What can I do about my neighbour’s new street light?

Are there local bylaws that govern light pollution in cottage country? Our neighbours, who are lovely, have installed a street light because of their fear of break-ins. This light is extremely bright and floods our cottage and property. We have spoken to them and they are aware of our feelings.
—Beverly Williams, via e-mail

Sure, there are local bylaws, but only a handful of Ontario towns have them. Assuming yours doesn’t (call your township and ask), and assuming you don’t want to put up a fence or plant trees around your property and wait 30 years for them to grow really tall, you’ll need to convince your neighbours to change their ways. They may not realize that their light is disrupting nature, says Robert Dick, the manager of the Light-Pollution Abatement Program for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Time to bust out some enviro-facts! Along with wasting energy (and blotting out the night sky for stargazers), excessive artificial light disturbs plant development, disorients birds and changes their migration patterns, and alters the behaviour of mammals and amphibians. It also attracts bugs. Do your neighbours really want more of those things? “Light is good in the daytime,” says Dick, “but not at night. At night, that light is changing the environment in a fundamental way.”

Nobody expects your neighbours to stumble around only by the glow of the moon. But they could minimize the effects of the light by putting it on a timer or using a motion sensor, suggests Howard Gibbins, the Alberta liaison with the International Dark-Sky Association. They could also add a shield to direct light down (instead of to the side, or up, where it’s useless). “The key is to have the edge of the shield below the lowest point of the bulb itself,” says Gibbins. That will prevent light scatter but still deter intruders. If you’re handy, you can easily make a shield from sheet metal or wood, he says. Sounds like a great homemade gift for the neighbours!