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Meet Ruskin Hartley, IDA’s New Executive Director

Ruskin and family
Ruskin and family in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Photo: Joanne Withers Photography

The International Dark-Sky Association welcomes new leadership this year, as Ruskin Hartley joins the organization as Executive Director. Ruskin brings over 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector to IDA and is eager to apply his passion for conservation to dark skies. Take a moment to meet Ruskin and learn more about his vision for IDA.  

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Ruskin: Growing up in the countryside south of London, I was happiest outdoors — climbing trees, damming streams, and staying out until night fell. That early love of nature led me to study geography, and ultimately to a career in conservation where I’ve been dedicated to protecting places that people love. I now get to watch my four boys spend hours throwing rocks into a stream, just as I did all those years ago.

What draws you to IDA’s mission to protect the natural nighttime environment?

Ruskin: To be honest, even though I have spent 20 years in the conservation space, I had very little awareness of light pollution. But as soon as I learned a little, I was hooked.

Many environmental issues are complex to explain. The solutions are difficult, expensive, and results take generations to materialize. Light pollution is different — the solution is as simple as shielding, dimming, or turning off a light. And it has immediate benefits to wildlife, human health, and, of course, our enjoyment of the sky.

What was your light pollution “a-ha moment,” when the issue came into focus?

Ruskin: For the past 20 years, I have lived under the yellow glow of an urban sky. One evening, as I was driving my son home from soccer practice, he commented, “we should find some old movies so that we can see what the stars look like.” At the time, I had just learned about IDA, so his comment resonated strongly. A starry night is not only a thing of beauty, it is a visceral reminder that we are part of the enormity of the Universe. If a whole generation loses that sense of connection, I believe our species will be less equipped to handle the many challenges we face.

What do you see as IDA’s greatest challenge in achieving a dark sky world? What is its greatest strength?

Ruskin: The biggest challenge that IDA faces is addressing the pervasive narrative that light is good, darkness is bad, and that you need to choose one or the other. New lighting technology and off-the-grid energy mean we can now light nearly any place on earth as brightly as we wish. This same technology can also be used to light our world in a way that preserves the value of the dark sky. We now have over a hundred examples around the world — our International Dark Sky Places — where people can enjoy a dark sky and experience responsible outdoor lighting. When people see this for themselves, they return home as advocates for the cause of dark skies.

What advice do you give to dark sky advocates looking to ignite change in their communities?

Ruskin: There is strength in numbers. IDA hosts monthly webinars and trainings for Chapter Leaders and Advocates. I recently joined one of these calls and it was inspiring to hear from people working to protect dark skies across the U.S., in New Zealand, and in Mexico. This work can be lonely at times, but by joining the grassroots effort to protect the night, you’ll know there are thousands of advocates around the world who have your back.

What do you envision IDA will look like ten years from now? What are your big-picture ideas for the organization?

Ruskin: When it was founded thirty years ago in Tucson, Arizona, IDA was already thinking big. IDA’s founders and earliest supporters knew that dark skies were threatened around the globe, not just in their own backyards. We’ve made great strides in this time and now have 66 chapters in 18 countries and recently designated our 100th dark sky place. This is just the beginning.

To fulfill our mission over the next decade, we need to accelerate our progress to drive impact around the world. This means more members working with more chapters to designate and protect more places. Experience has shown us that when people experience the beauty of the natural nighttime sky, they become inspired to make changes in their local community. Ultimately, our success is measured not in the number of Places designated, the number of chapters, or the number of members, but in the simple metric of whether we have halted and reversed the spread of light pollution around the world.

From your time at IDA, what aspect of the organization are you most impressed by?

Ruskin: For a small organization, our staff is the most skilled and dedicated I have had the honor of working with. I’ve been impressed with the work that goes on behind the scenes to craft well-thought-out policies and communication strategies and deliver them to the right hands at the right time.

What is your dream dark sky vacation?

Ruskin: To see the heart of the Milky Way from the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve in New Zealand and learn about how the indigenous peoples of the island are bound to the stars. Closer at hand, I can’t wait to take my family camping at the Cosmic Campground in New Mexico.

When not defending the dark, how do you pass the time?

Ruskin: With four boys, life can get hectic. To unwind, I love to cook their favorite pizza or smashburgers on the grill. To burn off those extra calories, I make time to run and mountain bike. I used to think my sub-four-hour marathon was pretty decent, until arriving at IDA where we have a U.S. Olympic trial qualifier on the team!