Can you see?

I remember the evening my father told me about pollution. I don’t remember how old I was, but I know it was sometime after we moved to Florida (I must have been at least eight). I remember being out in the back yard with the telescope, my dad explaining why it wasn’t the best place for stargazing. That night, I remember learning about leaded gasoline, catalytic converters, and smog. I remember scoffing at the idea of light pollution, and silently conceeding the point later, out on the causeway (a few miles away from the city lights). Much later, I remember being awestruck by the view of the night sky my first time camping.

All of this came to me as I took the trash down to the curb last night. I stopped on my way back inside and spent ten minutes straining my eyes to count all the visible stars. I didn’t get past thirty, and it was depressing. I could only see a quarter of the sky from where I was standing (due to the house and the trees), but the number should have been MUCH higher. Even so, it wasn’t different from any other night, so why did it bother me last night? I don’t know about your mind, but mine makes an occasional association that throws me off. Yeah, the sky looked just like it does every night: a blackboard dotted by partially erased chalk; but last night it occurred me that this blackboard wasn’t black, it was the color of an electric stove element just starting to heat up.

Not seeing stars at night is a small problem. If that was the only consequence of man’s presence I might not be writing this post. The sky’s appearance wouldn’t give me pause. I might have found the night sky peaceful and gone about my business, a little more relaxed. Instead my mind made a quirky, throw-away association, and I felt a little worried… a little pessimistic.

Am I making any sense? Should I see my doctor about changing my meds?

Right around the time my dad talked to me about polution, he talked to me about anxiety (another time, a different context). He probably didn’t use the word anxiety. We probably talked about being worried, but anxiety works too. I remember him suggesting that the best way to stop worrying was to do something, anything that might address the problem. If it was a school project I was worrying about, I should start it. If I wasn’t sure where to start, I should pick a spot and jump in – even if it didn’t turn out to be the best place to start later. Sometimes there’s a risk of making the problem worse. But even if it does, sometimes those false starts lead you to a solution… one you might not have thought of if you’d done nothing but sit and contemplate.

That’s why I’m writing right now. You might quit reading long before you get this far. You might be put off, dismiss my concerns, or think I’m being melodramatic. But I feel like doing something, so I am. If you’ve read this far, maybe you would think about a couple questions, or accept a little advice. Are you worried? Can you think of anything to do about it? Even if it’s something small, start. Just don’t let it be the end.


  1. Sorry I’ve been away for a bit John… Slowly regaining some balance.

    Good post. If we head just outside of town, we can see the spine of the Milky Way, and too many stars to count. Although it’s been awhile for me, we also see the Northern Lights on occasion.

    Overpopulation is part of the problem, Stephen, but it’s also part of the dodge that people make to avoid a few uncomfortable And that 20 percent of the world’s nations use 80 percent of the planet’s resources. Which just means that we in the west have to lead because we’ve caused the problem.

    Cripes, I’m such a pinko!

  2. I grew up in a very rural environment and knew the stars. In fact, “back then” people could typically name some constellations. A few years ago I went camping (for the first time since boyhood) and saw the stars again (for the first time since boyhood). For people living in urban environments it’s an astonishing sight. The stars haven’t gone away; we’ve just blocked the view.

    I can’t do justice to this question in the comments section of a blog, but I’ve long argued the ultimate problem is overpopulation. It’s not the shortage or abuse of resources, it’s too many people tapping the resources.

Give the gift of words.