Combining business with pleasure, such is the motto of the On the Spot Parkour collective, which has found a mission of public utility for its urban acrobatics: cutting off the power to shops that remain lit all night.
Monoprix, Franprix, Lévis, Bershka but also Dior and Rolex. In the middle of the night, supermarkets, fast fashion and luxury brands do not hesitate to let their gleaming windows bathe in artificial light. An observation that annoys the collective On the Spot Parkour – named after this sporting practice which consists of crossing urban obstacles with fluid and agile movements – and whose members are working to turn off the neon signs of shops. For these young people, aged 16 to 36 and who only know vertigo by name, the goal is to reach the fire switches in stores, often placed a few meters high on the facades. Once activated, the windows plunge into darkness. The objective of the athletes? Join “the useful to the pleasant”as summarized by Kevin Ha, one of the followers of Parkour.
Kevin, Hadj, Emeric… There are seven or eight of them meeting at half past midnight this Friday evening, near Châtelet-Les Halles, in the very lively center of Paris. Once all the members are together, the group takes to the streets and very quickly spots a first sign to turn off. Hadj, 21, all smiles, gathers momentum and rushes on the facade to reach the switch of a sneaker store, three meters high. Missed, the window remains illuminated. Not enough to demotivate the young people, who, pregnant and popular music under their arm, will manage to turn off a dozen signs throughout the evening. In one night, the members of the collective can extinguish 60 of them. It is impossible to know precisely what percentage of energy saved this represents. The Environment and Energy Management Agency (Ademe) nevertheless estimates that 30% energy savings could easily be made on public lighting as a whole, i.e. 1.6 TWh d electricity or 175,000 tonnes of CO2.
Outlaws, these green ninjas? Businesses are required to turn off their neon signs. “no later than one hour after the cessation of the activity, and are switched on again at 7 a.m. at the earliest or one hour before the start of the activity if this is exercised earlier”, according to an Order of December 27, 2018 relating to the prevention, reduction and limitation of light pollution. The same goes for shop window lighting, which must be “extinguished at one o’clock in the morning at the latest or one hour after the end of the activity if this is later”. Lack of controls – or interest in the issue? – these obligations, respectively recorded by a decree of 2012 and this decree, are very little followed. The Minister for Energy Transition, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, said she wanted to strengthen these already existing laws through the energy sobriety plan, expected for the start of the school year. The National Association for the Protection of the Night Sky and Environment (Anpcen) deplores a total lack of communication on the controls and sanctions taken since the first texts of law.
“Passersby stop, some applaud us, others offer to help us. Once, a policeman even asked us to do a backflip. Some officers don’t know the law, but we’ve never had a problem.”, laughs Kevin Ha. This means that their approach is unanimous. “I think it’s the acrobatic, benevolent and above all depoliticized side of our approach that allows us to bring people together so widely”, wants to believe the young man. According to ANPCEN, 52% of French people identify illuminated signs and advertisements as the main source of light pollution and 84% say they are in favor of switching them off at off-peak hours.
Beyond the obvious common sense in terms of energy sobriety, the action of the collective is also much more beneficial than its young members suspect. Among the activists of Europe Écologie-Les Verts de Paris Center, we deplore light pollution linked to signs “particularly significant” in the first four arrondissements of the capital, where there are 82 shops per 1,000 inhabitants compared to 28 on average in Paris. A source of pollution with major – and often unrecognized – consequences on human health. In fact, the penetration of a source of artificial light outside the house disturbs sleep and has harmful effects on the body. Disruption of the circadian rhythm (the biological clock) can cause in the long term: persistent fatigue, sleep disorders up to chronic insomnia, mood disorders up to depression, appetite disorders, decrease in cognitive and physical performance and alertness. Thus, in the Light pollution and public health report published in 2021, the National Academy of Medicine asks the public authorities to consider artificial light at night and screens as endocrine disruptors.
Faced with these challenges, Anne Souyris, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of environmental health and the fight against pollution, welcomes the action of the On the Spot collective. “There are three levers on which we must work: illuminated signs, by better applying the existing regulations, which are already not very restrictive, advertising and digital screens, which we absolutely do not need at night and street lighting , which must be maintained for security reasons but better organised.”
Light pollution is also “disastrous for biodiversity”, says Christophe Najdovski, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of green spaces and biodiversity. For example, artificial light is the second cause of insect extinction after pesticides. This lighting also has an impact on nearby nesting birds and flora, by delaying leaf fall and disrupting germination. If highly urbanized areas like the center of Paris are complicated to plunge into darkness, Christophe Najdovski promises, efforts are focused on green spaces, to create corridors of total darkness. While waiting for better regulations, the Dans ma rue application allows Parisians to report businesses that do not comply with the obligation to extinguish illuminated signs. Professionals thus risk a fine of 150 euros, an amount which can rise to 750 euros in the event of a repeat offense in the same year.
For Christophe Najdovski too, the action of these young people is “salutary”. “Somewhere, it shows the weakness of the environmental police in France.” Citizen action, therefore, against pollution that should no longer exist in the eyes of the law.
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