Blinded by the light
Everyone’s afraid of the dark. But night is fundamental to the delicate balance of life on Earth—so says UVA astronomer and artificial light expert Ricky Patterson, who gave an illuminating presentation on the dangers of light pollution at a Sierra Club event at the downtown library this week.
More people, more cars, and bigger cities means there’s more light in the sky, and all that artificial light hurts the planet’s wildlife. Trees bloom before the spring and die before they should. Fireflies don’t flash in the bright evenings, so they can’t find each other to mate. Baby sea turtles, who have evolved over millions of years to crawl out of the beach sand and toward the glimmering reflections of stars on the ocean, now hatch and totter off toward the glowing lights of Florida’s nightclubs. Humans in urban areas can’t fall asleep properly with too much light around.
Charlottesville’s bright future threatens to contaminate the fragile wilderness areas in the darkness on the edge of town. Shenandoah National Park “becomes less and less night-friendly as we grow,” Patterson said.
Patterson urged attendees to highlight the issue at upcoming planning commission and City Council meetings. Sean Tubbs, of the Piedmont Environmental Council, says the event was inspired in part by C-VILLE’s reporting last year on light pollution in Belmont. Charlottesville’s lighting ordinance was written in the late ’90s, before the popularization of LEDs, and Patterson says it’s “really ineffective in the current world.”
Our newly-blue state legislature has had a busy week: On Monday, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which could mean the amendment gets added to the U.S. Constitution. The day after gun-rights activists rallied in Richmond, Democrats moved forward with their “red flag” law, which allows authorities to take away firearms from citizens deemed a threat to themselves or others. (GOP state Senator Amanda Chase called those in support of the bill “traitors.”) In party-line votes,
the Senate also voted to ban LGBTQ conversion therapy directed at those under 18 and codify rights for transgender students. Additional bills advanced that would eliminate Lee-Jackson Day as an official state holiday and make Election Day one instead.
Quote of the Week
“You associate Kobe with so many great memories of watching NBA Finals. Whenever an iconic hero like that passes, it makes everybody sort of step back and realize how precious life is, your own mortality.”
—UVA men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett, reflecting on the death of Kobe Bryant
Two patients in central Virginia were thought to be carrying the deadly coronavirus that has led to the shutdown of a major Chinese city—but tests came back negative, per the Virginia Department of Health. The virus, which manifests as a respiratory illness, hasn’t been confirmed in Virginia yet, but it does spread from person to person. Wash your hands, everybody.
As two bills proposing local control over Confederate monuments make their way through the General Assembly, activist group Take ’Em Down Cville made its feelings clear with a 10-panel chalk mural on the Free Speech Wall. Created by local artist Ramona Martinez, the mural, which was unveiled on Sunday, features a broken tiki-torch and a plea for a more inclusive future, including tips for what you can do. Martinez also drew Queen Charlotte and York the Explorer, who she believes should be honored instead.
Rev your engines: The State Senate voted this week to increase the threshold for a reckless driving offense from 80 to 85 miles per hour. Until now, doing 81 in a 70 has been a Class 1 misdemeanor, on par with domestic violence and punishable by up to a year in jail. (Don’t burn rubber on your way home from work today, though. The bill won’t become law until summer, pending Governor Northam’s approval.)
Closing the book
On February 1, Margaret O’Bryant, the first—and only—librarian and head of reference resources at the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society will be officially retiring. For more than 30 years, she has helped thousands of people research Virginia history and genealogy.