Visual Pollution - More Dangerous than You Think It Is
 

We are aware of various types of pollution: water pollution, air pollution, noise pollution, etc. All these kinds of pollution can be measured and quantified. But certain forms of pollution affect our aesthetic senses and are very difficult to measure and define. This type of pollution is called aesthetic pollution.1 Visual pollution is one of them. The effects of visual pollution are increasing tremendously from day to day. To understand what is visual pollution, consider the two examples given.

  • You are watching a cricket match on the television. The batsman frequently asks the groundsman to move the dark screen here and there till he can bat conveniently. Any movement or reflection of light directly in his view can disturb him.

  • At midday, you are riding a motorcycle to your home hungry for your lunch. While approaching your home, you see an ugly scene of huge mountains of waste on the roadside, including wasted food, used banana leaves, putrifying fruits, etc. After seeing that, can you enjoy your lunch at home?
The tree of aesthetic pollution

These are only a few examples of visual pollution. In our modern life, especially in cities, the hazards of visual pollution are many. Though there is no accurate definition currently available, for our convenience we can define visual pollution as follows:

Visual pollution is any unwanted sight that mentally or physically affects the community or creates any health hazard.

Visual pollution generally refers to those elements of the landscape that the community finds unattractive, including badly maintained buildings, advertisements (hoardings), business signs, telephone and utility poles, weeds, garbage dumps and litter.2

Visual delight or fatal distraction?

Among the various forms of visual pollution, uncontrolled creation of hoardings and signs is the worst.3 Today, a proliferation of hoardings threatens to turn our landscapes and communities into a continuous outdoor commercial and to further separate us from our scenic heritage. Sign overload causes negative mental and physical effects. Though not recorded properly, the road accidents including fatal ones, are more in those roads where there are more hoardings and signboards.

A recent study by the A & M University, Texas, was the first to determine that this type of sprawl contributes to commuter stress.4 Stress levels declined quickly for those driving on rural roads, but remained high for those exposed to urban developments.  Stressed drivers experienced higher blood pressure, heart rate and respiration, and increased eye movements and facial muscle activity. We can revitalize our communities, preserve our distinctive scenic heritage, and regain our sense of place by stopping visual pollution.

Home theatre: A home pollution

Visual pollution is present not only outside your house but also inside. Watching television and working at computers may affect our eyes due to the radiation. There is a huge difference in watching a movie in a theater to the same movie in television. In a theater we are watching the reflected image from a screen, whereas in television we are directly seeing the bright TV screen. In a theater it is like seeing the moon (reflected sunlight) whereas in television, it is to see the sun directly with our naked eyes. Certain colours also create visual pollution. It is pleasant to sit in a room painted white or in pastel colours, but not in a room painted red.

Dazzled to death

Light pollution is another form of visual pollution. In Chennai City, we now see a number of huge buildings covered with only glass. On sunny days (in Chennai, it is almost all the time), these buildings reflect sunlight to the nearby areas. For a vehicle driver it is very dangerous, because a sudden glare of this light may lead to an accident.

Light pollution is the result of poorly designed, improperly installed, and overly bright outdoor lighting. Some of the components of light pollution are urban sky glow, light trespass, visual clutter, glare and energy waste.5

Further, artificial light can be a “shrieking interruption” to the peace of your garden. Some plants need darkness as part of their daily cycle, and all plants take their cue from hours of daylight to guess where they should be in their growing season. Artificial light confuses them, inducing then to bloom and fruit in the wrong season.

The Components of Light Pollution

Urban sky glow: This is what you see when you look at a city from a distance, a dome of light covering a large area of the sky and blocking your view of the stars.

Light trespass: The light from a neighbour, business, roadway, hoarding, etc., shining onto your property without your consent. This is similar to someone playing their stereo loudly and late at night, keeping you awake.

Visual clutter: Too much light. This can make it difficult to find your way around at night.

Glare: This is when light shines directly into your eyes, like an oncoming car flashing its high beam. Glare often makes it difficult to see the traffic lights, roadway and lane boundaries and even pedestrians. There is nothing good to be said about glare, it is most often the result of poorly aimed lighting.

Energy waste: Light shining outward and upward into the sky is wasted. This waste is estimated at costing over one billion dollars a year in the United States alone, with recent figures reaching as high as two billion dollars.

We can reduce visual pollution by implementing proper solid waste management, greening the roadside by growing more avenue trees, reducing the usage of boardings and signboards, maintaining our buildings and surrounding areas neatly, proper management of outdoor lighting, using low radiation monitor or shield for computers, watching the television from sufficient distance, etc.

References

1) Environmental Science, Seventh edition, Enger, Smith, McGraw - Hill Higher Education, 2000.

2) Albuqerqu’s Environmental storey, VisualPollution, www.cabeq.gov

3) Billboard Control, Fighting Visual Pollution, www.scenic.org

4) Visual Pollution, www.windowbox.com

5) What is light pollution?, www.members.dialstar.com

N. Muthukrishnan
CPREEC