When I was a youngster in St. Louis, a man came along every evening, put a ladder up against the light pole and lit the gas street lamp. Now the electric lamps in the street lights come on automatically as night falls. Back then the natural gas companies were garnering the profits and now it's the electric companies.

But natural gas is still used to generate that electricity. Gas is a nonrenewable fossil fuel and will someday, before too very long, be in short supply. And so will electricity.

The cost of the electricity for street lights, right here in Astoria, our town of about 10,000 people of all ages, is averaging nearly $150,000 each year. Each individual, adult or child, is paying somewhere near $15 a year for that lighting. A family of four, then, is paying $60. Part of that is profit for the electric company.

Based on the cost here locally, what does it cost us for streetlights across the nation?

There are now almost 300 million of us in this country. 300 million times $15 means that we, as a nation are paying $4.5 billion for the electricity to power them. Assuming a profit of 10 percent, the electric companies get $450 million a year. All from you guys in order to have some street illumination. Can you blame the companies for trying to light up the world? And do you like the light pollution that keeps you from seeing the stars in the sky?

It's worth it, you say, for safety and the reduction of crime and fear of crime. Well, wait a minute. There's little firm evidence that street lights help; no significant evidence has been recorded in various studies of crime and fear before and after streets were lit. The perceived safety of women walking alone after dark in lit areas was improved, but that was about it. Street lighting, however, remains favorable and popular with the public, regardless of its lack of benefit except to fearful people. It does not reduce reported crime.

Now that cars have bright electric lights rather than dim lanterns or acetylene gas lights, the reason for street lights is of no use to them. Pedestrians can use flashlights to better see where the curb is when crossing the street.

The reason I bring all this up is that its time to conserve our dwindling fossil fuel supplies. Our country reached its peak oil reserves in 1971 and global peak oil will be along very soon. The natural gas supply is running low, thus the reason for importing liquefied natural gas. And that's the reason why companies are trying to put import receiving plants along the Columbia River and elsewhere.

One answer to these problems is to turn off the street lights, saving expensive and finite energy, limiting environmental degradation and reducing global heating. Conservation now! It's one step that can be taken locally - everywhere.