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Reclaiming the night: Northumberland’s dark skies

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I was pretty amazed at the glowing speckles in the sky. Living in London, and having been brought up in the densely populated south east, I’ve been used to the night sky having a faint orange glow to it, rather than being dark and deep – or, on a clear night like this August one, densely dappled with big and bright stars.

I’m in Northumberland, staying at Maften Hall Hotel, just a few miles south of the vast area of Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park.

In December last year, England’s spectacular border county was named as home to the largest area of protected night sky in Europe. Covering nearly 1500 sq km between Hadrian’s Wall and the Scottish border, this scenic spot is the first of its kind in England, and one of the largest in the world, joining the likes of Death Valley and Big Bend Dark Sky Parks in the USA.

The International Dark Skies Association (IDA), based in Tucson, USA, granted Gold Tier Dark Sky Park status to the combined areas of Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park, as the highest accolade that the IDA can bestow, in recognition of the two year campaign from the park authorities, Kielder Observatory Astronomical Society, councils, residents, businesses and tourism agencies.

The aim is to help counter the spread of light pollution and maintain the pristine starry skies overhead. It’s not all about stargazing though. By boosting nocturnal wildlife it allows for a more natural environment to be facilitated, and proves that high quality, safe and eco-friendly public lighting can be successful.

Some of the most tranquil and isolated areas of the UK are seemingly being threatened, and such a status can help protect the rural character  – especially of an area deemed the nation’s darkest and most tranquil by the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Regular light meter readings will be taken, and lights adjusted to comply with IDA guidelines.

A new Lighting Management Plan will guide planning authorities in ensuring new developments take account of the pristine night sky. The park’s darkest areas, which are mostly uninhabited, will remain light-free, whereas elsewhere adjustable lighting  will respond to need.

A £25 million ‘Invest to Save’ project is underway, aiming to replace up to 16,000 street lighting columns and all the existing sodium lanterns with eco-friendly and fully controlled LED units, which have the capability to vary the lighting levels, while maintaining public safety. This will not only significantly decrease light pollution, but reduce energy and maintenance costs and cut carbon emissions.

According to councillor John Riddle, Chairman of Northumberland National Park Authority, “Starry nights, tranquil villages, rolling hills and forests are all part of the Northumberland experience that visitors love.

“This move will reclaim the night and protect this rich legacy for future generations. It is sad that so much of the UK has lost its view of the heavens. Wasteful light pollution snubs out the stars and over 80% of people have never seen the Milky Way. But here at least the universe can be admired, shared and cherished by everyone.

Inspiring a love for the universe around us and a desire to cherish it – such a bid can’t be argued with.

To be inspired by the night sky and this county, Visit Northumberland. I stayed at Maften Hall, which is close to both Northumberland National Park and Kielder Water & Forest Park.

Photo: David DeHetre via Flickr

Further reading:

London’s ecosystem is as complex as anywhere. Should it be a national park?

Is the pop up boom good for business and the environment?

5×15′s Capitalism and its Discontents, London – review

Smart cities don’t add complication, they allow society to thrive

Are cities where sustainable futures will be made?

Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at www.andsoshethinks.co.uk.

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What Does the Rising Alt-Right Movement Mean for Climate Change Propaganda?

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Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Rawpixel.com https://www.shutterstock.com/g/rawpixel

Time author Justin Worland penned an insightful post this summer about the increasingly divisive attitudes on climate change. Worland pointed out that concerns about climate science used to be a bipartisan focus, but have since become primarily the concern of the left.

The Alt-Right Gives Renewed Voice to Climate Change Denialism

Unfortunately, the battle is becoming more divisive than ever before. The rise of the alt-right movement has propelled climate change denialism into overdrive. The election of Donald Trump illustrates this perfectly. In 2012, Trump tweeted that climate change was a mess created by the Chinese. At the time, his statement was dismissed as a mocking jab at the current president. However, after millions of alt-right voters put Trump in office, these fears became more pronounced.

The alt-right movement is gaining steam across the Western World. This has created profound concerns about the inevitable future of climate change. Of course, not every alt-right group adheres to climate change denialism. A British paper writing service would likely publish more articles that are favorable to the climate change discussion, even if it was read primarily by right-wingers. However, that is of little solace to the rest of the world. While alt-right groups in mainland Europe may not share the American GOP’s hostility towards climate science, they will help reinforce their political capital.

Around the same time Worland published his article, his colleague at The Guardian, David Runciman wrote a piece that focused more heavily on recent developments driven by the alt-right.

“Not all climate sceptics are part of the “alt-right”. But everyone in the alt-right is now a climate sceptic. That’s what makes the politics so toxic. It means that climate scepticism is being driven out by climate cynicism. A sceptic questions the evidence for a given claim and asks whether it is believable. A cynic questions the motives of the people who deploy the evidence, regardless of whether it is believable or not. Any attempt to defend the facts gets presented as evidence that the facts simply suit the interests of the people peddling them.”

Does this mean that the quest to fight climate change has been lost? No. A new generation of right wingers are beginning to break the cycle of climate change denialism. According to recent polls, millennial conservatives are much more likely to be concerned about the future of climate change then they’re older conservative brethren. They may help turn the tide of the political discussion, so climate change can once again be a bipartisan concern.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of concerns:

  • Millennials are less politically active, so they may not have the influence necessary to temper the alt-right position on climate change.
  • The alt-right has significant control over the discussion. Trump has taken efforts to bar studies that contradict his position on climate change. Millennial attitudes on climate science make shift after being exposed to alt-right propaganda.

The biggest concern of all is that it may be too late to address the problem by the time millennials have any meaningful political influence.

So what can be done to address the issue? Climate change advocates must be more diligent than ever. They will be combating a group of climate change deniers with a lot more political support. They will need to make the case that fighting climate change is not a political concern, but a concern of human survival.

With concerns about climate change mounting, they will also need to make it one of their primary ballot points during coming elections. If they create enough of a protest, they may be able to turn the tide of discussion.

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How Home Automation Can Help You Go Green

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The holidays are an exciting, nostalgic time: the crispness in the air, the crunch of snow under your boot, the display of ornate holiday lighting up your home like a beacon to outer space, and the sound of Santa’s bell at your local Walmart.

Oh, yeah—and your enormous electric bill.

Extra lights and heating can make for some unexpected budgeting problems, and they also cause your home to emit higher levels of CO2 and other pollutants.

So, it’s not just your wallet that’s hurting—the planet is hurting as well.

You can take the usual steps to save energy and be more eco-conscious as you go about your normal winter routine (e.g., keeping cooler temperatures in the home, keeping lights off in naturally lit rooms, etc.), but these methods can often be exhausting and ultimately ineffective.

So what can you actually do to create a greener home?

Turn to tech.

Technology is making waves in conservation efforts. AI and home automation have grown in popularity over the last couple of years, not only because of their cost saving benefits but also because of their ability to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency.

Use the following guide to identify your home’s inefficiencies and find a solution to your energy woes.

Monitor Your Energy Usage

Many people don’t understand how their homes use energy, so they struggle with conservation. Start by looking at your monthly utility bills. They can show you how much energy your home typically uses and what systems cost you the most.

monitor energy usage

Licensed from Shutterstock – By Piotr Adamowicz

The usual culprits for high costs and energy waste tend to be the water heater and heating and cooling system. Other factors could also impact your home’s efficiency. Your home’s insulation, for example, could be a huge source of wasted heating and cooling—especially if the insulation hasn’t been inspected or replaced in years. You should also check your windows and doors for proper weatherproofing every year.

However, waiting for your monthly bill or checking out your home’s construction issues are time-consuming steps, and they don’t help you immediately understand and tackle the problem. Instead, opt for an easier solution. Some homeowners, for example, use a smart energy monitor such as Sense to track energy use in real time and identify energy hogs.

Use Smart Plugs

Computers, televisions, and lights still consume energy if they’re left on and unused. Computers offer easy cost savings with their built-in timers that allow the devices to use less energy—they typically turn off after a set number of minutes. Televisions sometimes provide the same benefit, although you may have to fiddle with the settings to activate this feature.

A better option—and one that thwarts both the television and the lights—is purchasing smart plugs. The average US home uses more than 900 kilowatts of electricity per month. That can really add up, especially when you realize that people are wasting more than $19 billion every year on household appliances that are always plugged in. Smart plugs like WeMo can help eliminate wasted electricity by letting you control plugged-in items from your smartphone.

Update Your Lighting

Incandescent lightbulbs can consume and waste a lot of energy—35% of CO2 emissions are generated from electric power plants. This can have serious consequences for increased global warming.

To reduce your impact on the environment, you can install more efficient lightbulbs to offset your energy usage. However, many homeowners choose smart lights, like the Philips Hue bulbs, to save money and make their homes more energy efficient.

Smart lights can be controlled from your smartphone, and many smart light options come with monthly energy reporting so you can continue to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Take Control of the Thermostat

Homeowners often leave the thermostat on its default settings, but defaults often result in heating and cooling systems that run longer and harder than they need to.

In fact, almost half the average residential energy use comes from energy-demanding heating and cooling systems. As an alternative to fiddling with outdated systems, eco-conscious homeowners use smart thermostats to save at least 10% on heating and roughly 15% on cooling per year.

Change your home’s story by employing a smart thermostat such as the Nest, ecobee3, or Honeywell Lyric. Smart thermostats automatically adjust your in-home temperature by accounting for a variety of factors, including outdoor humidity and precipitation. A lot of smart thermostats will also adjust your home’s temperature depending on the time of day and whether you’re home.

Stop Wasting Water

The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day. About one-third of that goes to maintaining their yards. Using a smart irrigation systems to improve your water usage can save your home up to 8,800 gallons of water per year.

Smart irrigation systems use AI to sync with local weather predictions, which can be really helpful if you have a garden or fruit trees that you use your irrigation system for  water. Smart features help keep your garden and landscaping healthy by making sure you never overwater your plants or deprive them of adequate moisture.

If you’re looking to make your home greener, AI-enabled products could make the transition much easier. Has a favorite tool you use that wasn’t mentioned here? Share in the comments below.

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