CypherCon 2022

A Brilliant Mistake: Hacking into the causes of an epidemic of light pollution

Drew Carhart


The last 50 years have witnessed the practical extinction of the natural nighttime environment from most of the inhabited places on our planet. The majority of people can no longer see the stars in the sky overhead at night from where they live. The reason? Light pollution; an incredible glut of wasted energy that we create, every second of every night, in levels that increase from year to year.

The negative effects of light pollution (LP) reach far beyond that of having robbed us of our views of the universe. While awareness of this issue has grown, not much has been done to actually stem the tide of light pollution’s advance. Why? Basically, while the general ideas of the nature of the sources of LP seem somewhat evident, not enough creativity and sensible thinking have been applied to really quantitatively understand and combat it.

In his work of over 15 years in studying the issues, Drew has uncovered some shocking facts about the wild-west nature of outdoor lighting installation in the U.S. And he has seen a real need for the kind of effort that the members of the hacker community could help mount; developing creative solutions in research, tech, and digital work that could ultimately help bring light pollution under control. Prepare to be challenged!

Drew Carhart

Nocturnal conservationist

Drew Carhart is a founding member of the Naperville (Illinois) Astronomical Association (1973) and the Illinois Coalition for Responsible Outdoor Lighting (2008). In 2020, he accepted a request to help evolve the Flagstaff (Arizona) Dark Skies Coalition into a serious NGO, because Flagstaff represents a rare case of light pollution actually being tamed, and he feels that the Flagstaff story needs to be shared far and wide.

Drew’s passions include mixing his interest in scientific tools and methods with an abiding love of nature; he volunteers extensively in natural history museum collection curation, meteorite research, astronomy public outreach, and paleontology field work, as well as his work in combating light pollution.