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Spring forward into the dark PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 March 2017 17:04

What this politically polarized country needs is the tonic of an honest, enthusiastic, bipartisan action by Congress to improve the lives of the people of America.

Obviously, it won’t be health care, since one political party views Trumpcare as a curative medicine, while the other considers it a deadly poison.

The issue that should bring the two sides of Congress together for a brief burst of unified service to the nation is daylight saving time. Surely Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, can agree that their constituents should be spared the twice-a-year irritation of this foolish and pointless clock-setting ritual.

Damning testimony in a congressional hearing could be given by citizens of a northern latitude state such as Wisconsin. They would merely have to report what the March 12 spring-ahead DST adjustment has accomplished. 

The clock reset gives residents dark mornings. It forces commuters to drive to work in the dark and school children to wait for the bus in the dark. It provides more light in evenings, which is worthless this time of year except for those who consider it a plus to be able to shovel snow in daylight.

Studies have identified other effects: a spike in traffic crashes following the start of DST; reduced worker productivity; an increase in heart attacks, strokes and depression; a $147 million cost to airlines to cope with schedule adjustments.

Yes, but isn’t it worth putting up with this negative baggage to save energy? It might be if the clock changing really did reduce electricity demand, as DST was touted to do, but it doesn’t.

Changing clocks to reduce energy consumption is a century-old practice, so it has been studied ad infinitum. The current consensus of those studies is that, at best, DST has no effect on energy consumption. One frequently cited study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that it actually increases usage of electricity. 

Congress sets the dates for clock changing—and managed to make the effects more pernicious by adding a month to daylight saving time in 2007. States have the right to opt out, but only Hawaii and Arizona have done so, though many state legislatures have considered bail-out bills. Federal repeal would settle the matter.

Daylight saving time in the U.S. dates to World War I, when it was tried on the premise that it would reduce the need for electricity-producing coal, more of which could then be devoted to the war effort. 

Farmers are frequently blamed for being the instigators of DST, but it turns out they deserve credit for getting rid of it the first time around. It was abandoned after the war, according to Michael Downing, author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time,” in response to a revolt of the farm lobby, which said the manipulation of the hours of sunshine conflicted with milking and crop harvesting schedules. 

The U.S. has been stuck with DST without interruption since Congress codified it in 1966 in spite of the absence of evidence that it is beneficial to its citizens. A possible explanation for Congress sticking with it is that an influential special interest group likes it. The retail lobby, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says having more light in the evening causes people to buy more in stores. 

So it seems daylight saving time is not about decreasing energy consumption—it’s about increasing shoppers’ consumption.

Acting in a way perceived to be inimical to shopping may be daunting, not to mention un-American, for some members of Congress, but they should look at daylight saving time as an opportunity for senators and representatives of both parties to earn their profiles in courage by working together to relieve America of a silly clock-setting mandate.

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