Every time I speak to an astronomy gathering somewhere, I ask who in the audience is a member of the International Dark-Sky Association. The IDA, as you perhaps already know, is leading the fight worldwide against light pollution. So naturally you'd think that, among people who jump at the chance to see the summer Milky Way arc overhead, virtually everyone would raise their hands when I ask. But you would be mistaken. Invariably only a handful of arms go up. Everyone else just squirms uncomfortably.
Let's do the math. In the U.S. alone there are nearly 700 astronomy clubs, and here at Sky & Telescope we estimate that at least 200,000 people consider themselves amateur astronomers. Yet the IDA, after nearly 20 years of existence, has only 11,000 members.
Something is very wrong here. If any group could be counted upon to support the IDA, it should be those of us involved in astronomy. The spread of light pollution has robbed virtually everyone of the awe and grandeur of truly dark star-spangled skies, but we skygazers feel it most painfully.
So here's your chance to help right this wrong. From now until November 1st, the IDA is offering a one-year membership for just $20 (a $10 discount) to anyone who belongs to an astronomy club. That's about what it would cost for the gas to make a few round trips to your club's dark-sky site outside the city. Or four venti orange mocha frappuccinos. Whatever.
Joining the IDA is easy. You can do it right now using the online application, or you can download a membership form to fill out and mail in. Either way, please consider joining. (If you don't belong to an astro club, individual membership is only $30.) You might not have the opportunity or wherewithal to stand in front of your town or city officials to lobby for better outdoor lighting. But that's what the IDA's staff and representatives do every day.
As IDA cofounder David Crawford pointedly asks, "If not you, then who? If not now, when?"
Full disclosure: I proudly serve on the IDA's Board of Directors. I do that because I care deeply about preserving the starry night sky both for myself and for future generations.