Congress has proven it can still agree on some things as the so-called “Sunshine Protection Act” passed the Senate on March 15, to near unanimous acceptance. Of course, it still has to go to the House of Representatives and then the President to become an official law. Seeing its acceptance in a Senate where lawmakers have a divide between them larger than the Atlantic Ocean gives me high hopes that the clock springing back and forth is finally going to become a very bad memory rather than an accepted part of life.
So, really what’s the justification behind Daylight Saving Time (DST)? Essentially, we switch our clocks to maximize the amount of sunlight we get in the Northern Hemisphere, especially as the length of days changes throughout the year. Though in 2007 when the current March-November shift was made official across the United States, part of the reasoning was to cut down on energy consumed by keeping lights on later in the day, among other things.
The actual benefits of pushing our clocks forward and backward are mixed. On one hand, the increased daylight does help prevent traffic accidents. On the other, the supposed energy benefits behind DST are mixed—some studies say it helps, some say it doesn’t. While people do use less lights due to the extra hour of sunlight, that also means they’re more likely to use air conditioning.
The real drawback behind switching our clocks relates to mental and physical health from the change in sleep schedules. The obvious one is the loss of sleep that comes with changing clocks, but other effects are a lack of productivity immediately following the change, depression relating to perceived decreased amounts of sunlight, and other injuries that result from general drowsiness from the time change.
Permanent DST can have its own downsides, though these are a bit more mitigated than the direct effects of changing clocks back and forth. It’s been found that people spend more money during DST as a result of people staying out later. Although saying that’s a complete downside is only one half of the picture. What could be a downside to consumers is a benefit to businesses—both big and small. Plus, it’s difficult to say whether or not these purchases would have simply happened on another date if not for the increased sunlight hours.
My main point of contention is the clock switch, admittedly. Beyond just the loss of an hour of sleep, there’s the loss of an hour of daylight. I’m an outdoors person, I enjoy bike rides, walks, fishing trips, and so on. While going out when day is turning to night is fun, there’s nothing like being beneath the hot sun, letting the rays soak into my skin as I’m absorbed by the natural world around me in whatever I’ve decided to do to pass the time.
Senator Marco Rubio, a major proponent of the bill, agrees with me on that front. His primary motivation is to give people of all ages more time to spend in the sun. I can certainly see this benefitting school children who get home and have to do homework until five or six o’clock; a situation where the sun would be setting or already gone by standard time is instead replaced with one where they have an extra hour or two to, well, be kids.
Not to mention the aforementioned benefits of giving drivers a safe amount of sunlight to drive home through if they work the usual nine-to-five.
Having the extra hour of daylight means that more people can appreciate the beauty of the day for what it is. It gives them more time to get in touch with the outdoors, and to go around and enjoy all sorts of activities. While standard time means the sun rises earlier in the day, few people are likely to be up that early, meaning that the extra hour of morning light is wasted relative to the hour seen in DST.
Is a permanent DST perfect? No, nothing is. There are already proponents for a permanent standard time which has a slew of positive and negative effects. But, ultimately, the removal of a time change that is both detrimental and arbitrary is the first step to a system I’m sure all Americans will find time to appreciate.