The falling of stars 

Is light pollution blotting out Whistler's spectacular night sky?

click to flip through (3) PHOTO BY DAVID MCCOLM

Page 9 of 11

"We're not saying no to lighting, just to use it wisely and efficiently, and when you look at websites like the International Dark Sky Association, they're predicting that light pollution is an issue that will solve itself in the next few decades," he says. "Why? Because it will be too expensive to create unnecessary, unused lighting that can be seen from everywhere. Lighting has a cost, and it's significant when it's not shining directly on the matter at hand, like pointing directly at the road when you're walking down the street. Otherwise it's wasted light, it's wasted energy and it's bad for the environment. About one quarter of the world's electricity bill is used to make light — except in Africa. And we have a lot of hydroelectric power in B.C. but in other places it's coal, it's gas, it's nuclear power that's keeping those lights on."

When the costs of lighting go up, the number of lights will go down, says Nemy. Lights will be more efficient, and part of that efficiency means focusing light rather than spreading it all directions.

"That's where Whistler can really lead, as one of the premier mountain destinations on the planet we can promote that way of doing things," says Nemy. "I think it's something that tourists will really appreciate."

Shooting for the stars

Whistler photographer David McColm shoots a little of everything with his very expensive cameras, but it's his landscape photography — often obtained after long hikes into the backcountry in the dark to get the perfect light — that define his work. He's shot sunsets and sunrises over various local peaks and alpine lakes, and some incredible combined night sky and landscape photography as well.

From his perspective, light pollution is an obstacle that gets in the way of some of his more ambitious shots.

"I'm not an astronomer, I don't have a telescope, but I do study the night sky in terms of how it affects me getting shots of the night sky," he says. "I know where the moon is, where the sun and the moon are rising and setting, and where the key planets are like Venus, Jupiter, Mars..."

He never shoots the sky alone, but uses stars, planets and the moon as a backdrop to his landscapes with astonishing effect. "I guess I'm a bit of a night owl, and I like shooting the crazy night sky," he says.

While shooting at night, he says the glow of light pollution is something that is harder to get away from. He has to go further into the backcountry, or aim his lens away from Whistler and Squamish, "and especially Vancouver."


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