Campaigners want government agencies and companies to turn off the lights so citizens can rediscover the beauty of darkness.


AMSTERDAM—As winter creeps across the Northern Hemisphere and daylight hours dwindle, it can be hard to appreciate the long, dark nights. But in the Netherlands, there’s a national campaign to embrace the darkness.

Nacht van de Nacht (Night of the Night) culminates in an annual event—this year, it was on October 26—during which local governments and companies turn off their lights and people gather in towns and woods to savor the absence of artificial light.

Earth Hour, a worldwide event to turn off the lights for one hour in March, is aimed at raising environmental awareness, but the goal of Nacht van de Nacht is to change lighting habits permanently, so that we can see the stars again.

This year, around 45,000 people took part in some 550 activities, including night walks in forests, star viewings, and candlelit dinners. The organization also holds workshops year-round and advises the government, municipalities, and companies to dim or turn off lights, and to adopt a policy of “Dark where possible, light where necessary.”


Andre Kuipers, the Netherlands’ best-known astronaut, became an ambassador for Nacht van de Nacht because he believes a cosmic perspective could help us rekindle our sense of stewardship towards the earth.

There is increasing recognition for the necessity of darkness for plants and animals—including ourselves. Trees, plants, and insects need darkness, just like humans, for their growth and repair cycles, which may be one reason urban trees have shorter lives than those in a forest. Thousands of birds a year are killed by bright artificial lighting, and insect numbers and therefore pollination have been found to be affected by street lighting.

Light and its absence regulates our hormones and thereby our circadian rhythms, reproductive capacity, tendency for obesity, and more. The invention of artificial light, particularly blue-tinged light, has shifted our circadian rhythms and altered sleep cycles and alertness because it suppresses melatonin, the hormone that brings on sleep. Studies have also found night lighting increases the incidence of breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Although Dutch municipalities are using less light, and companies including Interbest, IKEA, and Tata Steel take part in the Nacht van de Nacht every October, for the rest of the year light pollution from the private sector is getting worse. “Because LEDs are cheaper, they can leave lights on all night and it costs almost nothing for advertisements. That’s what we’d like to tackle in the coming years,” says Bleijenberg.

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