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Switching Off Street Lights? Not The Brightest Solution To Our Energy Crisis

Keeping the lights out at night may be a good measure both for the environment and in the context of an energy crisis – but it may have repercussions on people's sense of security, in particular for women.

Photo of a woman walking past a street lamp at night

Ushering in a new dark age?

Irene Caselli

As the leaves fall and an energy crisis looms, countries across Europe are preparing for a winter that will be dark, figuratively and literally.

After deciding to switch to cold showers in public buildings, Germany is now turning off street lights at night. Since Sept. 1, the Energy Saving Ordinance has officially prohibited the illumination of public buildings, including landmarks, from the outside.

Others are following suit: In Paris, the Eiffel Tower will see its lights dimmed an hour earlier than usual starting this week, while some 12,000 towns around the country have fully or partially switched off public lighting at night. Spain requires shops and monuments to dim the lights and shut down at 10 p.m. sharp.


In Italy, even glitzy luxury brand Valentino has decided to shut down the lights to its shops early.

Obvious benefits, but ...

But this week, we also heard a different voice from the dark: Monica Lucarelli, city councilor for equal opportunities in Rome said the Italian capital city would not shut down lighting, because of the danger it could pose for women. “The last thing we need to do to combat violence against women is to turn off the city,” Lucarelli said, adding that street lighting accounts for a tiny proportion of consumption.

Still, keeping the lights out at night could help reduce air pollution and emissions that contribute to climate change, according to the International Dark-Sky Association, a U.S.-based non-profit. They estimate that about one-third of all outdoor night lighting has no benefit and that by turning lights off over $3 billion could be saved every year in the U.S. alone.

Reducing public lighting, the Dark-Sky advocates believe, would be beneficial for people’s health, as artificial light reduces the melatonin hormone, and is linked to sleeplessness, obesity and, in some cases, depression. Plants and animals would also benefit.

Photo of a street in Lodz by night

Lodz, Poland, by night

Kamil Porembinski

Sucking the fun out of night life

However you may view them now, street lights have long been seen as an important symbol of progress. Way before electricity, oil lamps were used in Rome for security to avoid tripping or keep robbers at bay. The rich in Rome had a slave, the lanternarius, who was responsible for lighting the lamps. In the Middle Ages, there were “link boys” who escorted people through the dark alleys of medieval towns holding a torch light.

Even if there is no clear proof that street lights have an effect on crime, brighter levels of light do make people feel safer when walking at night. And night life is supposed to be fun and upbeat — as opposed to scary and depressing empty streets.

Yes, the war in Ukraine and climate change should force us to look twice at everything that requires energy. But shutting off public lighting looks more like sliding back to the dark age than a sign of progress.


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