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Last week, daylight saving time ended and most of America turned their clocks back by an hour. And, on cue, the complaints about the twice yearly time change commenced.
Why, many people wondered, don’t we just stick to one time all year? Why don’t we have daylight saving time year-round? Didn’t Congress fix this?
Let’s start with the last question first. The Senate, earlier this year, did pass the Sunshine Protection Act, which would have made daylight saving time permanent year-round. The measure was passed quickly with little debate.
It then stalled in the House, where concerns — like the fact that it would be dark in many northern cities during the winter morning commutes to work and school — have left it languishing.
That’s a good thing.
The Sunshine Protection Act is trying to solve a problem that humans can’t solve. “No matter what, we can’t create more daylight, and that’s the real issue for most of us,” as News Center Maine meteorologist Keith Carson aptly said in March.
So, if we can’t create more daylight, the question becomes whether we want more daylight in the morning or at night. Using daylight saving time, which in 2007 was extended to run from early March to early November, for part of the year is a way to essentially get the best of both worlds: More sunlight at the end of the day in the summer (when stores and restaurants are glad for the extra daylight — and dollars) but fewer dark mornings with the switch back to standard time.
Here’s why we switch back to standard time in the fall: On the shortest day of the year — Dec. 21 — there are about 8 hours and 42 minutes of daylight generally in Maine. That’s almost seven hours less daylight than on the summer solstice in June.
On Dec. 21, 2021, the sun rose at 7:14 a.m. and set at 3:56 p.m. If a change is made to year-round daylight saving time, the sun wouldn’t rise until 8:14 a.m. and it would set just before 5 p.m. That means a lot of people would go to work and many kids would head to and start school in the dark for a longer period of time in the winter, and many workers would also return home in the dark. That doesn’t seem like an improvement.
Plus, the U.S. has tried year-round daylight savings before. In 1973, President Richard Nixon signed a year-round daylight saving time bill into law. The rationale then was to help ease the energy crisis, and there was broad public support for the change, which began in January 1974.
After going to work and sending children to school in the dark, the public quickly changed its mind. The U.S. Department of Transportation found the change may have produced some electricity savings but increased gas consumption. Year-round daylight saving time was abandoned in less than a year — before the next cold, dark winter began.
So, if lawmakers decide this switch is truly problematic, they should move to adopt standard time year round.
But, given the lessons learned in the 1970s, ignoring the grumbling — which will quickly fade — and leaving the clocks alone for now makes the most sense.