‘We all deserve to see the stars’: Emirati teen on light pollution and skyglow

The light reflected from the sky creates a glow and it makes stars look fainter – or disappear from the naked eye

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Angel Tesorero

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Photo: M. Sajjad/Khaleej Times
Photo: M. Sajjad/Khaleej Times

Published: Sun 10 Dec 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 11 Dec 2023, 2:25 PM

With COP28 entering crunch time to reach more substantial agreements to address climate change, a young Emirati environmentalist wants climate negotiators to also tackle an important issue: light pollution.

“We all deserve to see the stars,” 16-year old Mariam Hassan Al-Ghafri told Khaleej Times, noting that light pollution causes the sky to glow and it obscures the light of the stars.

The light reflected from the sky creates a glow (called skyglow) and it makes stars look fainter – or disappear from the naked eye.

Mariam, who is a member of the UAE parliament for children and UNICEF ambassador for COP28 for adolescents, said it was during a youth camp that she witnessed the stark contrast between living in the city with strong light pollution, and being in the middle of wilderness, where she was able to better appreciate the beauty of sparkling stars.

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Beauty of Arabian night sky

She added it was at the camp where she saw how the beauty of Arabian night sky really looks like. “The stars shone brighter when I looked at the night sky and I was really mesmerised.”

This prompted Mariam, who is also chair of the standing committee for environment and sustainability at the UAE children parliament, to become an environmentalist and an innovator. The Grade 11 student at Diyar Private Academy in Dibba, Fujairah has already come up with more than two dozen inventions, including translating pictures into Braille and inventing a device that could detect if a child was locked inside a car by measuring carbon dioxide levels.

Her inventions are aimed at making everyday life better, and her environmental advocacy is anchored on improving youth welfare.

For Mariam, solving light pollution is inherent in tackling climate change. It is not only about being able to see the stars, but also about bright lights interrupting sleep cycles, leading to other health issues.

Light pollution is also said to contribute in the decline of insect populations which require darkness to navigate, and cause the death of birds that are attracted to brightly-lit buildings.

Aim at COP28

Mariam said: “My role as young parliamentarian is to raise the issues of young Emiratis. We are the least responsible for climate change, but we will greatly suffer from its effects. So, we must all work together to stop it now.”

Mariam is optimistic the ongoing UN Climate Summit in Dubai will deliver on its promise to “come up with real solutions for climate action that would materialise to a sustainable future for her generation and others to come.”

“We are making our young voices heard at the COP28 – and I’m thankful to the UAE for this,” she said, adding: “My challenge is for everyone together for climate action, and this must include the perspective of the youth. And only then we will be able to better appreciate the stars at night.”

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