in: Advice, Character, Podcast

• Last updated: July 2, 2023

Podcast #312: The Costs of Light Pollution and the Benefits of Darkness

Throughout human history, the night sky has been a source of inspiration for art, literature, philosophy, and religion. But if you’re like most people living in cities or suburbs or even rural parts of the country, you’ve likely never encountered a truly dark night. Thanks to electric lighting, the nighttime can be as bright as day. And while it’s allowed us to function well into the midnight hour, electric lighting has deprived us of many of the spiritual and physical benefits that only come out in the dark. 

My guest today has written a book that explores the decline of darkness in our modern age. His name is Paul Bogard and his book is The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light. Today on the show, Paul and I discuss what true darkness actually looks like and the type of un-dark night most modern folks experience. He then shares the last few spots in America and Europe where you can still experience true darkness and what the sky in those places looks like. We then delve into what we miss out on spiritually by not experiencing true darkness and the health detriments that come with being exposed to artificial light 24 hours a day. Paul also shares some of the common myths about darkness, such as the idea that darkness is more dangerous than light.

This show is going to inspire you to seek out a remote area of wilderness so you can experience the beauty that comes with a truly dark night.

Show Highlights

  • How Paul Bogard became interested in writing about darkness and light pollution
  • Why does darkness have a bad rap? Why are people afraid of it?
  • The detriments of too much light at night
  • Why light doesn’t actually make you or your home safe at night
  • What is “true night”?
  • Where in the world can you experience darkness unaffected by light pollution?
  • How the night sky changes when there is no light pollution
  • The intangible costs of never experiencing a true night sky
  • What life was like before electric lighting
  • First sleep and second sleep — why our sleeping habits are a new phenomenon
  • How light pollution impacts our ecosystems
  • The human health detriments of too much light
  • How to responsibly use artificial light
  • Why Paul went from writing about the night sky, to the ground beneath us

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

End of night, book cover by paul bogard with a man staring the sky.

I highly recommend picking up a copy of The End of Night. It provides some fascinating insights about the benefits of darkness and will inspire you to go on an adventure to seek a truly dark sky.

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Welcome to another addition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Well, throughout human history, the nighttime sky has been a sort of inspiration for art, literature, philosophy, and religion. But if you’re like most people living in cities or suburbs or even rural parts of the country, you’ve likely never encountered a truly dark night. Thanks to electric lighting, the nighttime can be as bright as day. And while it’s allowed us to function well into the midnight hour, electric lighting has deprived us of many of the spiritual and physical benefits that only come out in the dark.

My guest today has written a book where he explores the decline of darkness in our modern age. His name is Paul Bogard, and his book is The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light. And today on the show, Paul and I discuss what true darkness actually looks like and the type of undark night that most modern folks experience. He then shares where the last few spots in America and Europe where you can still experience true darkness and what the night sky in those places looks like. We then delve into what we miss out spiritually by not experiencing true darkness as well as the health detriments that come with being exposed to artificial light 24 hours a day.

Paul also shares some of the common myths about darkness such as the idea that darkness is more dangerous than light. This show’s going to inspire you to seek out a remote area of wilderness, so you experience the beauty that comes with a truly dark night. After show’s over, make sure to check out the show notes at Paul Bogard, welcome to the show.

Paul Bogard: Great to be here.

Brett McKay: So you wrote a book called The End of Night, and it’s all about how nighttime has pretty much ended for most of human civilization. I’m curious what led you down the path of exploring the end of night and why darkness has these benefits that we often overlook.

Paul Bogard: I guess I think of myself as lucky. I grew up in Minneapolis, but the year I was born, my grandparents and parents built a cabin in the northern part of the state where, we call it up north here. So all my life, I’ve been going up north to this cabin on a lake and so I grew up with what I would describe as real night or real darkness. That’s darkness without any artificial light, and I used to, still do, actually, take the canoe out into the middle of the lake and just kind of lie back under the stars and soak in the universe.

So having that firsthand experience of a real night and real darkness, especially as a kid and growing up, I took that with me into the rest of my life. And when I was looking for a subject to write about at the college, I started thinking about nighttime and writing about it. And when I discovered the problem of light pollution, everything just kind of clicked and all of a sudden, I was writing about all the benefits of darkness and all the costs of light pollution.

Brett McKay: Why does darkness have such a bad rep. Everyone’s afraid of the dark like that’s something you’re supposed be afraid of. We do everything we can to illuminate the dark. What’s going on there?

Paul Bogard: Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. I think a lot of this issue of light pollution comes down to our fear of the dark. And it’s a fear of darkness that goes back pretty much as far as we go back, I think. And you see it in historical literature, nighttime and darkness as being the time of thieves and danger and that kind of thing. Then certainly our popular culture has reinforced that, so that’s when attacks happen, that’s when home invasions happen, that’s when the bad guys come out. All that and so I think if you asked most people when’s the most dangerous time to be out or when does crime happen? People would say at nights in the dark. The surprising thing is that statistically, that’s just not true.

I’ve talked to police in a lot of different cities when I was writing the book, and they said everybody thinks that nighttime is the dangerous time, but daylight is when houses are being robbed and people are being attacked by people they know inside their house. It’s relatively rare to be attacked outside, so we have all these preconceived notions about that darkness is dangerous. And to go off that, then the light is safety and that more light is more safety. It’s important to say that some light can certainly help us be safe outside, help us see our way, but the challenge is that we just think that ever more light will make us ever safer, so we keep pumping out more and more light.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I thought that the chapter on the myths of darkness being unsafe because that’s what you hear whenever for home security.

Paul Bogard: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brett McKay: You got to have outdoor lighting, have a well-lit house because bad guys like to do things when they can’t be seen. But you make the point or I think a police officer made the point like bad guys also like to see what they’re doing.

Paul Bogard: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Exactly, yeah. I heard that again and again when I was researching the book. I heard people say bad guys are just as afraid of the dark as we are, and they like to be, as you said, they like to be able to sort their tools in the light, they like to see what’s going on. And you see it on, remarkably, if you go to say a website of a police department, your local police department, you’re bound to see a message that reads something like make your house safe at night, light it up, light up your yard. So even the police are kind of following behind this questionable notion that light makes safe and darkness is dangerous.

Brett McKay: Yeah. You also point out too much light can be dangerous particularly on roads and highways. We flood the streets with light, and it actually creates this glare that makes it harder to see and can increase the chances of accidents.

Paul Bogard: Yeah, it’s really true. I think especially if you think of as you get older, your eyes change, it becomes more difficult to drive at night in some part because of what’s happening physically to your eye, but we have all this glaring light shining into our eyes as well. I think when I give talks and when I give readings and that kind of thing, I sometimes apologize to people because I say once I’ve talked and shown you some of these things, you’re going to go out into the night and start seeing this everywhere. And one of the things you see is glary light, light that’s allowed to just, we’re kind of shooting it all over the place and including straight into our eyes which makes it harder to see, which makes it more dangerous at night. And let’s have light but let’s have light just going down where we need it and not shining into our eyes or ultimately into our bedrooms, into our houses, that kind of thing.

Brett McKay: Right. And going back to the bad guy, you had some pictures in there of houses that had lots of light but you couldn’t see the person because there was no contrast or they’re wearing all white and you couldn’t tell that they were there.

Paul Bogard: Yeah, it’s really remarkable. There’s a great … A friend of mine sent me two images, and they’re in the book, of the same scene of a yard in Tucson. In the first scene, you see this yard with a bright light, and the second scene, he’s put up his hand to shield the light so that you have the light just going down and nowhere else. And then you can see the bad guy who was standing in the shadow all the time, but because the light was so bright, you couldn’t see him. Bright lights make our pupils shutdown. So it makes it harder for us to see, brights light cast shadows where the bad guys can hide. I think even maybe the biggest issue that we’re talking about here, too, is that bright lights give us the illusion of safety. So we look out onto a street, we look out onto a college campus, and we see it all lit up and we think, “Oh, it’s safe.” But lights aren’t going to make you safe, and if somebody’s out there, they can hide easily.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Paul Bogard: Lights don’t make us safe.

Brett McKay: Lights don’t make us safe. Later on, we’ll talk more about how to we can use light more smartly I guess is the word I’m looking for.

Paul Bogard: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Let’s talk about this idea of true darkness or real night. What is that, and what sort of darkness do most people experience who live in the cities and suburbs?

Paul Bogard: I think it’s a really interesting question because if you ask somebody, “Does it get dark at night?” They’re going to, “Duh, of course, it gets dark at night.” But honestly, it really doesn’t get dark at night. At least not as dark as it used to. There’s a couple different ways to think about this. One is something called the Bortle scale, which is a nine-point scale. Starts at nine in our brightest places, so pretty much any city downtown and works its way down to level one, which would be what we would call natural or real darkness. So that is darkness as it was before the advent of eclectic lighting essentially.

What’s remarkable when you start thinking about it this way is to learn that most Americans live most of their lives in levels five and above. So this whole second half of this scale of darkness is something that most of us never even experience. We don’t even know what it looks like. And it’s getting harder and harder to know what it looks like. Certainly in the lower 48 states, there are very few places that you could honestly say are a level one darkness where there’s no evidence of artificial light, either no light off on the horizon or no light even in the sky from a distant town or something like that. So yeah, it gets dark and it gets darker in the countryside than it does in the city, but it doesn’t get dark like it used to. And if you’ve lived long enough as I have, I guess, to grow up with experiencing real night, real darkness, and now you’re in the same place, you’ve seen the change. It’s not as dark as it used to be.

Brett McKay: Where can people still experience darkness unaffected by human light here in the United States?

Paul Bogard: This is the crazy thing. If you’re east of the Great Plains, so the whole half of the eastern part of the country, technically, there’s no more natural darkness left. Again, there certainly are dark places, people go stargazing, some of the national parks like in Acadia up in Maine or out on the Outer Banks, some places in West Virginia. There are places where you can experience close to a real night, but to get back to that real natural darkness, you have to get out into the ocean, off the coast, or if you’re lucky, out into the western states. Sometimes you can get back some, southern Utah’s a great place to go, the Oregon desert. There are places where you can get back to it, but for most of us, most of our nights, we’re not even close.

Brett McKay: How does the night sky change when there’s little or not light pollution? Because I think we look up at the stars and we’re like, “Oh, there’s some stars there, you can see the big constellations like the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia,” but what happens, how does the sky change whenever you have absolutely no light interfering with your stargazing?

Paul Bogard: Yeah, it’s an entirely different experience, really. I’ll give you a good example which is when I was working on The End of Night, I was living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I worked in Wake Forest, and I remember walking home one night. It was in the fall, and I looked over into the eastern sky, and I saw the stars of Orion, which are great. The three stars and the belt and Betelgeuse and Rigel, these super bright stars, and everybody, most of us know what Orion looks like. I couldn’t really see any other stars, but I was always psyched to see those stars. I learned soon after that that these stars and Orion are 98% or 99% brighter than any other stars in our sky. So essentially what I was seeing were these super bright stars, and I wasn’t seeing 98% or 99% of the stars I could be seeing.

Most of my students have never seen the Milky Way, which is an awesome experience. And when you do get into those experiences of what I’m saying is real night or real darkness, you can have the feeling of there are so many stars that you feel like you’re falling into them. It’s this kind of disorienting dizzying experience, and the stars are rising out of the horizon on one side and falling off the edge of the earth on the other. It’s just this surreal, almost surreal experience. You’ll start to have a … The sky, if you’re in a dark enough place, actually looks more deep blue than it does black. So there’s actually enough light in the sky that it causes just an entirely different experience. It’s an experience that used to be completely common that all of us would have experienced if we had been alive 100 to 150, 200 years ago. And now it’s something that very few people ever experience.

Brett McKay: Right. And you talk about Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, that famous painting. Everyone’s kind of like, “What’s going on there? It’s blue, it’s not black, there’s different colored stars,” and you could think that he’s tripping on something. But just the way you described it, that’s probably what he saw. He saw a deep blue sky with different colored stars.

Paul Bogard: Yeah, that’s a great example. I often show that image in my presentations and I say Van Gogh had his issues, but I think that a lot of people look at that painting and they just think he was, as you said, tripping on something or a crazy man of something like that. Or as one museum described to me Van Gogh was a werewolf of energy. We just think he was this unbelievable human being, and that may all be true, but he was also seeing a sky that we no longer see anymore. And we have evidence of that in his letters to his brother, Theo, where he would write about the different colors of stars over Paris, which you go to Paris these days, and you’re lucky to see two dozen stars, let alone the colors of the stars. So when I’m talking about that painting sometimes I say the night sky has inspired artists for all of history. Van Gogh’s one of the best examples of that. Just think about all the young Van Goghs out there right now who are not being inspired.

Brett McKay: Yeah. It seems like not being able to see the full solar system, what’s out there, has probably really disconnected us from the cosmos or nature in a weird spiritual way.

Paul Bogard: I definitely think so. I like to say that we’ve taken what was once one of the most common human experiences, which is walking out the door at night and coming face to face with the universe, and we’ve made that one of the most rare of human experiences. And that experience, that firsthand experience of coming face to face with the universe has, as I said, inspired art, but it’s also inspired religion, philosophy, spirituality, science. All these things, all these elements of what it means to be human. And there are a lot of costs to light pollution that have, where we can attach dollars signs to or talk about in terms of human health, the environmental health, but then there are also these what are often intangible costs. What do we lose when we can’t see a real night sky? It’s hard to put a dollar sign on it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly valuable to who we are as a species.

Brett McKay: What was life like before we had electric lights? Right now, because of lights, we can just be out 24/7 and everything’s fine. What happened, what was life like before that? Did people just stay in as soon as the night came, didn’t leave their homes? Were they out and about? What was life like?

Paul Bogard: Everything that I found was that it was mixed. You have some stories of when night came, people went … This is, I think, and especially in Western Europe, people would go inside and kind of batten down the batch as though they were on a ship and a storm was approaching. Lock themselves inside, kind of turn over the outside to the bad guy, as it were. But then you also have stories and histories of night being the time of freedom of when people who were in one way or the other in bondage during the day were then at night kind of allowed their freedom and they could go see their friends or they could be with their partner.

My fiance was in Rwanda last summer, and she had these remarkable stories of towns that have either no electric light or electric light but only for a part of the evening, and then the rest of the night is dark. And she said people would come out and see their friends, and the streets were alive with neighbors and seeing themselves. The night became this friendly time where people were out and about rather than what it is, I think, too often even in modern society kind of a time when people are nervous and anxious and going inside to hide. Historically, there were both things, but I think it’s so hard for us to even imagine what it’s like before electric light because we’re so swamped in it that it’s hard to think what would I do if I were in that situation?

Brett McKay: Right. You also talk about how people stayed in bed longer than we do. They’d go to bed pretty much when it got dark, and they’d lay there. Sometimes they would wake up in the middle of the night, and now we think, “Oh, that’s insomnia. I got to go to the doctor, get some Ambien.” But for them, that was a natural part of sleeping. You would have a first sleep, and then you’d wake up, do some stuff, then have a second sleep and wake up in the morning.

Paul Bogard: Yeah. It’s a remarkable thing. This was discovered by a historian at Virginia Tech who wrote a book called That Day’s Close, who discovered in the literature from Western Europe, what you just mentioned, the idea of first sleep and second sleep. It makes a lot of sense if you think about it. If there’s no electric light, if there’s no electricity, to do all the things that we do when it gets dark out, folks would go to sleep, and they would sleep for a while. Then they would wake up at one or two or three in the morning and have this intermission, as it were, in their sleep.

You discover stories of couples would make love, they’d have conversations. People would get up and go see their friends, people would pursue their private hobbies, things they didn’t get to do during the day. And then they would go back to sleep and sleep until the sun came up. So to extrapolate that forward to our time where we think of waking up in the middle of the night is, we freak out if we wake up because we’re like, “Oh my God, do I have insomnia? Is something wrong?” And number of the sleep docs that I talked with said this is a totally normal thing. What is pretty un-normal is this idea that we stay up into the night with our electric lights, go to bed at 11, get up at seven, and sleep straight through. It’s not like that normally.

Brett McKay: Right, so let’s talk about light pollution and its effect on the ecosystem. We call it pollution, we don’t think of it as that. We think of pollution like a smog and stuff going in the water, but light can harm our environment. So what ways has light pollution harmed our ecosystems?

Paul Bogard: This is the issue that really brought me to writing The End of Night. It’s the thing that matters to me most is our impact on ecosystems and our fellow creatures. And the surprising thing is we just don’t know that much about it. It hasn’t studied that much. It’s in the early stages, and yet, when you start to think about it, a number of … just told me this and talked to me about this. If we think about the fact that life on earth evolved with bright days and dark nights, we generally acknowledge that we need sunlight, it’s really important. But they said we also need darkness.

Then you think about how much light pollution there is, how much … Light pollution is, the definition essentially is the overuse and misuse of artificial light. It’s just we’re using way too much, we’re kind of blasting it all around. And essentially what that does for nocturnal creatures and crepuscular creatures, those creatures that are active at dawn and dusk is that ruins their habitat. And so they have evolved to depend on darkness for mating, for migration, for feeding, for all these different things. And then we come along and light up the night. We essentially ruin that habitat. So if in North America, for example, we have more than 400 species of birds that migrate at nights. People don’t know that during migration season and in some ways all year round, at night, there are birds moving overhead migrating. And they are drawn out to artificial lights, so they’re drawn off-course, they’re drawn into urban areas. A lot of the birds that flying into the windows during the day were drawn into that area at nights by our bright lights. We’re having a real problem with insects being sucked out of the ecosystem because they’re drawn to artificial light at night. Just from the lowest, the base of the food chain, insects, up to the top of the food chain, we’re seeing where everywhere we look, we’re seeing impact of artificial lights on different species.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I think the most visceral example that I’ve seen, I think it was Planet Earth, the documentary of one of them about sea turtles. When they hatch, they use the moon or the stars to figure out where to go, back to the ocean. But with artificial light, they’re heading towards busy streets and they’re getting run over. That was probably the most visceral example I’ve seen of that.

Paul Bogard: It’s a really dramatic example. These sea turtles that have evolved for over hundreds of millions of years to come on the shore, lay their eggs, when the eggs hatch, the hatchlings come up onto the beach, and they have evolved to scurry toward the brightest light on the horizon, which is, as you say, has been the moonlight or the stars on the ocean, which is obviously the way they’re supposed to go. Now the brightest light on the horizon is the condominium behind them or the hotel or the street light and so they come up and they head that way, and they go into the street, they’re run over, they die of dehydration, they’re picked off by predators. It’s a real problem.

The good news is that a lot of people recognize this, and people are watching the beaches so that when the hatchlings come up, they help them to the ocean and that kind of thing. But we lose a lot of … Sea turtles are endangered anyway, and we lose a lot of them just from this light pollution.

Brett McKay: And you talk about bats. They’re often feared because they’re associated with the nighttime, right? But they play a vital role in our ecosystem. They eat mosquitoes, they eat bugs, and if don’t have bats, we’re going to have this problem with the infestations of insects.

Paul Bogard: Right, exactly. Bats are such a great example of everything we’re talking about here because they are associated with night, and a lot of people are afraid of them for really no, I shouldn’t say no reason, but any danger that a bat might carry, rabies is the prime example, is way overblown. And when you compare it to the benefits that they bring to humanity, we really ought to be loving bats and praising bats and thinking they are as cool as they really are. There’s more than a thousand species of bats. When you look at the pictures of them, they’re fascinating faces and ears and nose.

Then a prime example is the bats down in Austin, Texas. There’s bats who live under the Congress Avenue bridge who come out and fly into the … It’s just this amazing emergence of millions of bats coming out, and they fly into the agriculture or fields around the city and eat pests. And they save the farmers hundred of millions of dollars every year. Huge value, right? Huge value. It’s something we ought to treasure, and yet, we’re afraid of them. So it’s this odd feeling that we have for something that is actually helping us.

Brett McKay: So besides the harm on our ecosystems, you researched that this exposure to light 24/7 might have some health detriments to humans as well. So what are some of those detriments?

Paul Bogard: Yeah, there are primarily three different areas. And the first is that all this exposure to artificial light is contributing to sleep disorders. So it’s impacting people’s ability to sleep, their length of sleep. Sleep docs have a term they use which is short sleep and long light. Because we’re exposed to so much light way into the night, we end up having these short periods of sleep. What I was told, which is really compelling, is that short sleep or lack of sleep, sleep disorders are tied to every major disease that we’re wrestling with these days. So obesity, cancer, diabetes, depression. You name it. A lack of sleep seems to have a real detrimental effect.

The other second area is that exposure to artificial light at night confuses our circadian rhythms, which is these rhythms that orchestrate our organs, our bodies felt essentially. It was described to me as if you imagine the organs in your body as an orchestra, each one a different instrument, the circadian rhythm is the conductor. Keeps the orchestra together, and if you confuse that conductor it follows, the rest of the orchestra’s going to be confused. And people think, “Oh, it’s no big deal. I can pull an all-nighter,” or, “I can fly to Europe and I can function,” but if you do it night after night after night or a few nights here and a few nights there, it leads to real serious issues such that the world health organization now lists working the night shift as a probable carcinogen. And the American Medical Association is really concerned about exposure to especially blue light at nights.

The third area that people are really nervous about is that it seems like … We have a hormone called melatonin. A lot of people have heard about that. It’s only produced in the dark, so if you’re sleeping with the lights on, you’re not producing melatonin. If you get up at night and you go to the bathroom and turn on the light, the production of melatonin in your body stops. And what they found is a lack of melatonin in our blood stream is linked to an increased for breast and prostate cancer, so this gets people’s attention. And all these things together, what I say that people’s … Like every other creature on earth, we evolve with bright days and dark nights. You need darkness for health, and if you’re not already sleeping in the dark, start tonight.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that section about increased rates of cancer amongst nurses who work the night shift really blew my mind. I had no … I think we all understand if you work the night shift, you’re probably going to be tired and fatigued, and that has lots of problem. But the idea that it can cause cancer really sounded some alarms in me.

Paul Bogard: Yeah. It does for a lot of people. Cancer gets our attention, and we should be careful to say … We can’t say if you see a bright light at night, you’re going to get cancer. Nobody’s really saying that, but it seems to increase the risk for cancer. There’s a real compelling argument that I detail in the book about the link to breast cancer in women from exposure to light at nights, and as the researcher said to me, even if it’s only 10% or 15% or 20% of breast cancer cases, that is still a lot of people. With all these things that we’re talking about, when it comes to our exposure to light at night, so much of this exposure could be reduced. So often, it’s unnecessary exposure with high costs.

Brett McKay: Okay. Let’s talk about that then. How can we be more thoughtful about lighting at nighttime because obviously it’s not possible just to eliminate all light at nighttime. What can we do to light the skies or light our way without, I guess, mitigating some of the downside of too much light?

Paul Bogard: Yeah, for sure. There’s a lot we can do. I’ll just reiterate the idea, too, that the problem isn’t artificial light, it’s how we use it, basically. So we’re going to have artificial light, increasingly we’re going to have electronic light. Light emitting diodes, LEDs are kind of taking over the world, and that’s good in a lot of ways. They can do a lot of wonderful things, so we’re going to have light. How do we use it? Let’s use it thoughtfully and responsibly and as good neighbors. Let’s not use more than we need.

For example, in your own house, turn off your lights at night. As I was just saying, sleep in the dark. Try not to be staring into your screens before you go to bed. The blue light from your screens seem to have a real detrimental effect. In our communities, we can have what are called light ordinances which are basically just rules that dictate what kind of light we’ll have and how we use it. And again, the biggest thing in our communities and all over is if we’re going to have light, let’s direct it downward. We call it shielded. Let’s have it downward, so it lights the street, it lights the sidewalk, but it doesn’t shine up into the sky, it doesn’t shine into people’s eyes. So those are kind of the basic ways I guess I would say is to in your own house be in the dark. Turn off your house lights. In your communities, make sure that your light is focused downward, that we’re not using more light than we need, and as a society then to start realizing that. Because some light helps us be safe, more light doesn’t automatically make us safer.

Brett McKay: Are there any cities who are on the forefront of reducing light pollution or being smarter about lighting?

Paul Bogard: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot of really cool work that’s being done with lighting around the world. Here in the States, two prime examples are in Arizona, Flagstaff and Tucson. Flagstaff is remarkable. If you go there … A lot of this is dictated by the astronomical observatories that have been there, but in Flagstaff and in Tucson, you will see exactly what I’m talking about which is that the lights are focused down, sometimes the lights are more, the colors of the light are more amber colors rather than this bright blue, white light. And so that’s pretty remarkable to see.

If you go to a gas station, for example, which are in most of the country one of the prime examples of light pollution where gas stations and parking lots are lit 10 times as brightly as they were only 20 years ago. So we’ve really ramped up the lighting in gas stations. If you go to a gas station in Flagstaff or Tucson, it’s much dimmer. At first, you’re like, “Wow, it’s super dim.” Then as you’re there, you just think, “Well, I have all the light I need.” It’s not like these places are overrun by thieves and criminals, everything’s fine. There’s just less light.

Some of the cities in Europe like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Oslo are really doing amazing things with their lighting. Lowering the levels of light, putting lights actually in the street rather than shining into your eyes, so there’s a lot of cool stuff we could do with lighting that we’re not doing. And I think that goes along with rethinking the way that we use light at night.

Brett McKay: Yeah. And also, that’s another recommendation would be for folks to get out to a place where they can experience true darkness.

Paul Bogard: Definitely. Sure, because if you’re … I like to say if you’re younger than about 40 in the US, chances are you’ve grown up swamped with artificial light. You don’t know what it really is to live without artificial light. So having that firsthand experience of getting out somewhere where you can see what a real sky looks like, and then maybe you’ve heard me talk or somebody’s pointed this out to you. Kind of looking around at the lights around you and thinking, “This is kind of dumb. Why do we need lights that are going up into the sky?” It’s not helping anybody. It’s not making anybody any safer. We can have lighting, let’s just focus it down.

Brett McKay: Yeah. It inspired me. I want to get out to, I live in Oklahoma, and out the Panhandle, there’s a state park called Black Mesa, which I don’t think there’s anything, there’s no light around there. I want to get out there because I don’t … I know I’ve seen the Milky Way once, but it’s been a long, long time, and I want to see that again.

Paul Bogard: Yeah, absolutely. And I would, just to touch back on where we were a little bit earlier, a night doesn’t have to be a level one on that Bortle scale to be pretty amazing. You can have what would rank maybe a two or a three or a four on that scale, and you can still be awed by being out at night. The problem is that most of us honestly are way up in the seven, eight, nine range most of the time. So we’re just really not … We look up and we see 25 stars when really, we ought to be able to look up and see 2,500 stars. That’s the difference that most people don’t realize.

Brett McKay: So Paul, you’ve got a new book out, and I haven’t had a chance to read it, but it looks fascinating because it’s the same thing. I love how you take these sort of obscure ideas, things we take for granted and try to flesh things out. It’s about dirt. What caused you to explore, go from the night sky to exploring the ground beneath us?

Paul Bogard: It’s an entirely different subject in a lot of ways but similar themes, which is to say I’m really interested in the costs from our separation from nature and the benefits from being connected to nature and realizing our connection to nature. The End of Night is about being cut off from darkness because we’re using too much artificial light. And The Ground Beneath Us is really about this firsthand experience of natural ground. We are cut off from that as well.

This kind of stunned me when I found this out, but we live in the civilized west 90% to 95% of our time inside or in our cars. And then when we walk outside, we walk on pavement, a lot of us. So we’ve lost a literal connection with the natural ground. Then I started thinking about all the really vital grounds that we don’t have, a lot of us, most of us don’t have connection with, especially the soil that provides our food, the grounds that give us our energy. Even the grounds that give us our spirit, and that was one of the great things about the book is to learn not only about soil and pavement but also to go to places like Gettysburg and talk about hallowed grounds and to other places to talk about sacred ground. What do we mean by those places, and why are they important? So it’s another, that was a really fun book to write, and hopefully takes people in a lot of neat places.

Brett McKay: Great. Well, Paul, where can people learn more about your work?

Paul Bogard: I have a website I would invite people to. It is Paul-Bogard, so P-A-U-L hyphen B-O-G-A-R-D, and you can read about the books and find out lots of good stuff.

Brett McKay: Fantastic. Paul Bogard, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Paul Bogard: It’s been my pleasure. Thanks very much.

Brett McKay: My guest was Paul Bogard, he’s the author of the book The End of Night. You can find that on and bookstores everywhere. He’s also got a new book out about the ground beneath us. It’s called The Ground Beneath Us. It’s about dirt. You can find out more about his work at Also, checkout our show notes at where you can find links to resources where you can delve deeper into this topic.

That wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at If you enjoyed this show and have gotten something out of it, I’d appreciate it if you’d give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, that helps out a lot. As always, thank you for your continued support, and until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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