Why is this image so frequently shared? I think to most people, it shows a certain failure in North Korea. One can go on to attribute this failure to communism, or probably some other political fact that distinguishes the DPRK from the ROK, but for most people the lack of man made lighting is a failure.
Darkness is essentially inhospitable. Light is required for sight, and without sight humans are at the mercy of nature. We can’t defend ourselves from predators or assailants, we can’t read, hunt, or grow food. For much of human existence our ability to be productive or enjoy ourselves was contingent on it being the day time. Yet now, we can work long into the night, we can navigate city streets safely, we can spend the evenings reading, in galleries, or watching plays. Artificial light is often used as a symbol of civilisation itself, because its impact is so enormous. Artificial light makes the achievement of human values possible, and has been made so cheap, by an abundant energy supply and an efficient manufacturing process, that we can afford to flood the streets and our homes with it.
This probably seems indisputably awesome. Unless, of course, you speak for the “Campaign for Dark Skies”, which laments the loss of our ability to see the pretty stars, and actively campaigns to have lights switched off.
Bob Mizon of the CfDS believes light pollution is a disaster for anyone trying to study the stars.
“It’s like a veil of light is being drawn across the night sky, denying many people the beauty of a truly starry night.
“Many children growing up today will never see the Milky Way; never see the unimaginable glory of billions of visible stars shining above them,” he said.
Bob Mizon should look closer to Earth if he wants to be impressed. Even if it was really true that people could never see the stars by travelling somewhere dark and uninhabited, he drops the context of why it is we so willingly gave up these views. The fact is that many children growing up today will enjoy another “unimaginable glory”: They will never have to put a book down because it is past 6pm, they won’t have to worry about thieves and rapists taking advantage of darkened streets, they will enjoy all of the fruits of an economic infrastructure able to operate through the night.
A common joke in online communities is to take a minor inconvenience that we face because of our enormous industrial infrastructure and label it a “first world problem“, while dropping the context of how much worse things would be without the thing that lead to the inconvenience. Tonight, the people of Pyongyang will no doubt gaze in awe at the night sky and say: “How terrible it must be to be Bob Mizon”.