IELTS Academic Reading Sample 69 - Light pollution

Light pollution

Light Pollution is a threat to Wildlife, Safety and the Starry Sky

After hours of driving south in the pitch-black darkness of the Nevada desert, a dome of hazy gold suddenly appears on the horizon. Soon, a road sign confirms the obvious: Las Vegas 30 miles. Looking skyward, you notice that the Big Dipper is harder to find than it was an hour ago.

Light pollution—the artificial light that illuminates more than its intended target area—has become a problem of increasing concern across the country over the past 15 years. In the suburbs, where over-lit shopping mall parking lots are the norm, only 200 of the Milky Way’s 2,500 stars are visible on a clear night. Even fewer can be seen from large cities. In almost every town, big and small, street lights beam just as much light up and out as they do down, illuminating much more than just the street. Almost 50 percent of the light emanating from street lamps misses its intended target, and billboards, shopping centers, private homes and skyscrapers are similarly over-illuminated.

America has become so bright that in a satellite image of the United States at night, the outline of the country is visible from its lights alone. The major cities are all there, in bright clusters: New York, Boston, Miami, Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago - and, of course, Las Vegas. Mark Adams, superintendent of the McDonald Observatory in west Texas, says that the very fact that city lights are visible from on high is proof of their wastefulness. “When you’re up in an airplane, all that light you see on the ground from the city is wasted. It’s going up into the night sky. That’s why you can see it.”

But don’t we need all those lights to ensure our safety? The answer from light engineers, light pollution control advocates and astronomers is an emphatic “no.” Elizabeth Alvarez of the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), a non-profit organization in Tucson, Arizona, says that overly bright security lights can actually force neighbours to close the shutters, which means that if any criminal activity does occur on the street, no one will see it. And the old assumption that bright lights deter crime appears to have been a false one: A new Department of Justice report concludes that there is no documented correlation between the level of lighting and the level of crime in an area. And contrary to popular belief, more crimes occur in broad daylight than at night.

For drivers, light can actually create a safety hazard. Glaring lights can temporarily blind drivers, increasing the likelihood of an accident. To help prevent such accidents, some cities and states prohibit the use of lights that impair night-time vision. For instance, New Hampshire law forbids the use of “any light along a highway so positioned as to blind or dazzle the vision of travelers on the adjacent highway.”

Badly designed lighting can pose a threat to wildlife as well as people. Newly hatched turtles in Florida move toward beach lights instead of the more muted silver shimmer of the ocean. Migrating birds, confused by lights on skyscrapers, broadcast towers and lighthouses, are injured, sometimes fatally, after colliding with high, lighted structures. And light pollution harms air quality as well: Because most of the country’s power plants are still powered by fossil fuels, more light means more air pollution.

So what can be done? Tucson, Arizona is taking back the night. The city has one of the best lighting ordinances in the country, and, not coincidentally, the highest concentration of observatories in the world. Kitt Peak National Optical Astronomy Observatory has 24 telescopes aimed skyward around the city’s perimeter, and its cadre of astronomers needs a dark sky to work with.

For a while, that darkness was threatened. “We were totally losing the night sky,” Jim Singleton of Tucson’s Lighting Committee told Tulsa, Oklahoma’s KOTV last March. Now, after retrofitting inefficient mercury lighting with low-sodium lights that block light from “trespassing” into unwanted areas like bedroom windows, and by doing away with some unnecessary lights altogether, the city is softly glowing rather than brightly beaming. The same thing is happening in a handful of other states, including Texas, which just passed a light pollution bill last summer. “Astronomers can get what they need at the same time that citizens get what they need: safety, security and good visibility at night,” says McDonald Observatory’s Mark Adams, who provided testimony at the hearings for the bill.

And in the long run, everyone benefits from reduced energy costs. Wasted energy from inefficient lighting costs us between $1 and $2 billion a year, according to IDA. The city of San Diego, which installed new, high-efficiency street lights after passing a light pollution law in 1985, now saves about $3 million a year in energy costs.

Legislation isn’t the only answer to light pollution problems. Brian Greer, Central Ohio representative for the Ohio Light Pollution Advisory Council, says that education is just as important, if not more so. “There are some special situations where regulation is the only fix,” he says. “But the vast majority of bad lighting is simply the result of not knowing any better.” Simple actions like replacing old bulbs and fixtures with more efficient and better-designed ones can make a big difference in preserving the night sky.

*The Big Dipper: a group of seven bright stars visible in the Northern Hemisphere.

Question 1-5
The first six paragraphs of Reading Passage 69 are lettered A-F.
Choose the most suitable headings for paragraphs A-F from the list of headings below.
NB There are more headings than paragraphs, so you will not use them all.

List of Headings
i Why lights are needed    
ii Lighting discourages law breakers
iii The environmental dangers
iv People at risk from bright lights     
v Illuminating space    
vi A problem lights do not solve
vii Seen from above
viii More light than is necessary
 ix Approaching the city

Example                            Answer
Paragraph A                       ix (Approaching the city)

1  Paragraph B     ..................................
2  Paragraph C     ..................................
Paragraph D    ..................................
4  Paragraph E     ..................................
5  Paragraph F     ..................................

Question 6-9
Complete each of the following statements with words taken from the passage.
Write ONE or TWO WORDS for each answer.

6. According to a recent study, well-lit streets do not .......................... or make neighbourhoods safer to live in.
7. Inefficient lighting increases .......................... because most electricity is produced from coal, gas or oil.
8. Efficient lights .......................... from going into areas where it is not needed.
9. In dealing with light pollution .......................... is at least as important as passing new laws.

Questions 10-13
Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage 69?
In boxes 8-13 on your answer sheet, write
TRUE    if the statement agrees with the information.
FALSE    if the statement contradicts the information.
NOT GIVEN    if there is no information on this

10. One group of scientists find their observations are made more difficult by bright lights.  
11. It is expensive to reduce light pollution.  
12. Many countries are now making light pollution illegal.  
13. Old types of light often cause more pollution than more modern ones. 

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1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 Rating 3.24 (29 Votes)

11. It is expensive to reduce light pollution. [Not given]

Paragraph I only talks about the cost of inefficiency (loss) and cost savings (reduction in costs) from installing new lights. There is no mention of whether reducing light pollution is a costly affair. But the answer is given as 'False'. Please explain.

I think answers to Q. 1 and Q. 3 have been interchanged. Paragraph B is talking about a problem which is over the past 15 years while paragraph D is about lots of lights are not necessary. That's it. Please help me.
Hello, how can I get a higher score on the reading section of IELTS?
Nastaran Ehsani
You can use from Simon's videos.
The 6th question is asking "according to a recent study" but in the text, it is "an old assumption" to deter crime. How to catch the real answer? It makes my dreams frustrating(
Answer # 7 is just Air... Or maybe Air pollution?
Mukesh Sharma
How to get a good mark in an easy way? Please reply to mukesh.sharma04444@gma
Kulwinder Kaur
Hello, please help me to score high in reading section. I don't know the exact way to read and answer. Please, give me some tips on the reading passage.
IELTS Mentor
Dear Maria, thank you for noticing this issue. We have forwarded this to our development team and expecting the fix in few hours. Thanks once again.
The reading passage is disappearing, please fix it. Thank you.