The Waste of Daylight

Putting the clocks forward an hour throughout the year could improve our health and save the environment with many other positive side effects.

I have to admit, I never really thought deeply about why we changed the clocks forwards in spring and backwards again in autumn. It was sort of a habit, a nice extra hour in the depth of October, and the horrible loss of an hour in spring, which was thankfully rewarded with longer lighter days and the onset of summer.

Apparently and rather obviously, its all to do with saving daylight hours – hence why it’s called Daylight Saving Time, thanks to a keen bean builder called William Willett (1857–1915). He circulated pamphlets entitled “The Waste of Daylight” to many Members of Parliament and the general public explaining that for nearly half the year, the sun shines while we are asleep.

Then the Daylight Saving Bill was introduced in 1909 and during the First World War, after copying the Germans, Britain began saving daylight. And apart from a small experiment between 1968 and 1971 to conform to other European countries, we’ve kept GMT in winter and BST in summer.

However, recent studies, notably by engineers at Cambridge University in 2007, have shown that putting the clocks back in winter is actually bad for our health, wastes precious energy and increases pollution. This is because it makes afternoons darker an hour earlier meaning that the energy needed and the limits to outdoor activities is bad for our health, and the environment. In fact, we use an extra 5% of electricity, which means millions more tonnes of CO2 emissions – and much higher electricity bills.

The Lighter Later campaign is even suggesting we put the clocks forwards by an hour all year round meaning that children in Scotland wouldn’t have to go to school in the dark (one of the main reasons they abandoned the experiment in 1971). And we working adults could get up to 300 more hours by increasing daylight in the evenings. Tourism earnings could be boosted by about £300m, energy bills cut by about £1bn, roughly 1.2m tonnes of carbon emissions saved, mugging and crime risk brought down and about road casualties prevented. All at no cost to the consumer or taxpayer AND without reducing GDP. Sounds perfect! The answer to so many problems – but not for the Scots.

They say that it would impact rural communities and outdoor workers and businesses because of reduced daylight whilst making it more dangerous for schoolchildren going to school in the dark (In the far north, the sun wouldn’t rise until as late as 10 am in mid-winter – rather a depressing thought.)

However, it would bring our waking hours more into line with the hours of daylight, reducing the demand for energy and fuel – exactly what was used in the Second World War to reduce fuel consumption. It would give an extra hour of daylight to summer evenings to be used for leisure or work , not for wasting in bed.

I’m not sure if I can think of a better free solution to so many problems – obesity, climate change, crime, fatalities on the road, soaring electric bills, the list goes on. And, if Scotland is so worried about having shorter days, well they don’t have to do as we do. Catching a train to Edinburgh from Durham could be like getting the train from Brussels to London – a different time zone. That might solve the issue.

As far as I’m concerned, this brilliant idea hasn’t been publicised or discussed enough and the government should get on to this brilliant money saver – especially in these “tough economic times”.

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