do brighter and brighter lights.”

Brighter is not better. The City of Goldendale is in the process of revamping its lighting ordinance, and will soon be upgrading its street lighting. As discussions occurred, Lewis sensed that the lighting people and the lovers of dark night skies were not always on the same page.

“Out of all of that, this idea for a symposium to get the lighting industry professionals and the astronomy folks together in the same place to talk about challenges and ways to make this all happen came about,” Lewis said.

The Gorge Night Sky Symposium

The Goldendale Area Chamber of Commerce, Friends of Goldendale Observatory, and the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District are organizing the Gorge Night Sky Symposium, which will be held August 18-19, 2016, at the Goldendale Observatory State Park and at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles. The event has also received a significant sponsorship grant from Google, which operates a data center in The Dalles, as well as from a variety of other supporters.

The symposium session Thursday, August 18 at the observatory will feature food and drink as well as a keynote talk from Paul Bogard, dark-sky activist and author of The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light (Little, Brown, 2013). (Catch our review of Bogard’s talk at Town Hall Seattle from 2013.) The Friday sessions at the Discovery Center will include a presentation by David Ingram, chair of Dark Skies Northwest, the regional chapter of the IDA. There will also be talks about how bad lighting effects wildlife. The afternoon will include working groups about lighting technology, ordinance making, and lighting incentive programs and how to make them work to encourage people to choose dark-sky compliant fixtures.

The symposium has already attracted a pretty thorough list of decision makers, operators of major businesses in the Gorge, and energy services staff from area utilities. Lewis figures this gives them a good chance to reach their goals for the symposium:

“To heighten the awareness, so that when people are out talking in their community or encouraging people to upgrade in their lighting, they add the dark-sky piece to it,” he said, and, “To make it hard for people to buy non-dark-sky-compliant lighting in the Gorge.”

Lighting history in Goldendale

There’s a bit of irony in the notion that this effort has to happen in Goldendale. Amateur astronomers from Vancouver, Washington built the observatory’s primary telescope, a 24 1/2-inch instrument, in the early 1970s. They donated it to the city under the stipulation that it enact a lighting ordinance.

“Goldendale really had one of the first lighting ordinances” in the state, said Lewis, but it’s a bit out of date. “It was based on high-pressure sodium, full shielding, very different technologies.”

On top of that, enforcement of the existing code has been inconsistent at best.

“The lighting has gone sideways a little bit,” Lewis said. “Now, as people are looking to retrofit, we’d like to get a handle on that.”

A good dark sky at night is important to Goldendale, because astronomy tourism has become significant for the local economy. Upwards of 20,000 visitors stop in at the observatory each year, and many astronomy clubs hold observing events in the area.

“The key piece for the Goldendale Chamber of Commerce in our tourism strategy is to get more people to this observatory,” Lewis said. “It’s very important.”

Improvements at the observatory

Goldendale Observatory

Wind power turbines line the horizon as seen from Goldendale Observatory State Park. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Lewis noted that there have been positive changes at the observatory of late. Recently hired staff have been an improvement, and the state will invest about $6 million in the park over the next four years. That will pay for refurbishing the main telescope, one of the largest public scopes in operation. The work will essentially bring it up to research grade. They’ll also remodel the facility to include a bigger meeting room and auditorium.

“It’s very exciting what the state parks are doing with this observatory,” Lewis said.

If you would like to attend the symposium, you can register online through the Mid Columbia Economic Development District. The fee for the full symposium is just $55, and there are one-day sessions available as well.

Podcast of our interview with Jonathan Lewis:

More information:

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Seattle’s place in new space

Seattle is seen as a hub or epicenter of the “new space” industry, so much so that the annual NewSpace conference produced by the Space Frontier Foundation came to the city for the first time last week. The conference attracted a who’s who of the industry for networking and discussion.

John Thornquist

Thornquist

One question tackled at the event was why Seattle? John Thornquist, director of the state Office of Aerospace, said the state has the four essential elements that the space industry needs:

  • Businesses and a highly skilled workforce in manufacturing, software, tech, engineering, and big data
  • A culture of entrepreneurship
  • Strong university education and research
  • Support of state leaders

“We’ve been on the forefront designing and building some of the most advanced, successful commercial and military aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and scientific exploration vehicles the world has ever known,” Thornquist said in welcoming remarks to the conference.

Panel: Why Seattle for new space

OK, but it’s his job to pump the state. A panel of space company leaders gave their reasons for choosing Seattle and Washington.

Fred Wilson

Wilson

Fred Wilson, director of business development for Aerojet Rocketdyne, said the reason the company chose the Seattle area is simple. Its four founders were Boeing engineers who started the company in 1959.

“Boeing and the aerospace engineering pool that Boeing brought to the Seattle area was a key spawning ground for space companies,” Wilson said, adding that Aerojet Rocketdyne is now doing the same thing. “Having been in the Seattle area for close to 60 years, we’ve spawned off a lot of engineers to companies in the Seattle area.”

Jason Andrews

Andrews

Jason Andrews, CEO of Spaceflight Industries, backed Thornquist up on his assessment, noting that space companies need great software, big data, and capital.

“Seattle is an epicenter for all three,” Andrews said. Combine that with the city’s other positives, and you have an easy choice.

“Seattle is a great place,” Andrews said. “It is unique here because of the visionary people and the pioneering culture that Seattle has had from the very beginning.”

Rob Meyerson

Meyerson

Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin, picked up on that concept as well.

“Space companies come here because so many companies before us have come and made this a really, really fantastic place, when you combine it with the natural resources around us,” Meyerson said. He also said the educational institutions are a good draw, from Raisbeck Aviation High School to the state’s universities.

“It’s a unique place, it’s a beautiful place to live, it’s a very, very intelligent community, a high rate of STEM education, a very literate group,” Meyerson said. “The infrastructure here is really well suited for what we want to do.”

Chris Lewicki

Lewicki

Chris Lewicki worked for NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab in Southern California before moving north with the founding of Planetary Resources, of which he is president and CEO. He said Seattle was a conscious choice for the company; it’s ambition is mining asteroids, and that will take a while to develop.

“It’s going to take you two, three, four, five, ten—maybe longer—years to build a successful business in the space industry,” Lewicki said. “You’ve got to enjoy where you live, and Seattle is spectacular for that.”

The future of new space

Andrews of Spaceflight Industries said it’s hard to predict how the industry will evolve, as so many companies have different goals and objectives, from asteroid mining to satellite launching.

“The ultimate holy grail is about creating a permanent human presence in space; three of the companies leading that are here,” Andrews said, noting Space X, Blue Origin, and Vulcan Aerospace.

“Seattle is really at the beginning of its space growth curve,” he added. “Companies here are going to have other entrepreneurs that come, work for five years, and spawn off and create new businesses that fill niche markets around this ecosystem that we’re creating in Seattle.”

“The capital, the people, the resources, the attitude—Seattle is going to be on the map for a long time,” Andrews concluded.

Charles Beames

Beames

“The companies here are either a part of the revolution itself, or they’re enabling it in some fashion,” said Charles Beames, president of Vulcan Aerospace. “In terms of jobs, the biggest growth is actually going to be all of the new space startups that are highly innovative, that are going to survive, and they’re going to employ all kinds of people and grow new companies.”

“I don’t think you can constrain where the Seattle space economy and industry is going to go,” said Wilson of Aerojet Rocketdyne. “I think it’s going to be innovative and creative and it’s going to pop up in many different areas we don’t even realize right now.”

It turns out, then, that Washington’s aerospace director Thornquist, and everyone else in the state, has good reason to be optimistic.

“New space has come to Washington,” Thornquist said, “and we’re more than ready for it.”

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Sorting out new space and old space

The Space Frontier Foundation has put on a NewSpace conference every year since 2006 as a way to bring together people involved in the space industry—be they from established companies, startups, or government agencies—with investors and tech innovators. The confab ventured out of the Silicon Valley and landed in Seattle for the first time last week, in a nod to the growing number of new-space companies located in the area. Interestingly, one of the takeaways from the conference is that NewSpace may be something of a misnomer, an unnecessary distinction given the direction in which the industry is headed.

“This future, we call next space,” said Charles Beames, president of Vulcan Aerospace.

Fred Wilson

Fred Wilson

Aerojet Rocketdyne would qualify as old space if you want to make a distinction; the Redmond-based company was founded back in the 1950s and has built more than 15,000 rocket engines that have powered missions to every planet in the solar system.

“There’s a lot of talk of new space versus old space, but I think the key relevant thing to me is innovating versus stagnating,” said Fred Wilson, director of business development at Aerojet, who noted that the company’s track record is no guarantee of future success. “It’s the successful innovators that grow over time. Even though we’ve been around for 50-60 years, if we quit innovating we’re not going to be around much longer.”

Distinction without a difference

Lepore

Debra Facktor Lepore

Debra Facktor Lepore, vice president and general manager of strategic operations at Ball Aerospace, finds the dichotomy to be a false one.

“It’s about old and new and everything in between, both working together to advance the future of space,” Lepore said. She noted that the relationships between entrepreneurs and startups and more established companies can evolve to meet the specific business or technical needs in each situation, and that an us-versus-them approach can be disruptive. Lepore called the relationship synergistic.

“In the end it is all about the people and being passionate about going to space: why we go there, how we get there, what we do there, what we discover when we’re there, and making a difference for our lives here on Earth and in pioneering discoveries to make a difference for beyond our planet and the solar system,” Lepore said.

Building real businesses

Charles Beames

Charles Beames

Beames, of Vulcan, noted that one aspect of new space that really is new is that the laws of economics are beginning to apply to low-Earth orbit. It isn’t enough for companies to simply go to space; they must have concrete business plans, real products or services, and customers who want those things. Vulcan aims to support startups to help them get there.

“It’s all about enabling access to the entrepreneur; the entrepreneur that wants to create a business, the entrepreneur that has an idea to solve a really tough problem,” he said. Sometimes, the challenge for space businesses is the long wait to get a project launched and off the planet. Beames said providing convenient and timely access to low-Earth orbit could help raise confidence among investors.

“Keeping the proverbial two-men-in-a-garage together for two years, that’s a long time to be paying salary without being able to either generate revenue or to raise equity,” he observed.

Simpson

Jim Simpson

Jim Simpson, senior vice president of strategy and business development with Aerojet Rocketdyne, said space companies, new or old, need to remember a key fact. His voice lowered to a near whisper, as if he were divulging a well-kept secret: “Businesses need to make money,” he said, echoing the point about sound economic practices.

While there’s a lot that is new about the space industry, Simpson reminded conference attendees that one old player can’t be ignored. He pointed out that two-thirds of all space missions are still government missions, and that the government remains a big economic player in the industry.

“There’s going to be a struggle between the government and commercial space applications as far as the dynamics are concerned,” Simpson said, adding that he expects that will lead to a healthy evolution.

“Old space and new space: it’s about the ideas, the drive, the people, the innovation and the partnerships,” said Lepore of Ball Aerospace. “All of us are really working to make a difference to pioneer discoveries, explore the universe, have a sustainable planet, improve our quality of life. Is it new? Is it old? Is it mid? Is it next?” she asked.

“It’s always about what’s next,” she concluded.

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Discussion of space security is highlight of week’s calendar

Several area astronomy clubs have meetings and star parties this week, and the University of Washington hosts a symposium about space security.

Jackson School of International StudiesDoctoral candidates and junior fellows in the Space Security Initiative at the UW’s Jackson School of International Studies have been examining the prospects of various international spacefaring nations, and will present a briefing about their findings at the University this Wednesday, June 8. Seattle Astronomy is among the participant panel of journalists, space company representatives, government officials, military, economic development specialists, and other space thinkers involved in the discussion of the future of space exploration and security. We’ll report back on the discussion in a future post.

Astro club activity

Tacoma Astronomical SocietyThe Tacoma Astronomical Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 7 in room 175 of Thompson Hall on the University of Puget Sound campus. Seattle Astronomical Society member Mark de Regt will give a talk about how he moved from observing the skies from his yard to remote imaging with equipment located in the South Australia desert. He gave a similar presentation to the SAS back in March. The Tacoma group also will hold one of its free public nights beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday, June 11 at the Fort Steilacoom campus of Pierce College. An all-weather program about aurorae will be featured, and club members will have telescopes on hand for observing if weather permits.

BPAAThe Battle Point Astronomical Association has a full evening of events planned for Saturday, June 11. The club’s popular BP Astro Kids program will celebrate its first birthday at 5 p.m. by revisiting its first year of fun kid projects in a relaxed, science-based, crafty evening! Participants can come by any time as there is no talk, just celebrations! The club’s monthly planetarium program follows at 8:30 p.m., this time focusing on “Pluto & Some Planets.” Astronomer Steve Ruhl will examine the latest data about Pluto from the New Horizons spacecraft. They’ll also take a brief look at the three bright planets currently in the evening sky: Jupiter, Mars and Saturn. If the sky is clear, astronomers will be on hand with telescopes. The event is free to BPAA members, $2 donation suggested for nonmembers, $5 for families.

Olympic Astronomical Society has its monthly meeting scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 6 in room Art 103 at Olympic College in Bremerton. As of this writing the program had not been published.

Up in the sky

As the BPAA suggests, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn are all beautifully placed for viewing starting at dusk these days. The Sky This Week from Astronomy magazine and This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope list additional observing highlights for the week.

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Light pollution measure expected to win governor’s approval

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign a supplemental state transportation budget tomorrow that includes what may well be the first ever mention of light pollution to make it into state code. The transportation budget may seem an odd place for such policy matters to be considered, but state Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) found an opportunity there.

Rep. Jessyn Farrell

Rep. Jessyn Farrell

“The Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over a lot of facilities with a lot of light across the state, has some federal dollars to do a study on the impacts of light to night driving and vision,” Farrell told Seattle Astronomy. “I thought as long as they’re looking at the impacts of light on vision, why don’t we also look at the impacts on light pollution?”

Farrell had that directive inserted into the budget as a proviso—see our story from Tuesday for the exact language—and the governor has told her he will sign it.

(UPDATE: Gov. Inslee did, in fact, sign the bill, including the light-pollution language, on March 25, 2016.)

“A huge thank-you to Gov. Inslee,” Farrell said. “He is, as we all know, a great environmentalist. He cares a lot about the night sky and said that specifically when we spoke about this proviso. I’m very pleased that he’s going to sign the supplemental budget with this proviso in it.”

“I care about a visible night sky, so this is important,” she said.

As a proviso in the supplemental budget, it will only be in effect for about a year. Farrell said she plans to work next year on getting the department to make an on-going commitment to considering light pollution in its planning and operations. She said it might not even take legislation, but that the department could be convinced to make such considerations of its own accord.

Gov. Jay Inslee

Gov. Jay Inslee

“It seems like a straight-forward thing, and I’m surprised they don’t already have policies around light pollution,” she said, “but my hope is that ultimately this will allow them to start making different decisions around how they light their road facilities across the state.”

Farrell sponsored a bill this year to have the state Department of Ecology do a comprehensive study of the effects of light pollution and to make policy recommendations for reducing it. While the bill received a hearing, it did not win approval from the House Environment Committee. Farrell said cost was the main hangup. The legislature has been ruled in contempt of court over education funding, and is still in special session trying to wrap up the operating budget, which is under a great deal of strain.

“There was a great concern in doing anything that was perceived as extra in the general operating budget this session,” she said. She saw the DOT funding as a way to make some progress without making it a budget issue.

Farrell said she has long been interested in the night sky, and remembers not having to go very far to see things like the Perseid meteor shower.

“It is really a lot harder to see even really visible events like that, and I think that what’s interesting about light pollution is that its really something that we can address,” she said. She credited the amateur astronomy community for stepping up, noting that it was a constituent, David Dorais, who raised the issue at a community forum and spurred her to action.

“A lot of people care about this issue, so to be present at community forums and raise it and help educate the public that there are things that can be done, I think that’s really important,” Farrell said. “As we work through the various political processes at the different levels of government, having you present really matters.”

“This is only a first step,” she said. “There’s so much work that we can continue to do and I look forward to working with you.”

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