The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “film”

Light pollution kills

I happened to see a film the other night, all about light pollution.

Light Pollution over Las Vegas – seen from 100 miles away, with our car in the foreground

We were staying at a campsite in San Pedro de Atacama and the film was being shown in the open air in the town square as part of a local campaign to reduce light pollution.  Hardly surprising as the Atacama Desert in northern Chile is one of those parts of the world where it is still possible to see the stars at night.As the film began by demonstrating how in much of the world it is no longer possible to see the stars or even the plants of our solar system in the night sky, I was reminded us having left Las Vegas a year previously, driving maybe 100 miles, and looking back to see the lights of Vegas glowing in an orange dome in the distance.  That scene was such a contrast to the nights we have been enthralled to see the stars in the night sky in places far from the city lights.

As I watched the film I reflected on my childhood in England in the 1960’s, when the street lights in our home town would go out at 11.00 pm. Then in the 1980’s that became 2.00 am. Now they stay on all night, often in the guise of ‘security’. As children and young adults we could see the stars in the night sky. Today’s city and town dwelling children hardly know that the stars are there.  They have no experience of the wonder of seeing the night sky.

But it’s not just aesthetics, the price of progress: the film went on to describe some more of the effects of a growing obsession with light.

It is believed that migrating birds use the stars to navigate and light pollution in the worst affected areas is affecting their ability to migrate. In some cities, particularly in the US, it is known that birds often crash into the tall buildings, falling injured to the ground, with broken wings and broken beaks. There is a whole army of bird rescuers who go out and pick up and look after as many fallen birds as they can find.

Young turtles have evolved to hatch at night and head towards the brightest horizon as soon as they hatch. As the sea reflects the moon and starlight this means they can head straight to the safety of the sea. However in some places, where electric light pollution is creeping in, the young turtles are often found heading in the wrong direction, towards the wrong light.

On a human level, recent research has indicated a link in the progression of some cancers in humans, particularly breast and prostrate cancers. Melatonin in the body apparently suppresses the growth of cancerous tumours but melatonin levels only rise during periods of darkness. Sleeping in a lit room, whether lit internally or by bright street lights, reduces the body’s production of melatonin. Shift workers, who work by electric light at night and sleep during sunlight hours much of the time are particularly at risk.

In many places street lighting is chosen for its appearance rather than its practicality. Light globes appear attractive to the modern eye but 60% of the light goes upward into the sky rather than down to where it’s of more use. The cost of that is twofold: increased light pollution and waste of resources by using more energy than is necessary.

As the industrial revolution developed through the 1800s and 1900s, a sign of the wealth of a town was seen in the number of chimney stacks belching smoke into the atmosphere. Today we no longer aspire to have those chimney stacks, seeing them instead as polluters of the world’s environment. Today how brightly we light our cities is seen as a sign of progress and wealth.

In how many years, the film asked, will light pollution be seen as another type of polluter, one that is affecting the health of humans, plants and wildlife alike?

We ask, should we be worried by this; should we try and have some influence on this problem, not just for the aesthetics but for the health of the planet and the people and wildlife that live on it?

Check out this website for links to further information about light pollution.

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Sling Blade

It’s an old film (1996) but I’ve only just seen this Award winning classic budget movie directed by and starring Billy Bob Thornton.  It’s one of those classic experiences of watching movies on long flights.  But this one had me glued to the screen.

In a nutshell, the main character Karl was incarcerated for 25 years for the murder of his mother and her lover after he found them making love on the floor.  At 12 years of age he at first thought he was protecting his mother from attack but then realised she had been a willing participant and killed her too.  A shockingly sad childhood emerges as Karl, rejected by his family from an early age, remembers living in the shed, isolated except for the occasional Bible study with his mother; at six he finds his still alive but discarded newborn baby brother wrapped in a bloody towel and buries him in a corner of the garden.  Barely educated Karl nonetheless has a natural skill in repairing lawnmowers even as a child.

The film centres on Karl’s experience of being released from the “state nervous hospital”, declared cured of murderous intent.  Rejected by his father he is helped to find a job repairing lawnmowers.  Befriended by a boy of about 12 he is offered a place to stay with the boy and his mother Linda.  They become, for Karl, the family he never had, and the potential parallels between the lives of the boy and Karl are evident.  Unfortunately the mother’s boyfriend Doyle is a violent drunk who hates both the boy and Karl, who he openly calls a ‘retard’.  Karl does not respond to the boyfriend’s taunts but is protective of the boy who has befriended him.  Despite his Biblical convictions, he takes action in the only way he knows how in order to protect the boy and in a premeditated act he kills the boyfriend before calling the police to hand himself in.

Much is made in write ups of the film of the acting skills of Billy Bob Thornton in transforming himself into the hulking figure of the “slow-witted” Karl.  Yet there are two things from the film that struck me most.  One is a line from the final scenes – back in the “state nervous hospital” another inmate asks Karl about life outside.  As he looks out of the window he says, “It was too big out there”.  The second is the underlying message of the file – how we can so easily misunderstand the motives and intentions of others; how easily we can miss the heartfelt reasoning behind actions; and how important those childhood experiences can be on the outcomes of the adult life.  Food for thought.  And a film deserving of the acolades.

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