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Scott Deshefy

On Daylight Savings

The 48 contiguous United States exist roughly between 24.52 degrees to 49.38 degrees north latitudes. Hawaii, also located in the northern hemisphere is 19.7 degrees N latitude, only 1,375 miles from the equator. Consequently, variations in sunlight throughout the year are less dramatic. Anchorage, Alaska, by contrast, at 61.21 degrees N latitude is only 824 miles from the Arctic Circle. Differences in sunlight between Alaskan winters and summer months are huge. Northernmost locales, such as Barrow, spend 67 days of winter in total darkness while summers contain 80 or more days of uninterrupted daylight. For Alaska and Hawaii, the folly of changing clocks from standard to daylight savings time and back again seems obvious, but the policy of changing clocks with the seasons is no less questionable in the Lower 48.

Living in eastern CT in the 1950s and 60s, telecasts of LA Coliseum football games were a rare treat. As a lifelong Rams fan, opportunities to see regular season play of Jon Arnett, Roman Gabriel, Dick Bass, Jack Snow and the Fearsome Foursome were few and far between. But when the Rams were televised, unless beating the Giants in New York, they were invariably day games in the Coliseum. That meant Tommy McDonald and Bernie Casey were catching passes in the California sun after darkness had already descended on Uncasville. In late fall and mid-winter, the experience seemed even more surreal because standard time had east coast sunsets occurring around 4:30pm. Rather than continue the disruptive biannual process of “springing forward,” then “falling back” again to cope with Earth’s 23º axial tilt relative to the sun, it’s time to make daylight savings time (DST) permanent year-round, at least in the continental United States. Doing so would save lives, conserve energy, benefit America psychologically and mitigate crime. Officials in Washington State and Florida are already proposing laws which would turn all clocks permanently forward within their jurisdictions, and the rest of the nation should follow suit. Such continued momentum would go a long way to improving our lives. For years, Steve Calandrillo, a University of Washington law professor, has made a strong case for keeping daylight savings time permanent by focusing on 5 key benefits. 

Because we’re diurnal animals, human beings lack the anatomical and physiological assets enabling nocturnal species to thrive in darkness. Bats maneuver with uncanny aerial agility using sonar. Cats’ retinas, loaded with rod cells, are neurologically wired so impulses, triggered by limited light, concentrate and channel to just enough photoreceptors to generate sight. Behind their retinas, cats also possess a tapetum lucidum which reflects visible light back through their retinas again, further increasing rod activations. But to those of us ill-adapted to forays at night, darkness is hazardous. Studies clearly show darkness in the evening is deadlier than darkness in the morning. In fact, evening rush hours are twice as deadly as morning traffic because more people are on the roads, more evening drivers are impaired by alcohol and race to get home, and more children play outdoors unsupervised. In part because pedestrian fatalities increase by a factor of 3 after dusk, Rutgers University researchers estimate year-round DST could save upwards of 350 American lives each year. Standard time, making sunsets even earlier in winter, is correspondingly lethal.

Extending sunlight from late afternoon into evening hours, instead of morning, also aids in prevention of crime, especially crimes committed by juveniles, which peak after school and onset of night. Criminals tend to ignore Ben Franklin’s “early to bed, early to rise” maxim. Crimes are usually committed under cover of darkness, and perpetrators tend to be late rather than early risers. As a result, lawbreaking rates are about 30% lower in mornings and afternoons, even when DST adds an hour of darkness before daybreak.

When fulltime DST was proposed in the past, without “falling back” to standard time in November, some parents objected to kids waking before dawn preparing for school or standing at bus stops admiring the sunrise. But from late November through mid-January, when lengths of daylight are shortest, students miss at least a dozen schooldays due to holidays and winter vacation, not to mention additional time off and late starts because of snow storms and icy conditions. If DST becomes permanent, classes could also start a little later during winter so children aren’t eating breakfasts lit by LED and incandescent lights.

Daylight savings time was originally adopted to save energy during both world wars and later during the OPEC oil crisis in 1973 when it reduced America’s oil consumption by 150,000 barrels. Because the vast majority of people are awake and using energy when the sun sets and most of us are still asleep at sunrise, peak energy loads are significantly reduced when sunlight is extended into the evening. Less electricity is needed to produce artificial light, and the amount of oil, gas and electricity needed to warm homes and businesses is reduced by the added hour of late-day solar heating. When permanent DST was proposed in California a decade ago, when rolling brown-outs and electricity shortages were reoccurring, a 3.4% savings in winter energy usage was projected. That conservation figure would likely be higher today.

Because of iPads, night shifts, cell phones, text messaging, and computer screens in general, many Americans suffer from inadequate and irregular sleep cycles. The biannual clock switch, which permanent DST would eliminate, adds to those physical and psychological impacts. According to David Merrill, adult and geriatric psychiatrist and Director at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute, incidents of depression, anxiety and even suicidal tendencies increase measurably when clocks are changed.  Heart attacks increase significantly the week after the U.S. “springs forward,” and even stock market indices decline (on average) the first Monday after clocks are switched, both spring and fall. Notwithstanding those financial downturns first trading days after time changes, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce strongly advocates for extending DST. Recreation and commerce are obviously bolstered by daylight and hampered by nightfall, when many of us are unlikely to shop or play sports. As darkness descended on Wrigley Field September 28, 1938, Cub’s Gabby Hartnett famously delivered one of the greatest home runs in baseball folklore by hitting it into the gloamin’. As an avid, year-round golfer, however, I’d be the first to admit blindly hitting tee shots into the dusky twilight, then trying to determine their flight and whereabouts by follow-through and “club feel” at impact is no walk in the park.

Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.

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