With the way things are going this year, Sam Miller believes that we ought to double down on daylight saving time instead of complaining about it.
Instead of moving the clock forward one hour as we’re supposed to do on Sunday, he’s pushing for two. And not just once.
“I think we should cut two hours every day until we’re through this pandemic,” said the Olympia comedian. “This whole year, I wished every day was shorter. Let’s do it.”
Of course, it’s not going to work that way.
On March 14, we’ll “spring forward” and set our clocks ahead one hour at 2 a.m., losing an hour from the clock and gaining an hour of evening light.
But why do we keep doing this?
Everybody seems to hate it, or at least complain about it, and in Washington, state lawmakers two years ago voted to do away with the twice-yearly back-and-forth with the clock, with tremendous popular support. The governor signed the legislation, and the state’s representatives in D.C. promised to endorse it.
It was part of a wave of support to #DitchTheSwitch that swept the nation with at least 350 bills and resolutions introduced in virtually every state since 2015, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In the last four years, 15 states — including Washington, Idaho and Oregon — have passed laws or resolutions to adopt permanent daylight saving time as their standard. California voters also approved the idea and British Columbia, Canada, said it would follow the rest of the West Coast.
Under current federal law, states can decide either to be on permanent standard time or to switch back and forth between standard time and daylight time but cannot adopt permanent saving time without federal action.
But what with COVID-19 and other matters, the so-called Sunshine Protection Act introduced annually over the last four years by Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, and co-sponsored by Washington’s U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, seemed perhaps a lesser priority.
State Rep. Marcus Riccelli, a sponsor of the successful 2019 Washington legislation, said the push is on again this year with increased momentum and a few new avenues to explore.
“It’s frustrating to stall at the federal level because if there’s one thing everybody agrees with, it’s to stop this useless, archaic practice,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Riccelli is planning to ask her directly to hear Rubio’s bill.
If that doesn’t work, he might even reach out to the new secretary of transportation, Pete Buttigieg, who could “change all this with a stroke of his pen,” Riccelli said.
David S. Prerau, the author of the definitive “Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time,” said the practice of switching between standard and saving time has always been controversial.
Advocates say permanent daylight time saves lives, reduces crime and serves as a public-health boon by getting people out, moving and recreating after work. However, opponents, including experts in depression and sleep science, say that it’s morning — not evening — light that sets our natural circadian rhythms.
Prerau said the first record of the concept goes back to Benjamin Franklin, a night owl who one day in 1784 woke earlier than usual and noticed it was completely light outside! He realized he could save on candles if he were to shift his clock forward and do his writing by sunlight.
In 1895, a New Zealand entomologist suggested moving the clock forward two hours to allow more prime bug-catching light in the evening. In 1905, William Willett began a campaign, backed for a time by Winston Churchill, to advance clocks by 80 minutes in four 20-minute steps during April and reverse them the same way during September.
In 1916, two years into World War I, the German government started brainstorming ways to save energy, Prerau said, and seized on the idea championed across the channel.
“They remembered Willett’s idea of moving the clock forward and having more daylight during working hours,” he said. “While the British were talking about it year after year, the Germans decided to do it.”
In those days, he said, using daylight to light factories really did save energy and fuel costs.
Soon, England and the U.S. followed suit. In 1918, Congress enacted its first daylight saving law and established the Standard Time Act that defined the nation’s time zones.
While “it’s always unpleasant to lose an hour of sleep,” Prerau said, he supports the current model.
Daylight saving time “has benefits and is very good for spring, summer and fall and not so good in the winter.”
In response to an energy crisis in the 1970s, the U.S. temporarily adopted permanent daylight saving time. But people did not like a season of waking up in the cold and dark, and the idea proved so unpopular Congress repealed it after one year, Prerau said.
The negative effect of switching the clock twice a year lasts a few days, he said, “but having dark mornings lasts for 120 days.”
Riccelli said, though, that people want a change. The measure saw more support in Washington than any bill he’s ever worked on, he said.
He would say to Congress, if he could, “Look, people think Congress and government at the federal level is a broken clock. Show them we can bring people together, get the trains running on time and do something that supports the will of the people.”
“COVID’s been dark times,” he said. “We all need a little extra light.”
Miller, the Olympia comedian, is in favor of anything that minimizes disorientation.
“I’ve never really understood it. I don’t understand how we’re gaining an hour of light but losing an hour of time and I’m already confused by regular days,” he said. “I don’t need this kind of stress.”