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The Case Against the Case Against Daylight Saving Time

Please don’t take my sunshine away.
March 13, 2016, 12:30pm

For most of us, daylight saving time (yep, there's no "s") equals more sunlight. When we spring forward today, the time change will push sunset an hour later every evening, which for typical 9-5ers will mean more light in your life. But some advocates and lawmakers are pushing to abolish DST, a change that could add as much as 200 hours of darkness to many people's waking year. Who wants that? Please no.

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Obviously, switching over to DST does not make the sun shine longer. It simply shifts our clocks forward to try and better align societal schedules with solar time; we pay for the extra hour of evening light by sacrificing it in the morning. But generally speaking, when we switch over to daylight saving between March and November, "It feels like more daylight, because there's daylight in the evening when people can use it rather than in the morning when most people sleep through it and they don't see it at all," said Dr. David Prerau, author of Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time.

I think we can all agree more daylight is a good thing. Yet there's a prevalent anti-daylight saving sentiment, and 11 US states are proposing legislation to abolish the time change. (Arizona and Hawaii are the only states to currently observe standard time year-round.) Why? Well for the most part, people are pushing to do away with daylight saving because of the hassle of switching the clocks twice a year and the inevitable resulting logistical clusterfuck. Many studies claim the time change could even damage physical and mental health since this societal self-imposed jet lag messes with our circadian rhythm.

But one perspective that's consistently overlooked in this biannual brouhaha is how having more waking leisure hours when the sun is out enhances quality of life. The frustration with the inconvenience of changing the clocks tends to overshadow this simple fact: Being outdoors is good for the soul.

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"With many referenda and proposed laws that we see, there's not a strong consideration given to what people will experience when they no longer have daylight saving in the summer," Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, told me. "People that get it tend to like it."

How about moving to daylight saving time year-round?

So, if we don't want to change the clocks twice a year and we don't want to lose that extra evening sun, how about moving to daylight saving time year-round?

Year-round daylight saving is a somewhat less popular idea, in part because it technically violates the law—states are permitted to opt in or out of DST, but not instate it all year. Regardless, four states have proposed legislation to stay on daylight saving time all year: Florida, Missouri, New Mexico, and Idaho (which has tried to both abolish and permanently instate DST, with no luck either time).

What's more, the federal government has been trending in that direction. When a nationwide timeframe was first instituted in 1966, the government decided daylight saving time would last six months. Twenty years later, in 1986, that was extended out to seven months, and in 2005 it was extended again to eight. Standard time now only lasts for four months of the year. So why not make daylight saving the standard?

Here's what it would look like if we used DST year-round, based on these Navy sunrise/sunset charts and some napkin scratch math. On one hand, the outlook is bright: With year-round daylight saving we'd get to keep those long summer evenings with the added benefit of getting rid of those soul-sucking days in mid-winter when the sun sets at four o'clock in the goddamn afternoon.

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But here's the major downfall of perma-DST: There's about an hour difference in solar time between the east and west sides of each time zone, so, for example, while the sun comes up at 7:30 AM in Portland, Maine, it's nearly 8:30 AM in Indianapolis. This means in the western parts of the time zones during the shortest months of the year, the sun wouldn't rise until as late as 8:30 or 8:45 in the morning. That would be nuts!

Now, for comparison, here's what we'd see if we got rid of daylight saving and observed standard time year-round.

Between March and November, when we'd normally use DST, the sun would rise roughly between 4 AM and 7:20 AM instead of 5 AM and 8:20 AM. (The time ranges depending on the time of year as we get closer to the vernal equinox in June, and whether you're closer to the eastern or western edge of the time zone.) So, earlier sunrise. Better! But the cost of that is it would get dark around 5:30 PM to 8:15 PM, instead of those long summer nights we have now when the sun can set at 9:30 PM.

In other words, ditching daylight saving would make it light out for an extra hour in the morning, but many of us would be asleep through half of that. On the other end, the average office slave would get, at maximum, an hour-and-a-half of sunlight after work, and in the shorter months, none at all. And remember, this is in the summertime. The days are even shorter in winter.

For more personalized calculations, this interactive graphic that Quartz made is fun to play with. It shows that, for instance, if you live on the East Coast, and generally get up around 6:30 AM and go to bed around 11:30 PM, with the status quo you'd be awake for 4,470 hours of daytime throughout the year. Get rid of daylight saving time and that drops to 4,269 hours. That's a loss of 200 hours of light each year.

We all have feelings about daylight saving, and today's time change was surely accompanied by the usual whinefest about missing appointments and losing an hour of sleep and the general inanity of this seemingly antiquated practice. But let's not forget there's something many of us will be gaining too: Daylight.