This blog post is going to change your life more than any other opinion piece or news article you’ll read this week.
That’s right… With this one post I’m going to improve your life dramatically for a couple of weeks each year. I’ll improve your morning drive on a handful of days that would otherwise be horrible. This post may even save your life.
And to top it off this post may just give you hope in the U.S. system of government.
Big talk, I know, but I can back it up.
First, some background:
I’ve always been annoyed by the mandate to change all of our clocks twice per year. I’m groggy on that spring Monday morning when the government takes away an hour of sleep over the weekend and the alarm clock suddenly makes no sense in the inky pre-dawn darkness.
In the fall — when suddenly I’m going home from work in the dark — I fall into a funk that can last for weeks.
So I sit at the dinner table and complain, complain, complain.
One night at the dinner table, my wife, who’d recently read A Complaint Free World, challenged me. “Why don’t you do something about it?”
I replied: “I’ve made several very pointed Facebook posts!”
She was not impressed.
And now I’ve read the book, too, and have to concede that she was right. I felt so strongly, however, that I didn’t want to just stop complaining; I wanted to do something.
So, I started doing some research. Turns out there’s not a lot of good research, something that’s surprising. Certainly we wouldn’t upset so many lives so dramatically twice per year without having great research as to why we are doing that? You’d be shocked. There's very little, and it's very weak.
The origins of switching the clock seem to date to Ben Franklin. Now… We owe a great deal to Ben — the concept of the library, the fire department, the hospital, and so much more. And he had a legendary sense of humor.
And therein lies what may have been one of the great practical jokes of all time.
Franklin was certainly joking when he suggested that a way to increase productivity by changing the clocks around for the seasons.
Think about it. Daylight Savings does kind of seem like an elaborate practical joke you might play on freshman in a particularly cruel dorm. Imagine if someone moved your alarm by one hour a couple of times a year... Think about how mad you’d be. Or imagine that you tried that as a joke on your spouse. I know if I tried that as a joke on my wife there’s a good chance I’d wake up the next day in the ICU.
(By the way, did you know that they kept Franklin off a key committee drafting the Declaration of Independence because they were afraid he’d sneak in some jokes that they wouldn’t recognize? It’s true.)
The version of Daylight Saving (not “savings”) Time that we all recognize has its roots in WWI. After the war Daylight Saving was abandoned on a federal level, but then it was picked back up in WWII, and has been with us in essentially the same form ever since.
The thinking during WWII was that people needed to do whatever they could to save fuel and other resources so they could be used during the war. Admirable, to be sure, but remember the decision was made by the same government that thought “Internment Camps” would be a good idea for Japanese Americans. Great scientists built The Bomb. No science went into the thinking about Daylight Saving Time, just propaganda.
After the war states were left to decide for themselves when they wanted it to be 6 p.m. relative to the sun setting and there was a patchwork of different time zones from state to state, and even within some states. This created plenty of confusion, so the feds clamped down in 1966.
After researching the roots I started looking at the science regarding the clock changing. All of it is negative.
The U.S. Department of Energy issued a report that says sticking with Daylight Saving Time year round would save approximately one half of one percent of electricity used every day during the winter. Now, while 0.5 percent might not seem like much, you may not know that all the solar panels create just 0.25 percent of the total power generated in the U.S. Just leaving our clocks alone in the fall instead of reverting to Standard Time will save double the amount of non-renewable electricity than all solar power creates every single day from November to March. That’s a lot, and nobody has to install anything.
Productivity goes down, not up.
There is no conclusive research showing school children are at more risk waiting for school buses on rural roads, though this is the most emotional argument brought up against the idea. What is clear is that farm children are much more likely to die because of accidents with farm machinery than any traffic accident, with a bus involved or otherwise.
- I've been asking people why we have Daylight Saving Time, and nearly all say that it has something to do with farming. It turns out that farmers were traditionally against the clock changing. They just got a bad rap about that.
The opportunity cost is huge.
Traffic fatalities go up when we change the clocks in the spring. A lot.
It gets worse.
Hundreds — perhaps thousands — of extra people die from heart attacks on the mornings after the clock changes. Force-changing when we wake up is one of the things sleep and heart experts say is the worst thing we can do for ourselves.
Many of those of us who are lucky enough to survive the time change wish we hadn't.
The jolt is much worse than, for instance, traveling one time zone away because in that time zone the sun is coming up at a time that's more consistent with your wake-up time. Also you have external clues that you are in a different place. The Daylight Saving clock-changing is a radical and rude interjection into the most sacred of inner-sanctums: your bedroom.
A common epithet hurled at politicians is that they should stay out of our collective bedrooms. Of course, they are really talking about activities that could happen in any room of the house. The alarm clock really is in the bedroom and politicians should indeed get out and leave our alarm clocks alone!
I ran a traffic information service for five years, and the Monday mornings after both the spring and fall time changes were very good for business, and very bad for traffic. Groggy, incoherent and mad-at-someone-but-not-quite-sure-who drivers make for accidents galore.
Formation of a Plan
After researching it I started talking to friends, all of whom hate the clock changing, but they are always too groggy on the days when they are the most mad to really do anything about it.
(One note, I am advocating that most states switch permanently to “Daylight Saving” time, but some states may want to switch time zones when everyone fixes their clock and stops all the switching around. Arizona, for instance, needs to have business operate as much in the cool hours as possible in the summer, so it should stay put. The only organized group that wants more Standard time are the traditional broadcasters, who like it when it’s dark earlier so you’ll watch more prime time TV. But this is a fight not about which time construct is the best for which state, but about just picking one and not changing the clocks twice a year.)
So, research done, I came up with the beginnings of a plan to end the clock changing.
At first blush, I thought there was no hope. It seems like what's needed is an Act of Congress, and I know that for a guy like me to have a hope of getting Congress to do something would make Don Quixote look like conservative banker. Congress can’t get anything done even when they all agree on something. There’s a reason that Congress has an approval rating lower than Communism.
“Pro” is the opposite of “con” — my son points out — so “Congress” must be the opposite of “Progress.” Indeed.
My son actually provided me with a part of the solution. I've watched for years as some motivated school group goes to its state legislature and asks to get a some caterpillar, rock or whatever named the official state caterpillar, rock or whatever. Everyone thinks they are getting a lesson in government. Now, I'm not opposed to states having official caterpillars, but I'm not crazy about giving the youth of today false hope about how easy it is to get laws passed.
It is possible, though, to pass new laws and those school kids have one thing right: It is much more possible to get things done at the state level than in D.C.
But Daylight Saving Time is a federal issue, right?
At one level, yes. The Department of Transportation has ruled that no more states can do what Hawaii and Arizona have done, and switch to one time and stick to it year-round.
We live in a republic, however. We have a 10th Amendment that says that states can do what they want. The Feds have lots of ways of controlling the states, but this plan takes that into account. And the DOT even has a structure in place for states to opt out of clock-changing.
Here's the plan: I'm proposing that every state legislature passes a bill that says that it will stop changing clocks twice per year and just stick with Daylight Saving Time all year long.
The part of the plan that will help it get passed is that the elimination of the clock-changing will only take effect if at least 31 states pass the same bill. The number is really 33, or two thirds of all states, but Arizona and Hawaii are already on the list. I picked the number of 33 states because that's how many it takes to pass a constitutinonal amendment. I know this is not a constitutional issue, but it seems like a good standard.
Why do it that way?
Well, I think that state legislators don't really mind change, they just don't want to stick out as the odd-balls. Did you ever do business with someone in Arizona or Hawaii? If so, you probably expressed some frustration that it's hard to keep track of the number of hours difference from them to you because it keeps changing. (If you said something to them, they undoubtedly responded that it is you that's doing all the changing around. They do have a point.)
That's the rub. I don't think any legislator wants to be first in line to make his or her state the only one in the time zone that stops changing the clocks twice a year, no matter how many potential voters are saved from heart attacks and traffic deaths. Using the same notion, no legislator wants to be the one who is blocking the tide of progress if all the other states are doing it.
So, with a proposal like this — where legislators are voting that they don't want to be first, but they don't want to be last — they'll be happy to vote yes.
They'll be especially happy if they are doing so at the request of school children. I mentioned my son earlier, and he's played into this plan. His class will be studying government this year. They might even get it in their head to go to the legislature and propose a state caterpillar or whatever. My suggestion is that instead they go and ask for something that will really make the world they are growing up into a better place by asking a legislator to carry this bill.
And because schools love interdisciplinary bla bla bla, they could mix in some science and math, too. I can envision many great experiments, starting with:
How does a family’s energy use change?,
What are the computational abilities in students on the day after the clock-change?
What is the tardiness rates after the change?
All of that science, I'm guessing, will lead to the inescapable conclusion that changing the clocks twice per year is a folly that should be dispensed with before its 100th anniversary coming in about four years.
If students and families work together and we start going to legislators this fall, we could get 33 states to pass a bill when they all convene in January. If we can get 33 this year then the switch to Daylight Saving Time in the spring of 2015 will be the last ever. Imagine!
If it takes us another year to get enough states on board, well, we'll still be able to make the final change in the spring of 2016.
And if we can do that, we the people in the 50 U.S. States will be able to tell the federal government that the people have indeed spoken, and whatever bureaucratic powers that they may want to use to block us should instead be brought to bear to pave the way to a smooth no-clock-changing future.
This really could work.
I recently visited the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. It's a magical place, and does a great job of showing that our country and our constitution has always struggled, and always endured. The current miasma that is the U.S. Congress can sap the patriotism from even the most earnest student. Maybe being a part of a real change can give our youth some hope, and that's all we really need to ensure a bright future.
A couple of important notes:
This was my idea, but like all great ideas I wasn't the only one to have it. I looked on BillTrack50 (full disclosure: I’m a shareholder of that company) and found that a state legislator in Missouri had a similar idea. Good for him! The bill didn’t pass, but it didn’t have the power of America’s school children behind it. I talked to him, and he's on board with this new push.
This idea of ending the clock-changing needs a name. I'm terrible at naming things. Have a great name suggestion? Send it to the page I’ve set up here.
On that page will also be a blog where we can showcase great science projects and efforts to get this thing passed, in addition to model legislative language that school children can take to their legislators.
I’m busy running a content writing service and being a father and husband, so I don’t have time to do everything needed for this revolution. It will take contributions of time and effort from many people. If you want to end the clock-changing madness, don’t wait for an OK from me. Just go do whatever it is you want to do. Once you’ve done whatever it is, take a picture, share it on social media, etc. and let me know and I’ll post it on the yet-to-be-named site.
Or if you really want to get involved, I've set up an end-the-clock-changing project board. If you'd like to volunteer to lobby, do PR or just manage the efforts for your state, we need you.
This is the original version of a piece that ended up being rewritten entirely and ended up as the edited piece now on CNN.com.