Today I was getting ready to leave my flat for my afternoon shift when, hurrying to finish my lunch, I managed to catch the very end of Prime Minister’s Question Time (PMQs) on the TV.
The twelfth and final question was asked by the Conservative member for Wells, David Heathcoat-Amory, and this is what he had to say:
“As the Prime Minister knows, this is the International Year of Astronomy. Does he therefore support the Campaign for Dark Skies, which is good for astronomy and also saves energy? If he does, will he play his part by turning off—or at least dimming—the lights in public buildings, including Downing Street, where all the lights are on very late into the night?”
As someone who is passionate about astronomy my ears immediately pricked up and I was momentarily diverted from my Marmite sandwiches. Did I really just hear a question on astronomy asked in the House of Commons? Really? Well this was our learned Prime Minster’s response:
“I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was going to complain about European regulations, because that is normally what he does. All of us have a responsibility to save electricity and all Government Departments and all parts of government should be involved in doing so.”
What a bullshit answer. Now I’m the first to admit that this question wasn’t the most pressing matter of the day. There had already been questions on the Afghan election, the Lockerbie disaster and climate change, far more important than whether you can adequately star spot.
However, Gordy barely even answered the question instead using it to score cheap points against the Opposition. The token answer of “all of us have a responsibility blah blah blah blah” was about as satisfying as my Marmite sandwiches. He might as well have said piss off lets all go for some lunch.
And this is the great problem; there are too few advocates of science in Government. Regular Just a Theory readers will recall my ongoing debate with Labour peer and Science Minister Lord Drayson (which I am happy to say is going to happen with the next month or so). Despite my well documented grievances, Lord Drayson is really on science’s side and we should continue to hope for more of his ilk.
So, having seemingly ranted for eight paragraphs thus far I feel I should tell you the premise behind Campaign for Dark Skies. The essence is that there is so much wasteful light thrown up into the night sky that the skylines of most major UK cities are horribly hued a kind of murky orange. This limits the glory of the night sky to around 50-100 stars rather than the normal 1500 that should visible from these shores.
Jacob blogged earlier in the week about the Trillionth Tonne, a website counting the cost of our inability to tackle climate change. In his post he called the ever increasing figure “sobering to watch”. Equally the Campaign for Dark Skies have a counter clocking up the amount of money wasted due to street lamps showering some of their light up into the sky rather than down where we need it.
In fact, the counter ticks along at £4 a second, which means since the 1st January 2009 the UK has wasted over £100 million on electric lights that serve no purpose whatsoever. And that is just street lights. The full estimate, including business and industrial based lighting, is likely to be over £1 BILLION. I’m not even going to argue the astronomical perspective on this one. Yes you would be able to see more stars but £100 million pounds, or more likely £1 BILLION, is just a pointless waste our OUR money.
This comes on a day when after PMQ’s, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth stood before Parliament and detailed a report suggesting MOD cost cutting led to the deaths of 14 service personnel in a Nimrod crash in 2006. Ainsworth said that,
“in our pursuit of financial savings the MoD and the RAF allowed their focus on safety to suffer. We accept this with regard to the Nimrod XV230”
Don’t get me wrong I am not blaming the deaths of those 14 servicemen on wasteful street lighting. However what really gets my goat is that when a valid science question that could save our economy upwards of £1 billion is actually asked in Parliament, and on a day when the Government is held to account for its penny pinching, that our dearest PM shits all over it.