Celebrity vet Dr Eric Lai shares his views on society through the eyes of animals. Give him your feedback at email@example.com This week: light pollution A moment I will always remember was my interview to enter the Bachelor of Veterinary Science programme at the University of Melbourne many years ago. I was elated to receive the interview because there was intense competition for the limited positions available. It was one of the smallest faculties at the university and the most cost inefficient at the time. The cost to train a vet was enormous compared to other courses and there were only a few spots available. Training of veterinarians is vital to the Australian economy, where at the time livestock-related exports were in the top three contributors to gross national product. My course interview was memorable because I was running late. The night before the interview I was about 180km east of Melbourne on a friend's goat dairy farm. I wasn't there because of the goats, as wonderful as they were; I was there to take advantage of the remote location of his farm, his family's hospitality and the delicious homemade feta cheese. The remote location offered a spectacular view of the night sky. I would carry all my astronomy gear, my telescope, binoculars, tripods, a comfortable chair and lots of warm blankets and sit out in their open pasture and explore the cosmos a small piece at a time. I would sit there and hand-draw nebulas and stars. It was a wonder to find that those little spots of light weren't uniform at all but full of different shapes and colours. On most nights I was able to find a close celestial body such as Mars or Jupiter and even make out some of their moons. As an inquisitive young person, I would wonder about others in the long history of the world that looked up at essentially the same sky and what they were like and what they were thinking about. I could imagine the amazement of Galileo when he discovered the moons of Jupiter and that the Earth revolved around the Sun. This line of thinking was what triggered my interest in fields other than science. I went to the library soon afterwards and discovered archaeology, anthropology, history, social history, philosophy, political studies; the study of one field would lead to the next and I soon found the universe inexplicably intertwined like a fisherman's net. I didn't really excel at any of these other subjects but it certainly inspired me to become a better person, a more complete person with a clearer perspective of the world around us. Because of traffic back into Melbourne I was 12 minutes late when I was presented to an awe-inspiring array of professors, emeritus professors and the dean waiting impatiently for me. The look on the panel's faces wasn't very sympathetic and I was seriously worried about my future. I had better come up with a good excuse. I decided to be honest and told them about my exploits the night before and why I was late today. They seemed to accept the apology and the interview went on ... and I'm a vet today. During my course I had a chance to talk with one of the professors and he told me my excuse for lateness was what made me stand out from the other candidates; they needed well-rounded people for the course and I seemed at the time to be one. I recently moved out to Sai Kung for its fresher air, space and a slim hope that the Milky Way is waiting to inspire me again. But alas, the light pollution is atrocious. The next time you look up at the clouds at night, you will notice they are much more brightly lit than the background space. That is because of the stray light from the streets, signs and buildings that leaks out into space, washing out the light of the stars. You can only see the brighter magnitude stars and it is predicted that within 10 years you will only be able to see seven stars in the Hong Kong sky! Just seven measly stars out of billions! The sky is a part of our environment; it should be saved to inspire our next generation. This isn't just something that affects budding astronomers. The wayward light can adversely affect people as well. It has been shown that excess light pollution can cause anxiety and hypertension. It can be devastating to the ecosystem as well. Myriad migratory birds get lost due to light pollution and confuses them. With the lifting of restrictions after the closure of Kai Tak in 1998, things have become worse. The ridiculous amounts of advertising and building lighting is not only causing light pollution, but also burning an incredible amount of fossil fuel. It is decadent, wasteful, serves no good purpose and is destroying the environment on so many levels. It is a fixable problem. We need to introduce laws that restrict outdoor lighting, as in other parts of the world. There should be a curfew for advertising and building lighting and all such lighting should be pointed below the horizon. The government should also consider using more efficient light sources.