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Light pollution and creation care


WORLD Radio - Light pollution and creation care

We’re dipping our toes into the topic of environmentalism by diving deep into a single news article. What causes light pollution? What solutions have been tried? And how should Christians care for creation?

KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. Our mission is to come alongside you, learning and laboring with you as you disciple kids and teens through culture and current events. I’m Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes.


KELSEY: Together, we want to model conversation and apply tools you can use at home or in the classroom. We would love for you to send in your questions for us to address in future episodes. Please send your questions to

JONATHAN: Yes. We are so blessed by those questions. I just want to reiterate that it’s so good to hear your comments, your questions. We absolutely love it. We love getting to interact, respond, and even bring some of those into these episodes.

So every now and then on this podcast, we like to do something a little bit different. Today we’re going to try something new. We’re going to look at one specific news article and use some of the tools we’ve already been exploring in previous episodes just to look at this one article. So we have this article printed out for ourselves. You might hear a little shuffling of papers today. We’ll try to keep that to a dull roar. But that’s what we’re going to be doing in this episode.

KELSEY: So the tool we’ll apply is maybe familiar to you by now, that tool called “SOAR.” We’re going to use it to approach just one article, as a way of introducing a much broader topic area we hope to connect with in greater depth over the course of time. And that grand topic is environmental stewardship.

We are approaching this topic today in large part because of an ongoing conversation we’re having with listener Nathan Howell, who is a professor of environmental engineering at West Texas A&M. And we have been hugely blessed by his intentional interaction with us. We hope that, as we approach this topic, we’re bringing it close to home and really engaging with that mindset of, how do we discerningly engage this aspect of culture with our kids? How do we discerningly engage that which we see in the news regarding the environment, and so many of the hot topics that are in that broader category?

JONATHAN: Nathan sent us so many good, deep questions, and we want to give them all the space they deserve. So we’re only going to touch on one of his questions today, as a way of dipping our toes into this much bigger topic of environmentalism that will definitely take more than one episode. Here’s Nathan:

I’m an environmental engineering professor at a university in Texas, and I’ve had an issue on my mind for several years now as I’ve been teaching. In my profession, I know a lot about environmental things at a technical level. But I don’t have a good grasp on the theology of the environment, especially in light of the current trends I see around me.

So I think I can explain this with a series of questions that help me to think it through. Question one is: How should we as Christians balance degradation to environmental resources with the need, or the command, to promote human flourishing?

So at the heart of this, I see that God says to fill the Earth and multiply. But how are we supposed to do that if having more people seems to exacerbate so many environmental problems, like food security, water supply, climate change, pollution, and threats to other nonhuman species? It would seem that if we multiply and fill the Earth, we would harm the Earth too much in a way to provide it. Are we not trusting God to take care of the Earth by holding back on having people? Should we just go full steam ahead with that?

So Nathan is asking about humanity’s role in these environmental issues, that to some at least it really looks like humanity itself is the problem. But today we’re going to use our tools to unpack one article, looking at just one way humans have impacted their environment.

KELSEY: So the specific article we’re going to look at today, we want you to look at eventually with us. We’re going to post it in the show notes along with some other great resources, because today’s episode, you could even use at home, as bringing us into that conversation you have with your kids, maybe pausing this episode and using it with them, maybe after you’ve listened to it one time through on your own and gotten familiar with the conversation. But we hope it will augment what you’re doing at home with your children.

JONATHAN: Like Kelsey said, we’ll be using the SOAR method. And if you want to learn more about that, we have some great stuff about that on the News Coach blog. We also did an entire episode on it recently. We will link all of that in the show notes as well.

But the SOAR method begins with Survey, taking a big picture look at whatever piece of media we are engaging. So the article we’re looking at today, the title of this article is “Why It’s Time for a Worldwide Lights-Out Program” by Brian Handwerk. He’s a science correspondent for Smithsonian Magazine. Broad overview—this article is looking at the issue of light pollution: Light pollution blocking out the night sky for many people. It’s exploring that problem, exploring causes of that problem, the effects of that problem, and proposing some solutions.

KELSEY: And so that gave us the answer to our Survey question, which is, you know, what is all this about? What are we looking at today? What is the story? So thank you for introducing the topic and using that initial S, Survey.

So we move on through the SOAR method, and we go into our observation mode. Observation is so key. I like to say an ounce of observation is worth a pound of learning. I’m not really sure that makes any sense.

JONATHAN: Makes sense to me!

KELSEY: The point is that our observation is so key to our understanding. And if we start responding to what we’re seeing, you know, having an emotional response or moving too quickly into analysis, we’re really at risk of missing some of the point. So we are practicing that careful observation through some good questions today.

So, Jonathan, as we are looking at these observations, you and I both annotated this article as a part of it, which is so much fun, at least for me. I enjoy this.

JONATHAN: Yes, except with my handwriting, it kind of looks like a serial killer wrote this. Hopefully the thoughts are still good.

KELSEY: Haha. We had a chance to make it our own. And parents, teachers, those of you who are working with children of any age—give it to them, print it out for them, let them write all over it. Let them make it their own. And one of the things I’m asking when I look through an article and annotate it, I’m asking: What does this article say is good? And how does it make that thing it says is good, how does it make it attractive?

I need to leave out the gate by saying: Oh, my, the photos were profoundly communicative. And so one of the ways by which the story was told, was through a profound use of photography. But I want to pass that off to you before I steal all the jewels.

JONATHAN: I’ll echo what you just said. This article uses so many visual appeals. We have before and after photos. There was an actual picture taken from an observatory in the late 1800s, which is wild in itself, contrasted with a much more recent photo, and you can just see the difference in the night sky. Others show a cityscape skyline before and after a power outage, just this visual representation of what happens when the sky is filled with light. And so your question of what is it portrayed as good—there is this ability to observe the universe. They come at this again and again in the article, that our ability to stand where we are on Earth and perceive the stars and to be joined by that experience with the rest of humanity across space and also across history—it’s constantly coming back to that idea as a good thing.

KELSEY: And one of the other observations I make is, it even tracks through literature and tracks through cultural communications about the sky, and how very important the sky has been to culture after culture, in philosophy and religion. So we see them using a broad approach to showing how important the sky is to humanity.

JONATHAN: We also see here, I think, a praise of natural rhythms. The article again and again comes back to how many natural rhythms in animals, plants, and humans depend on cycles of light and darkness. He even points out that we think of plants as just needing light, but for so many plants, darkness is actually really essential. And without darkness, things don’t function the way they should. So again, identifying as good the natural rhythms of creatures and plants that depend on actual nighttime darkness.

KELSEY: I have to say how proud I am of you for not jumping right away into analysis. This is where our—oh my gosh, it gets so tempting right here, to want to bring in all the things we understand of rhythms, particularly the things we see in scripture. But we’re holding off to not read things into what we’re observing, so that we can identify: What is this story actually saying? And how is this story being told? So those are the big questions for observation that we break into littler questions. But the grand question for this observation section is, how are they telling this story? So back to some of our smaller questions underneath that “How are they telling the story?”: What does this article show is the problem, in the broad sense?

JONATHAN: This is a low-hanging fruit answer, but light pollution. Specifically, artificial light created by humans which is making nighttime less bright.

KELSEY: I noticed—to add some shades to what you’re saying—I noticed that one of the types of light is mentioned as particularly harmful, the cheaper lights we’re all inclined to use, these LED lights that are so very, very bright, that they are particularly problematic. I noticed that.

JONATHAN: And it’s connecting those overarching problems to the problems those problems cause, which are interruptions in the migration path of birds—that’s a problem—and they identify plants not flourishing as they should, even natural human sleep rhythms getting thrown off. All of those sub-problems under that big problem are specifically called out in this article.

KELSEY: Yes. I noticed reproductive cycles, what you’re naming, pollination, and so more of the problems are the domino effect problems that are mentioned with pollinators. If we lose them, we lose things in our food processing, our food production. So that is a problem that comes out of this too.

JONATHAN: We’ve actually, in our kids and teen magazines, had a lot of stuff recently about the importance of pollinators. So that’s a problem that resonates.

KELSEY: And so this is where I’m going to say now, you’ve actually by accident slipped a little bit into analysis mode. One of the things we do when we move into A, we make connections across texts. So it’s a very good thing to do. But we try to hold off a little bit longer, hopefully, before we make those connections.

JONATHAN: Alright, so steer us back. What are we looking at next?

KELSEY: So with this, we’re asking the where of the problem, or the “How extensive is the problem?” We’re asking all those questions that to return to those five W’s and an H of journalism, when we’re telling a complete story. We’re supposed to be tracking through, where does the problem exist? Or where did it happen? How did it happen? In this case, I’m saying: Where’s the problem? How extensive is the problem?

JONATHAN: I think the article identifies that it’s basically everywhere human civilization has spread. It illustrates that with a picture of the map, showing all the places where this light pollution is present. It’s basically everywhere but the Arctic and some less populated parts of the world. And also the problem is growing. It’s actually expanding over time.

KELSEY: They had some great data that, for those who are really drawn in by data, maybe those who are not as drawn in by the photos, like I know I am—but there’s data that’s recorded in this article where they’re giving those numbers, sourcing great journal peer-reviewed articles that are noticing what has changed, giving those numbers, giving those percentages to the best of their ability as they observe the world carefully, to steer us well with what they’ve studied. So then we kind of are getting into even the who, when we’re asking or responding to what we notice about this data. We’re observing who is creating this data. So we’re seeing voices through the article that are scientific voices that are careful to discuss whether they have any bias in what they’re approaching in terms of the conclusions they are offering us.

JONATHAN: It also includes some anecdotal, some non-expert testimony, bringing ordinary people who have lived under light pollution out to places where there’s not as much light pollution and just reporting on their response, and reporting on it being a nearly religious experience—the temptation to analyze is right there, but I’m not going to go in—just reporting the anecdotal response of these non-experts experiencing firsthand the difference between light pollution and non-light pollution in the sky at night.

KELSEY: So we’re noticing a multi-dimensional approach in terms of the who, even. They are sourcing material from experts. They’re sourcing material we might call just your average human beings and their experience of this particular dilemma or area of pollution. So as we move through a little bit more, in terms of these observations—we have discussed the tools, we’ve discussed the who, now we’re going to go into the solution that is proclaimed. We’ve talked about the good, the bad, and the ugly. And now we’re talking about, what is the proclaimed solution to this problem?

JONATHAN: I feel like they propose a pretty straightforward solution. It’s not super specific, but they offer a smattering of solutions. There’s the reduction in the use of unneeded artificial light, in places or at times when it is not needed. They also recommend swapping out these bright bluish LED lights for softer, warmer lights, and even recommend shading those lights so that they are pointed at the ground, not so much pointing up at the sky.

KELSEY: I want to take a minute to say that some of these solutions are related to something we haven’t necessarily specifically pointed out as an observation in the article yet, but that is conveyed in a fairly profound image. Birds in particular are harmed by light. So one of the major problems discussed is the migratory pattern of birds, and how birds, because they navigate by the Sun, the Moon, the stars—when we have artificial light that’s blasting out into the universe, that can be picked up on by satellites, like we can see this far distant, they are affected by this profound light.

JONATHAN: “That’s no moon.” I’ve got to get a Star Wars reference in there at some point, although it’s sad. Not to make a cross-textual reference.

KELSEY: No, I think we have to keep it light sometimes. So it’s okay, you know, we haven’t totally crossed into analysis. But we might have to unpack that a little bit further when we get to A.

But yes, it’s a really sad situation to consider these animals, who are hugely impactful to many different things in our ecosystem, they are dying. Not by just the hundreds or even thousands, but by the millions on a yearly basis. So the problem needs a solution that is discussed in the article. We’re saying it’s the shading of light, it’s the changing of the type of light. And they even say, you know, this is a pretty easy solution to pursue. And they make a great little comment that I might just let you guys try to find, that is a lovely little illustration to light in there how easy this solution is. So I’m not going to actually put that one in the recording. I’ll let you find it with your kids.

So we noticed in the article what is proclaimed as the solution to this problem. I think it’s solid to notice—although I need to be careful, because even if I say I think it’s solid, I’m starting to insert a response and an analysis, so I’ve caught myself there—I notice that they have already been testing out the solutions they propose. And so the question I’m asking is, where do we see that this solution has been attempted?

JONATHAN: Yes. So they proposed a solution. They’re offering evidence. They contrast the cities of Flagstaff, Arizona—which in 1958 began trying to control the local light levels through local ordinances, things like that—versus Cheyenne, Wyoming. Cheyenne has no dark sky regulations. In 2017, the US National Park Service compared these two cities and found that Cheyenne, without regulations, was 14 times as bright.

KELSEY: They’re looking at these comparisons, taking these night sky pictures in order to show that solutions that are tried, they definitely start having some impact. So what are the observed results? What do we see? And what does that promise in terms of outcomes?

JONATHAN: The outcome, pretty straightforwardly, is a reversal of the problems. They’ve stated more night sky visibility, less unnecessary death and interruption of natural rhythms, birds, insects, things like that. One notable thing about the outcome: They use the phrase “immediate results.” They are implying that these changes will bring about results that are basically noticeable as soon as we start making them.

KELSEY: I noticed as well, they say, “We know that policies are demonstrated to work, and that there’s no technical obstacle to these.” So that’s very interesting to notice.

So we’ve tracked, when we did those particular questions, we actually kind of tracked through some worldview questions without being very explicit about it. When we’re identifying, what do we say is good? What do we say is a problem? What do we say is the solution? Often those reveal what we’re believing. I think it’s great for us to move now into some analysis, that we line up our biblical worldview with what they’re saying is good, what they’re saying is a problem, what they’re saying is the solution. So moving into that A part of SOAR, what can we affirm from a biblical perspective?

JONATHAN: So for this, tying it back to our biblical perspective, but I also want to contrast it with some other environmentalist thoughts you hear out in the world, without getting into specific other texts. Often in the environmental discussion, there’s the question of humanity’s place, and the idea that humans are a problem. You hear a lot of environmental activists speak about humans as if they are almost a disease on the Earth, as if humanity is the issue, and the world would be better without us.

This article really puts an emphasis on how important the visibility of the night sky is to human flourishing, to human imagination, to human connection, and even to our human rest rhythms and work rhythms. And so I would affirm that this article is coming in with a high view of the importance of human flourishing, which I would affirm scripturally, that people cause problems, but they are not the problem. People are created as good. God wants us to make healthy choices for ourselves. And this article seems, at least to me, to be affirming that.

KELSEY: Yes. I would say I sense a high view of man in it. And not just man in a created state, but man in terms of— definitely a part of the problem—but hugely a part of the solution. So often, we do observe in other environmental activist type articles, this “humanity is a plague on creation.” They wouldn’t use the word “creation” either, because they are not seeing it through that same worldview that places image bearers within creation, to have an effect on it as though they were a gardener, which is what we were called to be, as we see, from the beginning,

JONATHAN: I would also affirm the value of nature and natural rhythms. God designed plants, birds, insects to work in certain ways. Humanity has been given an incredible creative ability to create things like the electric light, which has so many good uses. But also sometimes the things we create have unintended negative consequences and interrupt other good parts of God’s creation. So I would certainly affirm that there is a goodness in protecting the ability of birds to migrate, protecting the ability of insects to pollinate plants. Those are important parts of God’s creation that we want to make sure aren’t interrupted to the point where it creates issues.

KELSEY: Right. I notice the way the story is told presumes an integration. Based on my deepening understanding of scripture, and through theological study, I am more and more convinced that the way the Lord intended for us to be in operation in His creation was with that integrated, intertwined nature in which we represent to creation the face of God, and that we also represent, almost as a high priesthood, creation to the Father. That we allow it, by our ministrations and efforts, we allow it to be at its best. So it’s not merely human flourishing, but flourishing of all creation, and with the purpose of it being for the glory of God. In my worldview, that’s what it is. And I see it affirming so many things in terms of how the article represents that integration, and communicates in a way that I am even encouraged by, rather than feeling defeated or shamed by.

JONATHAN: Definitely, I would affirm that overall encouraging tone of the article. It doesn’t feel like it’s coming with a lot of panic or condemnation. It feels pretty even-keeled and saying, “Hey, here’s a problem. But here are some solutions.” And it even—I’m struggling to find the exact sentence here. There’s that shuffling of papers we were talking about. But it does talk about individual human responsibility, which I think is huge. A lot of these environmental discussions, as we were saying—not just environmental discussions, all sorts of discussions—sometimes pin the problems of the world purely on governments or big businesses, what have you. But this is saying, there’s actually an aspect of this that we as individual people can help or hurt.

KELSEY: When I was originally reading this article, I was engaging at that level of analysis where I was going, “This is good for our discipleship purposes,” for that very reason. So I’m engaging with, how does this affirm the individual, affirm the smallest unit, and show that we are each not only called to but also equipped? As they mentioned, there are easy solutions we can engage, even at the smallest level.

JONATHAN: Even looking at the title of the article versus the content, it’s kind of funny to me, because the title sounds very extreme. “It’s time for a worldwide lights out program.” It creates, in my mind, the image of the government mandating we shut down all lights after 9 p.m. or something. But what the article overall suggests are pretty relatively small changes, like shielding lights so they don’t shine up into the sky, but just shine down onto the ground. We’re going to avoid getting into the challenge part of that. But that seems like a pretty simple solution, not like this extreme radical change-your-way-of-life. You know, putting a hat on a light is different than instituting a giant government program that says you can’t have a light on outside after dark or something like that.

KELSEY: I’m pivoting a little bit, I realize, into challenge when I say what I’m about to say. There has been, unfortunately, a massive shift in evangelistic, or those who are “evangelical” is the better way to say it. There’s been a massive shift in evangelical thinking about the environment. If we’re trying to win those who really have the biggest reason to care for creation back into considering what that care might look like, it seems there’s a huge amount of rich scripture that could have been alluded to as well. While they do a phenomenal job of giving a cross-section of human culture and religion, and even touch a little bit on philosophy, I found a glaring hole in terms of not delving into the massive amount of scriptural poetry and passages that would lend to bringing the believer into this narrative of letting us see ourselves in it.

JONATHAN: In their defense, they do pull from Dante, one of the great Christian writers of history. And I totally geeked out on the quote from Dante. I was actually, for entirely other reasons, reading about Dante and his depiction of the stars and the universe earlier this week. So finding that in this article was pretty amazing.

I totally agree with what you’re saying. There is a hole there, not pulling from this biblical poetry. But I will say that, as I was reading it, I was affirming some of their observations by bringing that biblical poetry to bear on it in my own mind.

KELSEY: Absolutely.

JONATHAN: So they, in this article, talk over and over again about the beauty of the night sky. They describe the experience of people seeing that beauty, seeing the Milky Way for the first time. My mind went right to Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the Earth and their words to the end of the world.” That goes on. But it’s the idea that we see God’s attributes, His glory in creation, literally in the night sky.

KELSEY: I think you’ve been looking at my paper. I absolutely thought of the same, and so many other psalms came to mind, because there is a richness in David’s and the other psalmists’ writing. And this is a good place, if you’re listening with your kids, to press pause, and to seek out those places of scripture either through a word study, or just diving into a couple of psalms is enough to reveal the richness of this relationship that we have with creation, as a way of lifting our eyes to the heavens, which is where we consider being the Throne Room of the Father, of God. And so we are lifting our eyes to His majesty and glorifying Him for looking at all the things that He has made.

JONATHAN: And I see another analytical reference here we could make to theology, the idea that God communicates to us in two primary ways: General Revelation and Special Revelation. Special Revelation, that is the Bible, it is the words of God. General Revelation, or Natural Revelation, is what God created. It’s that thing we were just talking about in Psalm 19, that speaks without words. Part of that is looking up at the night sky, at the heavens. And you can push back on this if you want—this might be a little bit of an extreme analogy—but we would not take our Bibles and grab a Sharpie and black out a verse. Is it kind of like that, if we are, through our actions, blotting out part of nature, a huge part of creation that the Bible tells us reveals God’s nature?

KELSEY: I like that analytical response. I think that that’s a challenging response that we get pushed back to scripture to discern a good and biblical answer to. So I appreciate those questions, the questions like that, reminding us to dive deeper into, what does scripture say about these things? I’m reminded of Romans 8. Romans 8 is a passage where we see that all creation groans as it waits for the adoption of the sons of God. And there are more verses that pursue that further. But this concept that creation is waiting for its restoration, and through Christ, and by the power of His Holy Spirit, we are restored to be agents of that restoration of creation. And so when we think of that blotting out, where are we needing to ensure things have not been blotted out, that we are ensuring that things are intact, and offered up to the One who made it all. So I would say, there’s much more to unpack here. And some of the ways we can do so is looking at some of the key ideas from this article, and using them as word studies. We need to look at some of the key ideas from this article, even some of the key terms, and maybe approach word studies with them. Where do we see birds in the Bible? Where do we see stars? Heavens? Where do we see what the Lord has mentioned of His creation and our place in it? These are excellent things to do at home, and launched from great articles like this, you can go straight to Bible study.

JONATHAN: So it sounds like we’re starting to find our way into the last letter of SOAR, the letter R for Respond.

KELSEY: We absolutely have pivoted, because we’re asking some of these questions of, how does scripture shape my thinking, my feeling, and even my action in the world? So when we are moving into that last territory, we’re also asking this question of, how do we live out Christian maturity with this element of culture? Or also, how do we live discerningly or engage discerningly with the news regarding this element of culture?

JONATHAN: I think, again, about the theme of personal responsibility—just being conscious of the way we live, given some of the problems mentioned in this article. My mind goes to a story from a friend, who was saying that they can barely see the night sky at their house because their neighbor has these bright lights on all night. So asking myself, am I being that neighbor? Am I being considerate with the way I use light in and around my home, to the people around me, or even to the nature around me? Just asking those questions of myself, not as a guilt thing or feeling condemned, like “Oh, no, I did something wrong”—but can I make life a little bit better for the people and the creatures in my surrounding area?

KELSEY: I love how you turned it to love of neighbor and also love of the world that the Lord has placed us in. And I want to say that our response is equipped, our love of neighbor is equipped, by the love that has been poured out into us. The Father loved us so much, He sent His Son into the world to live a perfect human life on our behalf, displaying what it meant for Him to engage righteously with all that He was around, all that He had a relationship with. So much of His teaching even incorporates those illustrations from creation with such a tender heart, displaying the heart of the Father. That heart is the heart that equips us. That same heart is the heart that sent the Spirit to indwell us, and to allow us to see those things. How can I love my neighbor better?

JONATHAN: So there are many other things we could bring out of this, more things we could affirm, more things we could challenge, more ways we could respond. And we hope that you and your kids or your students will do just that, will look at this article for yourselves, go through this process and come up with those things. And you know, we’d even love to hear what you pull out of an article like this.

KELSEY: I always learn so much more when I get the privilege of being in a classroom with folks who are drawing out their observations. I missed so many things in many of the times that we did this with media when I was in school. And the enriching experience of unpacking with others in conversation—it was amongst the highest privileges of my life. So we hope that you also will give it a try, and let us know what doesn’t work, or what you need more of, and how we can come alongside of you.

Parents, teachers, mentors of kids and teens, and you students who are listening in as well—we also had the privilege of meeting grandparents who we know are listening, and we’re so thankful to be able to seek to come alongside you in this work you are doing. But ultimately, we want to remind you: He has equipped you for the work.



Show Notes

We’re dipping our toes into the topic of environmentalism by diving deep into a single news article. What causes light pollution? What solutions have been tried? And how should Christians care for creation?

We would love to hear from you. You can send us a message at What current events or cultural issues are you wrestling through with your kids and teens? Let us know. We want to work through it with you.

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