Saturday, March 19, 2022

In Context: Protecting the sunshine with our clocks

In 2007, Rep. Bill Sali of Idaho gave a speech on the House floor in which he suggested an “Obesity Reduction and Health Promotion Act” proposing “that the force of gravity by the force of Congress be reduced by 10 percent.”

He didn't introduce the bill, but he was making a point about the futility of defying natural law even as some in Congress sometime seem to think, as he put it, “The force of Congress can be brought to bear and justified to suspend those natural laws which would otherwise control important matters.”

Congress has never managed to change the law of gravity, but it is trying to change when the sun rises and sets.

This week, the Senate passed S. 623 which is actually called the “Sunshine Protection Act.” It's a bill to stop the changing of the clocks and make Daylight Saving Time permanent.

A few background facts:

• When the sun rises and sets, and how much daylight there is between those two daily events, is based on one's geographic latitude, the tilt of the earth's axis, and the time of year—not any laws from Congress.

• One of the most enduring markers of time throughout history all around the world is when the sun is at its highest point in the sky on any given day: noon.

• Circular clocks, originally based on a sundial, were a visual representation of high noon at the top.

• There is an equal amount of daylight before solar noon (ante meridian) and afterwards (post meridian), and from those descriptions we get a.m. and p.m.

• The building, modernizing and operating of railroads led to the development of time zones for time consistency between distant geographic locations. This meant that for only one line of longitude in every time zone, noon on the clock actually matches up with solar noon in the sky. For everyone else, clock noon and solar noon could be out of sync by up to a half hour, and more than that when time zones in certain areas are geographically extended.

• Electricity and electric lights have made nighttime darkness less of a limitation on human activity.

Prime time for broadcast media is often after sunset.

While average American waking hours have drifted later into the evening, it's still natural for people to prefer daylight for their after-work and after-school activities. Many look forward to it being “lighter later” in the evening, even if it costs them an hour of sleep.

Is that what's really happening, though? Has the sun suddenly started rising and setting an hour later than it did before?

By changing our clocks, we're just taking an hour of daylight away from a.m. and giving it to p.m.  We pretend 11 a.m. is noon. There's still about the same amount of daylight the day before DST begins or ends as there is the day after. The sun isn't setting any later than it otherwise would.

Everyone is just doing everything earlier while pretending it's an hour later. S. 623 is short, and the bulk of the bill text is dedicated to basically crossing out numbers on the clock and writing in different ones.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has been on a mission every spring for the last few years to end the changing of the clocks. #LockTheClock He's also been listening to critics of his legislation. He wrote, “The argument that it will be took dark in the morning kids if we make #DaylightSavingTime permanent ignores the fact that we are already on it for 36 of the 52 weeks a year.”

We are on it for 36 of the 52 weeks a year—including the weeks that are the lightest during the calendar year. Kids get up early to go to school during the darkest weeks of the calendar year.

What the Senator from the geographically southern state of Florida may not realize is how long some of those weeks are dark in more northern states. If there's only 9 hours of daylight (or less) at some times in some places, and we're pretending 11 a.m. is noon, then sunrise is at 8:30 a.m. Anyone arriving to school by 7:30 a.m. is arriving in the dark before dawn.

It's an unnecessary risk to make students walk to school in the dark. The U.S. has already gone to permanent Daylight Saving Time before, and it did not go well. In the mid-1970s, after several morning traffic accidents involving schoolchildren, including eight in Florida, Governor Reubin Askew asked for the year-round DST law to be repealed. During one winter, public support for permanent DST dropped from 79 percent to 42 percent.

Among those who are opposed to Daylight Saving Time, some are opposed to the time change on principle for reasons similar to those outlined here. #LetNoonBeNoon For others, including Senator Rubio, it may be less about what we call the times of the day, and more about stopping the changing of clocks twice a year.

When the Senate passed the bill unanimously on Tuesday, other Senators speaking in favor of permanent DST were from Alabama, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington state. It may take making it permanent again before Daylight Saving Time is repealed altogether. Some legislators from states that have not yet abandoned DST are studying the matter.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce recently held a hearing on DST. Witnesses opposed time changes, some favoring permanent Standard Time and others permanent Daylight Saving Time.

Rubio's bill now goes to the House where leadership may take up the bill later this year. The law would not take effect until 11/5/2023, so there are still two more time changes ahead regardless. Software developers need time to reprogram many complicated and important systems. The last time Congress changed DST in 2005, the changes did not take effect until 2007.

If the House takes up the bill, they would do well to amend the bill to repeal Daylight Saving Time and #LockTheClock that way instead.

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