April 30, 2018

THE ABSENCE OF STARS

Catching stars in the night sky above Hong Kong Island is in vain. Instead, the city is shrouded in an orange haze that suppresses the darkness of the night. According to the Hong Kong Night Sky Brightness Monitoring Network, Hong Kong‘s urban night sky is 100 to 1000 times brighter than the international brightness standard between 8.30 and 11:00 pm. Being one of the brightest cities in the world is not without consequences. With light pollution not only affecting flora and fauna but also on Hong Kong’s residents.

First I thought that the bright lights in Hong Kong don‘t affect me at all. I usually sleep with my curtains closed, but when I fell asleep with them open the other day – I realized I wasn’t as immune as I thought. In the middle of the night, my neighbour turned on his lights eventually waking me up. In general, you don‘t have privacy in Hong Kong. The houses are so densely built together that you can follow each of your neighbour’s steps…and so can he. But on the other side, life here is pretty anonymous. 

-Ozzy

Austrian photographer David Schermann recently visited Hong Kong with Katharina Dinhof, a social psychologist. They set out on a mission to meet some of Hong Kong‘s residents in their bedrooms, went on nighttime walks together and asked them about their sleep quality and experience of light pollution. What came to be is a photo reportage on light pollution dedicated to the residents of Hong Kong.

Artificial light takes many forms in Hong Kong, the daily light show at Victoria Harbor and numerous advertisements and illuminated signs significantly brighten the night sky. What is particularly concerning is the lights that shine vertically into the night sky, the ones that offer no benefit at all. The very thing that has made Hong Kong such an iconic skyline has become a detriment to its inhabitants.

“It seems to me that people in Hong Kong love colourful neon lights. Shops, cafes, large signs flood. Hong Kong‘s streets. The exposures are as bright as if it were daylight. Even the sky is never really dark at night. As a result, many people suffer from sleep problems. The same applied to me when I was living there as an exchange student for half a year. In contrast to cafés in Europe, which often sit in cloudy, romantic candlelight, Hong Kong‘s cafés are often lit by red, purple or blue lights. Shops try to attract more customers with colourful, bright lighting.”

– Lulu

In total, David and Katharina conducted 6 interviews, with additional talks with one researcher and lecturer at the Department of Physics at Hong Kong University. They caught a glimpse of how this problem is affecting people of all walks.

For David it was a dream come true to come to the city, “Solely hearing the name “Hong Kong” triggered many different images of this distant, huge metropolis with its glowing lights, where people lived in small flats in tall skyscrapers in my mind.

But he could also see them painful reality went hand in hand with the city’s facade, “It was at first unbelievable how close people live together in Hong Kong. I could see really every movement of Ozzy’s neighbour. His apartment was like 5 meters away from Ozzys. Our apartment where we lived for our time in Hong Kong was across from a building which would light up with bright and changing colours every night.

Sleepless nights are a common theme amongst their findings, exasperated by the technology we surround ourselves with. It is well documented that artificial light in the evenings influences our internal clock, which in turn regulates organic processes such as hormone production and cell regulation. A disturbance of the day-night rhythm is associated with various physiological and psychological disorders, including depression, insomnia and cardiovascular diseases.

“There is definitely a light pollution problem here in Hong Kong. A lot of the lights are on during the day and stay lit for quite long time into the night. At the end of the day- being exposed to a lot of artificial light, I tend to get headaches and my eyes feel very dry and tired. I had to leave my dorm because of the spotlights from the nearby soccer field. Although I always closed my curtains it was still very bright. I think the light smog definitely affects people living in the city areas a lot. Even though you get used to it, it has many adverse effects. “

-Kathy

With a city continually under development and commercial buildings fighting for visibility, there has yet to be any regulations put in place. The problem is so bad it even has its own Wikipedia page, its last entry sums up the very lack of inaction the people of Hong Kong are dealing with:

“In 2015, the Task Force on External Lighting’s recommendation that light pollution in Hong Kong be tackled by a voluntary charter, saying that it found Hong Kong was not yet ready for a legislative solution to the issue, was met with great disappointment from the Legislative Council committee on environmental affairs. The task force recommended a two-year scheme in which merchants will be asked to turn off outdoor lighting voluntary by 11 pm. Committee chairman Kenneth Chan said that the government had obviously given in to pressure from the commercial sector, which was opposed to any curbs on external lighting.”

“Personally I think not many people are aware of the harm of light smog. People who don‘t live in that area will find neon lights beautiful and will see the countless brightly light signs above the street as a unique feature of Hong Kong. The government only cares about the safety aspects, like that the signs are set up solidly so they won‘t fall down and harm passersby, but they seem not very caring if the lights will affect the sleeping quality of its residents”

-Jessica

Discover more of David’s work on his website and on Instagram

David Schermann , hong kong , Katharina Dinhof , Light Pollution , report

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