Every year about this time I think about offering an amendment to one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs: “Everything is Broken.”
Not quite. Lots of things are broken, but not everything. One thing that isn’t is daylight saving time.
Yet, every year multiple rants erupt on our media outlets telling us just how broken it is. That changing the clocks by one hour is expensive, confusing and amounts to a lethal disruption of our apparently impossibly fragile biological clocks.
They marshal various statistics to prove it, but from where I sit – preferably in the extended evening sun – none makes the least bit of sense.
We’ve been told for years that it doesn’t save energy – one study, a favorite of daylight saving opponents, found that it actually “costs” us $400 million more each year.
Which is a big number only if it lands in your individual bank account. Spread across the U.S. population, it’s all of about $1.25 a year each.
We could all save vastly more than that by adjusting our thermostats one degree lower in winter and one degree higher in summer. Or by using low-flush toilets and low-flow showerheads. Or by walking and biking a bit more than driving – which you can do a lot more when there’s more light in the evening. Or by making improvements in the energy efficiency of your home. Or … you get the idea.
The amount of money lost to daylight saving time is not even a rounding error in an economy of $18 trillion and could be made up with other, relatively painless lifestyle changes.
But that, of course, is just about money. And we all know that our health is much more important. As the ancient Geritol commercial said, “When you’ve got your health, you’ve got just about everything.”
Which strongly suggests that any threat to your health is taking away “everything.” And one of the most popular anti-daylight saving time arguments making the rounds in recent years is that an accumulation of data show that a one-hour time change unleashes a wave of human suffering – even death.
Experts say the day after the move to daylight saving time, there are more heart attacks and strokes. Sleep deprived drivers have more car accidents. And judgment is clouded – cranky judges issue harsher sentences.
All of which sounds pretty awful. It also unleashes one of the classic pandering lines I’ve heard for decades from politicians: “If it saves even one life, it’s worth it.” Really? We could save thousands of lives every year if nobody was allowed to drive cars any more. Is that worth it?
Indeed, if changing the clocks for a single hour twice a year ought to be eliminated in the name of saving lives, then all of the scolds making that demand should also be calling for a complete overhaul of modern American life.
You could start with air travel. More than 650 million people board domestic flights each year – an average of about two flights per year for every person in the country. It’s a good bet that at least half of those flights cross time zones – many of them several time zones.
If you haven’t done it, then somebody you know has. A couple of my friends just left Massachusetts for a two-week vacation in Utah. About a month ago, they traveled to Wyoming for a week to do some skiing. That’s four flights in two months that each required them to change their clocks by two hours. Based on the conclusion of studies that purport to prove the consequences of messing with our biological clocks, their health risk is already four times greater than moving from standard to daylight time and back.
So, in exchange for saying yes to a marginal decrease in risks to our health, we should say no to dozens – probably hundreds – of things that make life ever so much richer.
No more cross-country vacations. Certainly no vacations to Europe or beyond. College and pro sports schedules will have to be adjusted, as well. No more Boston teams playing teams from Los Angeles – or even Chicago. No more business trips out of your local time zone.
And no more jetting around the world by our political leaders – secretaries of state, members of Congress or the U.S. president. They’ll have to conduct all their foreign policy via FaceTime or Skype.
You can take it even further. I recall (dimly) how life changed when my children were first born. I remember talking to one of my friends about how things we used to complain about – like jet lag – seemed so trivial. “I’ll take jet lag any day over the first year of my kid’s life,” he told me.
So, given the dangers of something far worse than jet lag, I guess it’s time to ban having kids. The survival of humanity depends on it … oh, wait.
Sure, daylight saving time isn’t perfect. According to several doctors I’ve spoken to, it takes about a day to adjust to each hour of a time change.
But, to invoke another political line that makes a bit more sense, we shouldn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.
In exchange for a single day of mild stress, we get nearly eight months to enjoy sunlight when we are more likely to take advantage of it. Hardly anybody I know wants to start enjoying the sun at 4 a.m. Instead, most would like to be able to enjoy some summer after-work activities until at least 8:30 or so.
This is a version of carpe diem – seize the day. Daylight saving time lets us seize the daylight. And the benefits of that vastly outweigh the risks.
Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.