Global Warming Vs. Street Crime

In the Wall Street Journal, Jean Guerrero writes an interesting article about how cities are fighting street crime by the simple act of leaving the lights on deeper into the night. (Other cities have tried Barry Manilow music, with some success.) But leaving the lights on all night doesn’t always jibe with a city’s budget plans — or its global-warming conscience:

Earlier this year, Joplin, Mo., reported a 47% drop in crime since 2007, when it started adding or replacing more than 1,000 lights throughout the city to reduce crime. And in other cities, like Fresno, Calif., plans to turn off street lights to cut carbon emissions and reduce costs have been thwarted by resistance from those with concerns about crime levels.

Wes Widner

Man-made global warming is a myth. street crime is not. Glad to see that some cities recognize this fact and have chosen to address real rather than imagined problems.

Ian Kemmish

That's easy. Street lamps which light up when something larger than a cat moves past one or other of their neighbours would reduce energy usage without harming road safety and while making it even easier to spot burglars.

Now, what can we do about those of my neighbours who leave blindingly bright "security" lights on all night and all day, helpfully creating dark pools of shadow for burglars to skulk in?

Pekka Taipale

Street lights also have another impact on security. Last March there was the Earth Hour and in Finland, many cities and towns turned off the street lights. In one town, an elderly man was killed during the hour as a motorbike rider failed to see him ( ).

I bet the emergency procedures and resulting investigation resulted in far more CO2 emissions than what the town saved by switching the lights off.


Let's just pretend for a minute that man-made global warming is actually happening and is caused by CO2.

By leaving more lights on during the night CO2 emissions are increased, but then there would be a reduction of CO2 emissions due to reduced numbers of police investigations (and thus officers driving around), resources in prisons, the need to possibly build more prisons, the resources involved with insurance claims and recompense, etc.

With the final CO2 emission totals unknown in either scenario (not to mention the dubiousness of anthropogenic global warming), I'd really prefer the lights stay on... there's the whole safety thing.


Madness. . .

This is exactly the point (or so I thought) of your enviromental chapter in the latest book.

Lights are meant to light the dark, and therefore they should be left on. The reasons we have lights should not need justifing.

How we choose to power them and whether we can continue to do so via fossil fuels is the debate.

Turning off lights serves the false 'moral' desire of reducing our impact on the world, which is a political view and not an economic one.


Methane is 15X more potent in trapping radiant heat, yet the greatest natural source (livestock) is not being significantly monitored or altered to account for this. I think we can leave the lights on a little longer.

Superfreakonomics already talked about several ideas that would be more efficient and cost effective than anything Al Gore has to say.

Mike B

Most street lighting schemes are woefully inefficient at both improving public safety and reducing crime. Poorly placed lights can actually increase crime by increasing glare that masks activity or lighting areas that are not observable by others.

There is good research taken up by the light pollution community that advocates for smarter use of public light. The easiest steps are fixtures that don't waste light by blasting it up into the sky or directly into our eyes. I believe this system is being rolled out somewhere in New York City. For highways large stands of area illumination lights need to replaced by lighting that enhances contrast. Think how airports are lit vs how roads are lit. Airport runway style lighting is how most freeways should be lit so it doesn't kill one's natural night vision.


Of course, a more effective grid and more energy efficient forms of street lighting would substantially reduce the impact of leaving the lights on, while more comprehensive reform to crime prevention would ostensibly reduce the need to leave the lights on (the latter being obliquely referenced by the article).

But false binaries are fun too I guess.


Some cities turn off street lights at night? I've never heard of this. I know where I live that the lights come on at sunset and turn off at sunrise. Seems silly to turn off the lights in the middle of the night when they are needed most.

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

We need an army of caped crusader superheroes, all who have a bitter backstory of vicitmization and are writing the next chapter of revenge. Secret identies are de-riguer. And everyone should have a catch phrase.

Every big city needs one or two superheroes. Ideas like Iron Worker Man(Fires Red Hot Iron Rivets and has a lunch box shield), Window Washer Man(Acrobatic Tight Wire Walker who squirts chemicals and keeps the city clean), Tatto Girl( Tattoos predict the future and gets the inside gossip on criminals), and Barrista Girl( Feeds the Other Heroes Cappachinos and Biscotties--very much appreciated). Others: Global Warming Man, GW Denier Man, SUV Car Man, Internet Man, The Virus, Octo Mom, Monatezuma's Revenge, and Super Sumo.

A Crime Wave May be an Oppurtunity to Let the Freaks Fly. Any Volunteers?


Light pollution does not necessarily prevent crime. The Finnish inattentive driver is an anecdotal story, and one that sounds more like a story of a traffic accident. Traffic accidents are not limited to nights when streetlights are off.

Here's a New Yorker article about artificial lighting at night which includes the following quote:

"Much so-called security lighting is designed with little thought for how eyes-or criminals-operate. Marcus Felson, a professor at the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, has concluded that lighting is effective in preventing crime mainly if it enables people to notice criminal activity as it's taking place, and if it doesn't help criminals to see what they're doing. Bright, unshielded floodlights-one of the most common types of outdoor security lighting in the country-often fail on both counts, as do all-night lights installed on isolated structures or on parts of buildings that can't be observed by passersby (such as back doors). A burglar who is forced to use a flashlight, or whose movement triggers a security light controlled by an infrared motion sensor, is much more likely to be spotted than one whose presence is masked by the blinding glare of a poorly placed metal halide "wall pack." In the early seventies, the public-school system in San Antonio, Texas, began leaving many of its school buildings, parking lots, and other property dark at night and found that the no-lights policy not only reduced energy costs but also dramatically cut vandalism."



Its crazy to assume that the crime no longer takes place. It is surely just moved to another part of town. A pretty big externality for the park a few blocks away without lights


Why not develop lower energy cost lighting that illuminates at a fraction of the cost, we could start with LED based replacements for current lighting systems, then branch out from there, by creating more ambient lighting that is able to light a broader area without being overly powerful.


Man-made global warming is a myth. street crime is not. Glad to see that some cities recognize this fact and have chosen to address real rather than imagined problems.
I agree completely with the atatement above. However, if the politicians are that concerned abount the nonsense of Global Warming then city administrators should just switch to LED lights that last a ridiculously long time and use a miniscule amount of energy.

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

Alternative solution: Mass Produced Infra Red Night Vision Googles from China. Rechargable battery powered but thousands of times less energy than street lamps.

We would enable midnight basketball, using parks, playgrounds, stores and shops 24 hours a day. Imagine huge crowds with nightime activity in total black out.

Nightime will be less scary.

How about

Street lights can solve problems, but they also create problems. My low-traffic suburban town has decided that we desperately need to light up a nearly empty municipal parking lot until 1:00 a.m. Apparently, if that light shines directly into the bedrooms for five different families, then who cares? Nobody on the city council is losing sleep, after all.


@ Wes, Brett & GLK

I suppose you have a more logical conclusion as to why increased global average temperatures correlate precisely with carbon dioxide increases since the 1900s, of the isotope ratios seen from fossil fuel releases and hence man- (person-) made, and factoring in known feedback systems and environmental budgetary constraints?

I wonder if, in the not-so-distant future, the communities most affected by climate change could win court cases against those who obfuscated and denied the evidence at the time?

Suddenly Cynical

I don't really see how street light usage can really amount to that much usage fossil fuels. Most power grids (at least where I come from) tend not to use fossil fuels during the night and have enough power capacity to meet reduced nighttime demand using renewable sources like hydroelectric and wind power, meaning that shutting off street lights wouldn't save any fossil fuels from being used, only reduce demand for electricity which can already be met entirely by renewable sources. I don't think that global warming and street light usage, much less street crime, can really be linked that strongly.


Those of us who are old or young and childfree have no interest in paying to avert distant global warming. But we do have an interest in security at night.

Let the breeders be taxed to fend of global warming! And let the cities put in motion sensors to turn on street lighting for only the few minutes needed.


I don't know about street crime, but the relationship between global warming and high seas crime is well documented.