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Europe's streets turning out the lights to conserve energy

Cities all over Europe are turning out the lights as a result of an impending energy crisis.

While Spain has made such actions required, requiring businesses to turn off their lights at night, local governments in other countries are voluntarily turning the switch, arguing that it is a good time to test light-saving techniques.

A number of towns and cities in Austria, Germany, and Italy have reduced street lighting or turned off commercial signs, and Berlin is turning off the spotlights that illuminate 200 of its historic buildings and monuments.

14 communes in France's Val d'Oise department, which is north of Paris, are testing out strategies to completely turn off public lighting at night. According to local authorities, turning off street lights for three and a half hours each night will reduce energy use by about 25%.

According to Yannick Bodec, mayor of the Cormeilles-en-Paris commune, "the energy [price] boom made us take the step and try this experiment." he said to BFMTV in June.

Approximately 12,000 communes in France already completely or partially turn off public lighting at night, and the towns now join them.

These actions are supported by scientists and light pollution activists who contend that excessive artificial light is harmful to both the environment and human health.

According to Anne-Marie Ducroux, the spokesperson for ANPCEN, a French organization that fights light pollution, turning off the lights is the "easiest" action to take because it "costs almost nothing and... immediately pays off in euros, in kilowatt hours saved, and in reduction of light pollution."

Some are concerned that turning off street lights will make cities less safe, despite the fact that the plans are part of the bloc's response to the energy crisis.

A business manager who lives in Taverny, one of the communes taking part in the experiment, claimed that "public lighting contributes to public safety," arguing that the emphasis should be on limiting other types of light, such as that from shop windows.

As energy prices rise, the French communes in Val d'Oise turn off street lights between 1:15 and 4:45 in the morning primarily to control public spending.

According to Bodec, his commune spent €2 million on public lighting in 2021; if nothing is done, that amount could increase to €2.8 million this year.

However, the communes want to emphasize that the experiment will also reduce light pollution. In order to "respect the rhythm of day and night, allowing species to regenerate," more darkness will be beneficial, according to Carole Faidherbe, first deputy mayor of Taverny.

Long-standing scientific research has shown that light pollution harms both human health and biodiversity. Overuse of artificial lighting at night is associated with changes in bird migration patterns and a decline in insect populations, which could have catastrophic effects on food chains. Additionally, a number of health problems in people, including cancer, have been linked to it.

However, not everyone agrees that turning off the lights to benefit nature makes sense.

"Cities are increasingly dense and concrete. Trees are regularly cut down for real estate projects, in schoolyards or colleges, to build cycling lanes ... so, putting forward the protection of animals to justify this decision is not credible,"  according to a resident of Eaubonne, a commune taking part in the program.  "Know the statistics of the problems encountered during the time the lights are off," she continued.

According to Faidherbe, the Taverny official, the majority of the locals' worries are related to safety, though she also emphasized that the backlash was not as severe as she would anticipated.

According to her, the precautions were created with safety in mind. On national holidays, when streets are busier than usual at night, the time window can be adjusted to account for the arrival of the final train of the night and the departure of the first train of the morning. She added that even when the lights are turned off, video surveillance is still active.

Data from other regions of France, cited by Faidherbe and Ducroux of ANPCEN, show no connection between turning off public lights and an increase in crime.

For instance, after turning off the street lighting in Mouy, northern France, robberies and property damage slightly decreased.

Reinhard Klenke, a biologist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany, said: "Many fear that safety decreases, but there are numeultiple studies that show that safety does not decrease with less light or that more light does not contribute to more safety."

According to Inés Sánchez de Madariaga, the UNESCO chair on gender in science, technology, and innovation, a feeling of unease about safety, however, can have a significant impact, especially on women, who may be more likely to restrict their movements as a result.

She claimed that feeling safe depends on being able to see one's surroundings. "When women perceive a risk of sexual assault, a risk of insecurity, they stop going places."



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