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Night Skies as an Economic Resource

Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival
Visitors follow a ranger's green laser tour at the Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival. Photo by NPS.

With the popularity of stargazing program, night walks, full moon hikes, and other such activities in parks, natural lightscapes have become an economic resource as well. Visitor facilities in communities surrounding national parks are finding that stargazing activities draw more tourists and tend to increase the length of stay and corresponding economic benefit to those communities. A small but growing number of park visitors seek "astrotourism" opportunities. In some areas, such as the Colorado Plateau of the southwestern United States, this is more than an idea, it is a current economic driver.

Protecting night skies offers an economic advantage through the reduction in light pollution. Since light pollution often stems from the wasted component of outdoor lighting, eliminating the light that is scattered uselessly into the night sky will make outdoor lighting more energy efficient. Thus, making outdoor lighting night sky friendly could potentially save $2 billion annually (Hunter and Crawford, 1991) and perhaps as much as $10 billion annually by some estimates.

The economic value of night skies should come as no surprise. Adam Smith, the father of modern economics and capitalism once wrote, "Of all the phenomena of nature, the celestial appearances are, by the greatness and beauty, the most universal objects of the curiosity of mankind" (Gallaway, 2012).


Tim Hunter and David Crawford, "Economics of Light Pollution," Light Pollution, Radio Interference, and Space Debris, ASP Conference Series, Vol. 7, IAU Colloquium 112, 1991. D.L Crawford Ed.

Terrel Gallaway, "On Light Pollution, Passive Pleasures, and the Instrumental Value of Beauty," Journal of Economic Issues, March 2012.

Last Updated: April 20, 2012