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Risks from New Technologies

Plans by a Russian consortium of aerospace companies to launch giant space mirrors to light up northern cities in the arctic, put forth as a novel way to economize on terrestrial energy consumption, were put on hold in February 1999, when an experiment with a 25-metre reflector misfired. The mirror failed to open, much to the relief of astronomers studying faint objects, who risked seeing their instruments blinded by the light (Ward, 1998).

Furthermore, altering the natural rhythms of light with which organisms have evolved since the very beginning could have caused an ecological disaster. Lunar cycles of light at night are important to many biological processes. For example, the regular appearance of moonlight has been shown to synchronize reproductive cycles, such as in marine brown algae of the Dictyotales, where male and female gametes are borne by separate plants and only precise timing of their development and release by moonlight ensures effective fertilization. Some animals also use lunar rhythms to time their reproduction. The creation of artificial moonlight could have significant ecological impacts, including reproductive failure in some species and their disappearance from affected areas, with consequences all through the ecosystem. Animal behaviour, hormonal balances and plant development are other areas where disruption by artificial moonlight could be expected. With the lack of adequate research in this field, many other unsuspected effects are probable. It would be unwise to proceed with plans for space mirrors without detailed environmental impact assessments and due respect for the precautionary principle.

References and Sources

Ward, Mark. 1998. "Blinded by the light". New Scientist, 20 June 1998, p. 4.


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