Children One or Zero

I have written about the overpopulation crisis before, but a Population Connection webinar on July 13 by Nandita Bajaj, Executive Director of Population Balance, motivated me to write more. Her presentation, Pronatalism and Rapid Population Growth: Challenging the Social Pressures to Have Children, was excellent and informative. I will post a link to her presentation in a comment as soon as it is available. Even though this article draws upon some of the material Nandita presented, what follows reflects my point of view alone.

The United Nations issued a report this week that announces that the world’s human population will surpass 8 billion people in mid-November 2022. Think about it. Later this year, 8 billion people will be living on this planet. The age of the Earth is 4.54 ± 0.05 billion years, so we have nearly two people currently living and consuming resources for every year this planet has existed. That’s a sobering thought.

Powerful forces of ignorance and misinformation are at work today that prevent us from adequately addressing a number of critical issues that—if we don’t act quickly—will result in a serious decline in the quality of life for most of the human race within the next few years. Chief among these is overpopulation, which is the primary driver of most of the other problems we are facing (climate change, environmental degradation, the decline in biological diversity, conflict over resources, and so on). Rather than feel powerless, or resign ourselves to a dystopian future, or take false solace in an afterlife that doesn’t exist, we must act. That is the only moral choice, and it gives our life meaning. What kind of a world do we want for ourselves and future generations? We must work towards building that world, no matter how difficult or protracted the effort.

As it is, we have commodified every possible part of the natural world to meet our insatiable needs. What could possibly go wrong?

The rapid increase in human population during the past couple of centuries is not normal. The Earth’s resources can sustain a world population of around 3 billion indefinitely, but we exceeded that limit in 1960. Since then, we have been living on borrowed time, all of us. And the debt is coming due. Techno-optimism isn’t going to save us.

The only humane way to get us back to 3 billion people is to reduce the birth rate. Having one child or none at all has to become the new normal. But the many facets of pronatalism are getting in the way of that.

Pronatalism is the idea that having children is both expected and a purely personal act.

Having children should never be incentivized . Many of us are ill-suited to be parents, and certainly living a deeply fulfilling life of great value to society does not depend upon bringing children into the world or child-rearing. And for those of us who do want children and are likely to be good parents, why not have one child, and no more?

Every child should be wanted, and born into a nurturing environment. Did you know we spend more money on imprisonment than we do on education in the U.S.? The right to contraception (including permanent contraception) and, yes, abortion are deeply personal human rights that must not be taken away by anyone. The idea that an embryo or fetus is somehow equivalent to a fully-formed human being is the opposite of rational: it is irrational. Many who oppose abortion do so for religious reasons. And such irrational considerations have no place in law or governance. Unfortunately, for many, religion is a “gateway drug” that predisposes one to holding other beliefs and opinions that are not supported by a shred of evidence. This is dangerous in the extreme.

The idea that having children is a purely personal act is also wrong. If you have more than two children, then you are directly contributing to unsustainable population growth and a certain increase in human suffering due to that growth. We talk the big talk about “personal freedoms” in this country, but almost never about “societal responsibilities” that must put limits on those freedoms. Freedom without responsibility is selfishness, plain and simple.

There are a number of pronatalism pressures that must be effectively countered. These include cultural pressures (e.g. “when are you going to get married and have children?”), religious pressures (e.g. more followers, “believers” vs. “non-believers”), economy-driven pressures (e.g. more consumers and workers), and political pressures (e.g. more taxpayers, more soldiers to fight in our endless wars).

“Baby-bust alarmism” is often in the news, and must be countered wherever it occurs.

And then there’s “great replacement theory”, which is the idea that “our” people are soon going to be outnumbered by other, less desirable, people. There’s an inherent racism in this idea. Often, people who sound the “underpopulation alarm” are really talking about underpopulation of white people.

We certainly have our work cut out for us, but we don’t have to change the minds and hearts of everyone to save humanity and our natural world. We only need to reach a critical mass of enlightened individuals to effect real and lasting change. And that may be a lot fewer than you think.

The greatest legacy we can leave our children is fewer children.

A Planetary Crisis

On my recent Amtrak trip between Tucson, AZ and Alpine, TX, I caught up on some reading. The highlight of that reading was an article by Alexandra Witze entitled “A Planetary Crisis” in the March 12, 2022 issue of Science News (pp. 16-24). This is absolutely the best article I have ever read about the history of our scientific knowledge on the topic of human-induced climate change.

You can read the print edition of this article, or the version online.

One important point to call out. The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii has been continuously monitoring atmospheric CO2 levels since March 1958, and the annual mean CO2 level has increased 31.8% between 1959 and 2021.

1959315.98 ± 0.12 ppm
2021416.45 ± 0.12 ppm
Annual Mean CO2 at Mauna Loa expressed as a mole fraction of dry air
(micromol/mol = parts per million = ppm)

And, most recently,

May 2021419.13 ppm
May 2022420.99 ppm

Alarmingly, the rate of increase is not linear.

We know that carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas. And, as Witze’s article explains, that fact has been known since 1856.

One thing is crystal clear. Human activity (mostly the burning of fossil fuels) is causing the increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, and that is causing our planet to warm. We need to quickly and substantially reduce the amount of CO2 we are dumping into the atmosphere—or risk catastrophic consequences. I’m trying to do my part. We just installed rooftop solar panels that should generate most or all of the electricity we consume, including that required to power an electric car. As soon as I can get one (this fall?), I will be trading in my gasoline-powered car for an electric one.


By the way, I’ve been a subscriber to Science News for the past 50 years, and in my opinion there is no better newsmagazine covering all areas of science. If you aren’t already a subscriber, please consider becoming one.

Ending Spring Forward, Fall Back

On March 15, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to end the twice annual switch between Standard Time and Daylight Saving Time. So far so good. That leaves us now with two choices: standard time year round or daylight saving time year round. Unfortunately, they have chosen the latter. The fact that there was no debate on this point suggests the esteemed senators collectively have little understanding of science—or, at least, biology and astronomy.

Most astronomers (those that actually observe) and astronomy educators don’t like daylight saving time because it delays the onset of darkness by an hour: most of us observe in the evening and not right before dawn. Cruelly, daylight saving time prevents many young people from experiencing the wonders of the night sky because it gets dark around or after their bedtime during the warmer months of the year.

Non-astronomers (which, let’s face it, includes most of us) that rise early in the morning will spend even more of their year getting up while it is still dark out. In the northern U.S. at least that means that during the winter months, many school children will be going to school in the dark when it is still bitterly cold.

I have written previously on this topic.

As for biology, unless all of us also start our work days and school days an hour later, year-round daylight saving time will further mess with our already-damaged circadian rhythms—and most of us don’t get enough sleep as it is. As many studies have shown, this leads to a number of negative consequences affecting our health and well being.

The answer is, of course, to adopt standard time year-round as Arizona currently does. Even that is now in jeopardy as Arizona is likely to join the bandwagon and go to permanent daylight saving time, if this legislation is enacted.

This legislation now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives and, if it passes there, on to President Biden’s desk to sign into law. If that happens, most/all? of the U.S. will be going to permanent daylight saving time beginning officially November 5, 2023 (actually, March 12, 2023).

Is anyone pushing for year-round standard time instead? You bet.

I encourage you to support this organization, Save Standard Time, a registered 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization.

Reinventing the Global Economy

I watched a new thought-provoking documentary last night, Going Circular, about the need to reinvent our local and global economic systems to eliminate waste and save our planet’s resources.

Mother Nature has had a 4-billion-year head start in figuring out how to build a sustainable ecosystem where nothing is wasted and we have much to learn from her.

Little or nothing should be going into the landfill. As much as possible should be recycled, reused, and repurposed. Everything possible should be manufactured so that it can be repaired and upgraded, rather than thrown away and replaced with something completely new.

This is especially important considering that world population is nearing 8 billion and much of the world is rapidly adopting the wasteful lifestyle of the United States and other developed nations. We need to rapidly pivot to a more sustainable economic system or risk catastrophic damage to the global ecosystem and unimaginable human suffering. With so many people, we face the very real possibility of trashing the world’s environment in a single generation.

I don’t know how you accomplish the needed changes fast enough without strong and competent involvement and regulation by the world’s governments. Sure, we can have reasoned debates about the exact roles that governments will play, but all parties should be onboard with the common goal that tax money should be spent wisely and that government should run efficiently. This is no time for “small government” but it is time for better government.

Excessive military spending across the world is tying up valuable resources that could be used to help transform our economies and save the planet. The United States is one of the worst offenders. “With an annual defense budget of $733 billion, the U.S. spends more than three times what China does and 12 times as much as Russia.”1

To end this short article on a hopeful note, think how satisfying it would be both personally and collectively if much of our labor force had jobs directly involved with reducing waste, reusing materials, producing products that last as long as possible, and repairing and upgrading products rather than seeing them thrown away.

Watch the film, please. Though Going Circular is currently only available through Curiosity Stream, which is a subscription service, hopefully it will be more generally available soon. I’d like to see this documentary aired on PBS.

1The Week, November 19, 2021, p. 13

The Day After

Last night I watched a movie that somehow I missed when it was broadcast on ABC on November 20, 1983. It is the most compelling dramatization I have seen of why we need to rid the world of all nuclear weapons. Frankly, this movie is terrifying, but as stated at the end, a real nuclear war would be far, far worse. This movie ought to be required viewing for every American over the age of 12. Though the Cold War is over, the Soviet Union is no more, and the two Germanys reunited, the threat of nuclear warfare is just as relevant today. In fact, the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is closer to midnight now than it ever has been—even during the height of the Cold War.

There are a number of organizations dedicated to ridding the world of nuclear weapons, among them the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 and 1985, respectively. I encourage you to donate regularly to both of these organizations as I do.

What else can we do? Here in the United States, we must reject and oppose tribalism at every opportunity. Our political system is dysfunctional, both in practice as well as structurally, and it needs to be dramatically reformed. Our politicians are completely unable to address the many existential crises currently facing our nation and the world, and most citizens feel powerless—or worse yet—dispirited, apathetic, or willfully ignorant. At the same time, we must root out lies and misinformation, and rely upon facts and hard-earned expertise.

Globally, we must work toward establishing a global “supergovernment” that enacts and enforces binding international laws that are in the best interest of all the world’s peoples. Individual nations will have to give up some sovereignty in order to effectively address global threats such as nuclear weapons, warfare, human rights violations, pandemics, climate change, pollution, environmental degradation, and loss of biodiversity. Whether the United Nations can be strengthened to serve in this role or a new organization created will need to be explored.

The Day After is available through Netflix and Amazon.

Iowa Intercity Bus Service

Another pandemic casualty: intercity bus service. The Dubuque – Waterloo – Cedar Rapids – Marshalltown – Ames bus route shown on the 2015 map below is no more. When I called Burlington Trailways yesterday, they told me that this bus route will not be coming back after the pandemic. What a shame.

Not everyone who would like to ride a regional bus has no other transportation option, though that demographic is sizable and certainly needs to be served. Some of us like to ride a bus because we simply don’t want to drive long distances, especially alone. I lived in Ames, Iowa for nearly 30 years, and go back periodically to visit friends and family. I currently live in southwest Wisconsin, and prior to the pandemic, I was able to board a bus in Dubuque at 10:55 a.m. on any day, and would arrive in Ames on the same bus at 5:00 p.m., in time to pick up a rental car at Enterprise before they closed for the day. On the return trip, I could return the car in the morning, after Enterprise opened, board the bus in Ames at 9:45 a.m., and would arrive in Dubuque at 3:30 p.m. It was all very convenient.

Now, your only choice for using public transportation from Dubuque to Ames is the following:

  • Board the bus at Dubuque at 3:50 p.m.
  • Arrive at Davenport at 5:05 p.m.
  • Layover at the Davenport bus station until 6:55 p.m. (1h50m)
  • Transfer to a new bus and leave Davenport at 6:55 p.m.
  • Arrive in Des Moines at 11:10 p.m., with a 20 minutes layover
  • Transfer to a new bus and leave Des Moines at 11:30 p.m.
  • Arrive in Ames at 12:10 a.m. (no rental car companies open at that hour of the night)

The return trip is even worse.

  • Board the bus at Ames at 10:20 p.m.
  • Arrive in Des Moines at 11:05 p.m.
  • Transfer to a new bus at Des Moines
  • Arrive in Chicago at 5:35 a.m.
  • Transfer to a new bus in Chicago
  • Leave Chicago at 6:30 a.m.
  • Arrive in Davenport at 9:55 a.m.
  • Transfer to a new bus at Davenport
  • Leave Davenport at 10:10 a.m.
  • Arrive in Dubuque at 11:25 a.m.

A parenthetical note about this trip. The eastbound bus arrives at the Davenport Flying J’s Travel Shop, 8200 Northwest Boulevard at 1:55 a.m. Instead of going on to Chicago, you could take a 16-minute cab ride the 7 miles to the Burlington Trailways bus station in Davenport at 304 W River Dr. and then wait at the bus station for the 9:55 a.m. bus to arrive that will take you on to Dubuque. Or rent a motel room to sleep for a few hours first.

This is crazy! Who would put up with this unless they were desperate and had no other travel option? Certainly not a good way to build demand for public transportation across a broader demographic, is it?

Public transportation has been underfunded for decades in the United States and it shows. We ought to be ashamed. We really do need a much better bus and passenger rail network, with good intermodal connections.

Sadly, there was not a single news article on the internet that announced or lamented the cancellation of the Burlington Trailways bus route from Dubuque to Ames (and beyond). I guess intercity bus service isn’t deemed newsworthy, as many bus passengers are considered to be second-class citizens at best.

Another sign of the times: neither the bus companies nor anyone else posts bus route timetables on the internet, and even the Amtrak ones are hard to find these days. They all want you to enter your origin and destination on their website, but what if you want a “big picture” timetable for the entire route? You’re usually out of luck.

Quit Saying a Low Birth Rate is Bad News! It Isn’t.

I subscribe to The Week which does a good job summarizing news events of the past week from a number of sources. In the May 21, 2021 issue, they quote an article from Noah Smith on Bloomberg.com that tells us, once again, how bad it is that the U.S. birth rate is declining.

Birth rates need to decline everywhere in the world because population growth is the cause of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and increasing poverty, conflict, suffering, and inequality. It is obvious by now that if we want to avoid a dystopian future for the human race, we’d better start encouraging people to have fewer children (one or zero is enough). That is the only humane way to reduce human population. Why would any sane person want to reduce our population through any other means?

Quoting from the article, “America’s declining birth rate”,

A “baby bust” points to “a grim economic future” for America, said Noah Smith.

Not as grim as the economic future that awaits us as the world’s resources are rapidly depleted and the natural world collapses due to too many people on our planet.

U.S. births fell 4 percent in 2020 to their lowest rate since World War II, the federal government reported last week.

Is it any wonder? The pandemic has upended all of our lives. That would have been reason enough, but add to that the toxic politics of this country which is like a horribly abusive marriage from which there is no escape. Then, add the host of existential crises facing the world, plus powerful manipulators constantly lying to us and distracting us to keep us from doing anything about these problems, and you have a country that clearly is on the verge of open warfare, if not collapse. Why would anyone want to bring a beautiful child into such a hopeless future?

“This puts an increasing financial and physical burden on the young,” who must pay the soaring costs of Social Security, Medicare, and caring for their own aging family members.

We have no one to blame but ourselves for the world’s most expensive medical care that for many is no longer of the highest quality. We need a non-profit, single-payer system such as Medicare for All.

“In 2010, the number of working-age adults per older adult was 4.8; by 2060, it’s projected to be only half that”—meaning that the tax burden on workers will need to double.

We are not paying enough taxes as it is. This is especially true for the wealthiest among us, including large corporations. And spending less on the military would help a lot, as it already consumes an obscene percentage of our federal budget.

The graying of the population will also lead to lower productivity and economic stagnation.

It depends on how you measure productivity and economic growth. Many seniors are highly productive members of society, even when they are not paid for their work. These encore careers allow many seniors to contribute directly to the betterment of society in more substantial ways then when they were traditionally employed.

If humans are to survive on this planet, we must transition away from an ever-increasing-consumption approach to economic growth and towards one of sustainability and improving everyone’s quality of life (not only materially).

Per-capita productivity will increase if we build robots and other machines to do the most unrewarding and dangerous work that humans now do. People can be retrained for more interesting work and more service-oriented careers.

And it will put the U.S. at a marked disadvantage in our competition with China, which has four times our population.

So what? Why must we continue to take this “us vs. them” approach? We need to think, and act, globally.

Increased immigration would help, but it’s not enough to keep our population growing.

Why must our population grow? Growth is killing us and this planet. We need a new economic system where progress isn’t equivalent to unbridled growth.

“Americans need to have more children,” and surveys show they want to—but are held back by the high costs of housing, education, and child care.

Well, then don’t vote Republican. And one child is enough.

America has a choice to make: to be a graying nation in decline or a great nation, “confident enough in ourselves to believe that there should be more of us.”

This is nonsense. Since when is a graying nation in decline? Let’s value every individual for who they are and what they can contribute, regardless of their age. And who cares about a “great nation”? I’m more interested in a “great world”. And making a “great contribution” of my time and energy to others.

We need a new economy. Where everything is recyclable. Where everything is built to last. Where everything is repairable. How are we ever going to get to that without strong government regulation to encourage needed behaviors and discourage harmful ones? And binding international laws?

For more information…
Population Connection

The Great Divide

A few quotes come to mind when considering the current hyperpartisan and politically polarized environment in the United States.

“The beatings will continue until morale improves.” – Anonymous

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” – H. G. Wells

One thing is for sure. The systemic problems in our political system will remain firmly in place no matter who wins the election.

I want to live in a place where we can work together, despite our differences, to make real progress towards the following goals:

  • Free or inexpensive basic healthcare not tied to one’s employer
  • Free or inexpensive post-secondary education
  • Affordable housing and tiny house villages for the homeless
  • Universal Basic Income (UBI)
  • An economy based on building things that last and are able to be repaired or recycled, rather than rapidly consumed and thrown away
  • Currency that is neither artificially scarce nor debt-based, and that takes into account everything of value to society
  • Public policy based on a humanistic worldview where decisions are guided by facts not faith, science not religion
  • A gradual reduction in the world’s population through the only humane way available—having fewer children
  • Tight restrictions on gun ownership and training requirements for those who do own guns
  • Binding and enforceable international laws
  • A stronger and more effective United Nations
  • A completely decentralized power grid powered by renewable energy sources, primarily solar and wind
  • Substantially scale back on the use of fossil fuels
  • A strong public transportation system, including high-speed passenger rail

I’m sure those of you of a similar persuasion could add many more items to this list, but you get the idea which “side” I am on. (Hint: It is not the side that has most of the guns.)

There are many people who want these things. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could live someplace where we could work towards these goals without our every effort being blocked?

We have built a lifestyle that is economically and ecologically unsustainable. We are fast running out of time and options. Smart people address problems before they get to be crises.

What are our options, besides a slow, miserable, and probably violent descent into dystopia (i.e. life’s a bitch and then you die)?

  1. Divide the U.S. into autonomous enclaves
  2. Leave the U.S. (if anyone will have us)
  3. Form or join an intentional community where people with similar goals and beliefs can demonstrate to the wider world a better way to live, a better way to govern

1 and 3 are similar, but 3 would be on a much smaller scale—no more than about 150 people. Small is beautiful.

A few years ago, at a friend’s recommendation, I watched a movie based on a brilliant idea but crudely executed (and I do mean crudely): Idiocracy. It seems we are already well on the way to the dystopian existence portrayed in that 2006 movie. Though Idiocracy is brilliant satire, I would love to see a remake that is more discerning and family friendly so it can reach a wider audience.

There’s a great divide in my life, too. On the one hand, I want to finally live far away from city lights during my retirement years in an astronomy-friendly intentional community that has no dusk-to-dawn lighting. But on the other hand, I would love to live in a politically progressive city with a first-rate symphony orchestra and a vibrant classical music scene. Observational astronomy and classical music are my two biggest interests, but their venues are mutually incompatible.

Challenges, large and small.

Imagine

John Lennon

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky

Imagine all the people
Livin’ for today
Ah

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too

Imagine all the people
Livin’ life in peace
You

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Mirador Astronomy Village

Photo by John Rummel, Madison WI

Since the beginning of February, I have been able dedicate 10+ hours each week towards creating an astronomy-friendly community called Mirador Astronomy Village. Will you join me in that effort?

Here’s the “placeholder” website:

https://miradorastrovillage.org/

And here are some recent posts I’ve made to Dark-Sky-Communities on groups.io (https://dark-sky-communities.groups.io/g/main) to give you an idea where we’re currently at with this exciting project.

Acquiring Land for Mirador Astronomy Village

The Mirador specifications document located in our Files section and here gives a lot of detail about our vision for an astronomy-friendly residential community and astronomy resort & learning center. But before any of this can be developed, we need to have land.

The next step for Mirador is to create a legal entity that can raise money for a land purchase.

Some challenges we face:

  • Mirador could be located in Arizona, New Mexico, or West Texas. We don’t want to limit our land search to one state, but incorporating in the state where land will be purchased is less complicated.
  • We need an attorney who is familiar with Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas law, but especially with real estate law and corporate law.
  • Does anyone know an attorney who is interested in astronomy, might want to become involved with this project, and might be willing to do some pro bono work?
  • Does anyone know a fundraising professional who is interested in astronomy and might want to become involved with this project?

Our most immediate need is to find an attorney to help us create the legal entity that will be necessary to raise money for a land purchase. This legal entity will exist for one and only one purpose: to purchase land for Mirador Astronomy Village.

Here is what we currently envision for the land-purchase legal entity. Would appreciate your thoughts before we submit this to a prospective attorney.


Land Purchase

Issuance of Shares

  • 1 share = $1000
  • No limit on the number of shares that can be purchased
  • Initial shares and additional shares can be purchased at any time
  • Hold the money in an FDIC-insured interest-bearing account
  • Value of shares remains unchanged except for interest accrued
  • Shareholders can return shares and remove their investment (plus interest) at any time up through the point of the shareholders voting in favor of making an offer on a property but before an offer is actually made
  • 1 share = 1 vote
  • Funds can only be used to purchase a property for Mirador Astronomy Village; any leftover funds will be returned to the shareholders proportional to the number of shares they own.
  • If there are insufficient funds to purchase the property without financing, the shareholders will not be a party to that financing arrangement.
  • It is possible we may acquire land that is “partially donated”, that is the land owner may agree to sell us the land for the amount of funds we have raised to date.
  • Shareholders will be known as Community Founders.
  • After the property is purchased, the monetary value of the shares goes to $0.
  • Benefits for shareholders after the property is purchased will include free RV, camping, and astronomy access to the property as soon as it is acquired; after development, no-additional-cost benefits such as free access to astronomy programs will be offered.
  • Benefits will be proportional to the number of shares owned.
  • If Mirador Astronomy Village isn’t established on the property within five years, the property will be sold and the proceeds returned to the shareholders in proportion to the number of shares they own.

Some Reasons Why I Want to Live in a Dark-Sky Community

Posted 13 July 2020

I drove 20 miles round-trip early Saturday morning to view Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) for the first time. It is beautiful! Easily visible to the unaided eye and spectacular in binoculars. And now, in the more convenient evening sky!

I had to trespass onto private land (as I often do) because we are not allowed to be in any of our state parks here in Wisconsin during the hours of 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. (unless you are a paid camper at a campsite).

One of my motivations for living in a dark-sky community is having a great view of a comet like C/2020 F3 literally right outside my door night after night. The same goes for watching meteors. The visibility of comets and meteors are severely impacted by light pollution—both the general urban skyglow but also nearby lights. Along with just about every other aspect of observational astronomy.

All my adult life I have spent significant time and energy educating (and becoming educated myself) about light pollution, environmentally-friendly lighting, and, of course, astronomy. There have been small victories, yes, but overall I feel my contributions have been a drop in the proverbial bucket.

Living in a “regular community” (as I have all my life), there is always the trepidation with every new neighbor or lighting technology change that your view of the night sky will be degraded even further than it already has, and there is not a darned thing you can do about it if the perpetrator (be it a neighbor or the city) chooses to marginalize you and your kindly-presented concerns. Heck, this can even be a problem living in a rural area. When I had my Outdoor Lighting Associates, Inc. business in Iowa from 1994-2005, I can’t count the many times I got a call from a distressed rural resident that had a new neighbor who decided to light up their place like Las Vegas.

Sure, a lighting ordinance would help a lot, but in most cities and towns these days they’ll look at you like you’re from Mars if you try to make enacting one a priority.

There are many advantages to living in a small community, but where I live now (population 4,700) there is no community will nor interest in reigning in bad lighting or in protecting the night sky. However, in 1999 I was deeply involved with writing a lighting ordinance and getting it approved in Ames, Iowa, a university town of 50,000 (at the time). Being a well-educated university town had a lot to do with our success there. Those were kinder, gentler times then, too.


Lighting at Mirador

I’d like to take this opportunity to explain more about the outdoor lighting aspects of an “astronomy-friendly” community. Indoor lighting would have no restrictions except the amount of light shining outdoors at night would need to be controlled with some sort of window covering.

Ideally, an astronomy-friendly community would not allow any dusk-to-dawn lighting. Why have a light shining all night long when most of the night no one will be making use of its illumination? Modern light sources such as LEDs, occupancy sensors, and control electronics have advanced to the point (both in terms of technology and affordability) that dusk-to-dawn lighting is no longer needed, at least not in the kind of small community we are talking about here. I would like Mirador Astronomy Village to be an ongoing demonstration project for the wider world showing a better way to do outdoor lighting. By “better” I mean lighting that provides needed illumination where and when it is needed without adversely affecting the nighttime environment, including our view of the night sky. By “better” I also mean using passive reflective or light-colored materials where possible to reduce the need for—or brightness of—outdoor lighting.

There’s a lot to be said in favor of using “personal lighting devices”, also known as flashlights, when walking about at night.

The permanent outdoor lighting that is installed should be properly shielded and directed so that only what needs to be illuminated is illuminated, thus eliminating glare, light trespass, and direct uplight. The right amount of light for the intended task should be used, never more than is needed.

We certainly will need to be mindful of anyone visiting or living in our community with vision limitations. This is most likely going to be an issue in the areas open to the public at night. Observational astronomers, as a general rule, have learned to see better at low illumination levels through familiarity and experience, but the same is not true for the general public. Accommodations will need to be made with this in mind, and I would expect the public areas to have more illumination.


Getting this project off the ground has been challenging in the midst of a pandemic. There is at least one of several things you can do right now to help this project along.

  1. Post a comment here!
  2. Join the Dark-Sky-Communities discussion group at https://dark-sky-communities.groups.io/g/main. There are several subscription options for your convenience, and even if you subscribe to receive individual emails, the traffic on this moderated group is light and focused specifically on astronomy-friendly residential communities.
  3. Visit the Mirador Astronomy Village website.
  4. Take the time to read through the detailed Mirador Astronomy Village specifications document.
  5. Send me an email at DaveDarkSky@mac.com or call me at 608-930-2120 to discuss.
  6. Spread the word! There may be only a half a dozen people in the United States who can help me to make Mirador Astronomy Village a reality. How do I reach them?

Thank you!

Photo by John Rummel, Madison WI

Mahler’s Farewell

Lewis Thomas (1913-1993) wrote in his essay Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony,

“I cannot listen to the last movement of the Mahler Ninth without the door-smashing intrusion of a huge new thought: death everywhere, the dying of everything, the end of humanity…How do the young stand it? How can they keep their sanity? If I were very young, sixteen or seventeen years old, I think I would begin, perhaps very slowly and imperceptibly, to go crazy…If I were sixteen or seventeen years old…I would know for sure that the whole world was coming unhinged. I can remember with some clarity what it was like to be sixteen…I was in no hurry…The years stretched away forever ahead, forever…It never crossed my mind to wonder about the twenty-first century; it was just there, given, somewhere in the sure distance.”

Thomas was referring to the threat of nuclear war, which is still very much with us. Now, can you imagine as bad as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, what a nuclear war would be like? We need to rid our planet of these weapons, now.

As I was listening to the final movement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, the Adagio, this past Monday, I was also thinking, of course, about the frightening ravages of COVID-19, but also climate change and the precipitous decline in biological diversity caused by humans. All of this is driven by the fact that there are too many people on the planet, and the answer is not to kill (by whatever means) people who are already here, but to bring fewer children into the world so we can lower human population to a sustainable level in the coming generations. We could all have a higher standard of living without trashing the planet.

On Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, PBS aired a new BBC documentary, Climate Change: The Facts. I was riveted by the program, presented by Sir David Attenborough, who will turn 94 next month the day before I turn 64. David Attenborough is an international treasure. Watching him so expertly present, as he always does, the urgency of this climate crisis and remembering his many outstanding documentary series such as Life on Earth and The Living Planet, I became teary eyed knowing that he will not be with us for very much longer. You wish someone like David Attenborough or Carl Sagan could live for hundreds of years. Because, when our life is over, we will cease to exist as a conscious entity, for all eternity. I am now certain of that. Realizing that this is our one and only life gives one a very different perspective on what we are doing to this world—and to each other. Humanists value the sanctity of each human life more than anyone who believes in an afterlife. Humanists fully understand the enormous responsibility each of us living in this current generation has to ensure that our civilization does not descend into a dystopian existence. There will be no salvation, just unimaginable pain, suffering, and destruction of all that is good, if we fail.

I am so inspired by young Greta Thunberg, who features prominently in the documentary. Greta and the many other young activists around the world give me hope for the future. Her words and conviction brought more tears to my eyes. I may be 63, but I’m with you 100%, Greta. Sign me up!


In 1908 and 1909, Gustav Mahler finished his last completed work, the Symphony No. 9. There was much turmoil and tragedy in Mahler’s life prior to the writing of this symphony. His beloved oldest daughter, Maria Anna Mahler, died of scarlet fever and diphtheria on 5 July 1907 at the age of 4. Immediately after Maria’s death, Mahler learned that he had a defective heart. And his relationship with his wife Alma had become strained. Gustav Mahler died on 18 May 1911. He never heard his Symphony No. 9 performed. It received its premiere on 26 June 1912 in Vienna with Bruno Walter conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

The final movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, the Adagio, is one of the most moving pieces of music I have ever heard. While listening to it, one thinks of all the beauty that was and is in the world, and how terribly much we have lost.

The most expressive recording of the Adagio I have heard is by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Georg Solti (Decca 473 274-2). If this movement of 24:37 does not bring you to tears, I don’t know what will.