I hope I am not the only American upset with Congress because they forced us to move to Daylight Savings Time three weeks early this year.
I first wrote about this back in November 2005. Now that I have actually experienced it, I am just infuriated by the whole thing. Moreover, I think I know why. It is because it has taken me back to 1974 when I was a mere lad of 17. At the time, we were embroiled in The Energy Crisis (Part 1). The Arab members of OPEC were upset by the Yom Kippur War. Any nation that sided with Israel became one of its targets, so they stopped shipping oil to the United States. President Nixon and Congress did two things in response. They set the national speed limit to 55 miles an hour (which was not repealed until 1995) and the nation was put on year round daylight savings time. For two years, the nation lived in an artificial time zone six months of the year. In the winter, we drove to work in the dark. The sun peaked above the horizon for many months after 8 AM.
At the time, I was a junior at Seabreeze Senior High School in Daytona Beach, Florida. Because Florida, like most states then (and now) could not be bothered to build enough schools to support the numbers of students, they staggered our school attendance. Juniors and seniors attended classes from 7 AM to Noon. This meant I was out on the bus stop a bit after 6 AM.
This was challenging enough for a teenager. As anyone with a teenager knows, at that age in life a student need more sleep, not less. It is excruciatingly difficult for a teenage body to rise before 8 AM, let alone before the sun goes up. Thanks to The Energy Crisis, not only did I go to school when it was dark, but I arrived at school in the dark and most of my first class was in the dark too. How much learning occurred? Not much. At least half of the students zoned out in their first class. They were not subtle. They put their heads right down on their desks and slept. The teachers were foggy eyed too. Academics, always a challenge at my high school, suffered even further, particularly in first period classes.
Now here we are 33 years later. We do not have year round Daylight Savings Time again, thank goodness. Nevertheless, this is nearly as bad. We have shrunk Standard Time so it has little meaning anymore. When I was a lad, DST began on the last Sunday in April and ended on the last Sunday in October. If the old law were in effect, we would have seven more weeks of standard time in the spring. In addition, we will extend DST a week in the fall. Essentially, we have extended DST by 8 weeks or two months a year. Consequently, there is nothing “standard” about standard time anymore. By my calculation, only 18 of 52 weeks of the year are now in standard time. To put it another way, we are in standard time only about one third of the year.
So now, I rise needlessly in the dark. Coincidentally 33 years later, my daughter is 17 instead of me. Now she is being shuffled off to school in the dark instead of me. The sun rises sometime after her first period class starts. I am betting that most of the students in her class are snoozing through first period too.
Since I ensure my daughter gets out the door around 6:30 or so, I am up early too. Since I am up, I am off to work early, which means I am driving to work. It is not quite dark unless it is a cloudy day, but it is definitely early twilight. I would prefer to bike but I cannot see well enough to bike, so I am actually using more energy. Even if I could bike, I dare not cross the Fairfax County Parkway on my bike in the twilight; I am likely to be run over. At work, I try to read my email and it is a challenge. My body is not quite in the present at 7:15 AM.
This latest law, like the one in 1973, is an attempt to save energy. While it is nice to have more daylight in the evening, it is not much more daylight. In any event, those of us who want to take advantage of the daylight are probably not going to be outside to sit on our decks, where the air is likely too cool to enjoy anyhow. We will not be mowing our lawns either; the grass is not growing yet. However, we will be more likely to get in our cars and drive somewhere, like the mall. There we will do our part to max out our charge cards and keep the economy humming. This bill, passed by a Republican Congress, struck me as more of an attempt to keep the coffers of capitalism running at full throttle than a solution to our energy consumption.
Supposedly, the law was written with the understanding that if it did not reduce our energy use, it would be repealed. While I am hopeful, I am skeptical that this will happen. Starbucks will get used to boosted coffee sales and will doubtless petition Congress to keep the law in place. Any business that benefits by having more people in the evening will also be petitioning to keep it in place. This means I suspect that though this latest extension is deeply unnatural, we will have to live with it.
For my part, I made the likely futile attempt and wrote my Republican congressman to petition for the end of this unnatural daylight savings time extension. If you feel the same way, write your representative and senators now.