There is a sweet spot between the Equator, and forty degrees north in which most people live. Despite us all constantly craving sunshine and heat, it seems humans have worked out over thousands of years that too much of a good thing is bad for us and moved away from the more sunny Equator.
Living in the Northern Hemisphere does have its benefits. Yes, there is more landmass north, but it is cooler and in the UK we’ve learned to deal with the dark Winter nights over centuries. The reality of Winter tends to kick-in when we put the clocks back end of October! Yet living in the 21st century brings new demands from the wider society, at a local and international level, to reduce waste and improve on carbon footprints. If you’re interested in reading further on this see our other recent blog post on What does low energy mean and what are the implications for lowering your carbon footprint?
Winter Nights Getting Darker
The demand to reduce energy usage means that our Winter nights are getting darker. Pressure from government means local councils have been consistently reducing streetlamp lighting over decades. This is more obvious in new building estates and motorways. Being out at night these days is a much darker experience than it was in 1979, despite the infamous Winter of Discontent! In 2017 a plan to replace standard sodium streetlighting with new LED technology was approved by North Yorkshire County Council, in a massive energy reduction programme.
In November 2009, a Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution published a report, ‘Artificial Light in the Environment’. The report set out concerns about the relatively un-researched effects of outdoor artificial light on society and the natural environment. It made several recommendations aimed at addressing these issues through future government policy. One key recommendation included reducing or turning off lighting in quieter areas. Don’t expect our Winters to get any lighter.
Mental Health and Well-Being
How do the ever-darker nights in Winter affect you? Previous research illustrated that one in three people in the UK suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you’re feeling a bit bluer than usual this Winter, you are not alone. The research further showed that 29 per cent of adults experience symptoms of SAD between October and March, ranging from low energy levels, to low self-esteem, and anxiety.
Indeed, most of us do feel that we have much worse mood swings in the Winter season compared to the Summer–generally when the sun is shining and England are doing well in an international football competition, the nation’s mood tends to be more positive and happier. In fact, this whole issue of mental health in the Winter has an impact on NHS services too. Reports from the Health and Safety Executive from only 5 years ago said that ill health cost the British economy around £13.8 billion in 2011. Because it is widely accepted that mental health is a rising problem in the UK, that figure of £13.8 billion is perhaps much higher.