A couple of months ago, in early December, I got out of work early. I was thrilled until I stepped out onto Guest Street in Brighton to be enveloped in midnight-like darkness. It was only 4:11 p.m. — nearly an hour before even the early bird special.
That’s why this Sunday is my favorite day of the year, because at 2 a.m., everything changes.
We will be in daylight saving time (no “s” on “saving,” by the way). Apart from the obligatory whining about setting the clocks forward, the extra hour of evening sun is welcome after a long, cold, dark winter. It’s especially welcome after yet another long, cold, dark COVID winter.
Starting Sunday we get eight months of more evening light. But come November, we fall back, masochistically, into darkness. It doesn’t have to be that way — daylight saving time all year long is within our reach.
Here’s Senator Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, who in 2005 led the successful charge to extend daylight saving time by several weeks, on the prospect of switching over altogether: “It would improve public health, public safety, and mental health.”
Just consider the research marshaled in support of the proposed Sunshine Protection Act, a proposal to legislate a permanent change to daylight saving time. Crime drops with more daylight in the evening — robberies fall by 27 percent, according to the Brookings Institution. There’s evidence that fewer cars bump into other cars and into pedestrians because they can see them, and that the economy benefits, since people shop more. And if energy usage declines only modestly, I’ll take it.
Then there are the health benefits. The sleep disruptions that come with time shifts have been linked to higher risk of heart attack and stroke, and a decline in mental health. With more light, we might even exercise more — much needed if we are to lose our ranking as one of the most obese countries in the world.
While the pro and con arguments aren’t quite as lopsided as say, on climate change, they’re close — only two constituencies are cited as being most affected by changing the clocks: kids and cows.
Glenn Koocher served on the Cambridge School Committee for a dozen years. He’s now head of the statewide organization of such bodies, and I asked him about the concern over going to school in the dark. “I have been here 21 years and it’s never come up,” he says. And he didn’t stop there, suggesting that a move to permanent daylight saving time would provide an impetus to finally do what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics believe we should do for adolescents anyway: Start school later in the morning.
As for our bovine neighbors, I am sympathetic to the tough time family farmers have had, and to how changing the clocks wreaks havoc with milk production. But let’s face it, with fewer than 10,000 dairy cows in Massachusetts — but roughly 7 million humans — whose happiness comes first? Many milk producers believe cows do acclimate to the time shift, but what about when they have to switch again to later milkings in the fall and, loaded with 7 or 8 gallons of milk, can’t wait? I couldn’t. Year-round consistency is the solution.
Over the past four years, 18 states have passed laws or resolutions in support of the permanent change, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures; Massachusetts is not one of them (though it has looked into it). In February, I checked in with Governor Charlie Baker — I waited for a particularly dark and cold day — who’s been skeptical in the past: “Raising three children turned me into a morning person — and this morning person likes to see the day break,” he wrote back. “I also appreciate the longer light in the evening when daylight saving kicks in in the spring. I’m open to other points of view — but I’m OK with standing pat.” Since his kids are grown, I’d count him as a possible.
But even if he isn’t, the front-running candidate to succeed him, Attorney General Maura Healey, is on the daylight saving time all-the-time express, saying that “after what the pandemic has put our residents through, I think we could all use a little more sunshine in our lives.”
Even if Massachusetts signs on, that’s still not enough. Congress must act, and that would ultimately require 60 votes in the Senate. Virtually nothing gets 60 votes these days, but this might. The leaders of the proposed Sunshine Protection Act are Markey and Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
Markey told me that the legislation has the support of nine Republicans, only needing one more if all Democrats join in. That, of course, prompted the most asked question of the past year: Is Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia on board? To which Markey wryly replied: “Uh, not yet.”
Rubio seemed to share Markey’s optimism when I asked him about the bill’s prospects. “Every year, I think it is the year,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The good news is that no one in the Senate is making an argument against it.”
As for the president, he apparently never voted on making daylight saving time permanent during his years in the Senate. But elected officials back home in Delaware did, by a 52-to-9 margin in favor, in 2019. I’m betting he’s a loyal Delawarean.
Sunshine is not just the best disinfectant (thank you for that, Justice Louis Brandeis), but it would be a gift after the past two years. Is there anyone who is not happier when the sun sets at 7, 8, or even later, rather than when it goes down while you’re still out at work or planted at your desk. Anyone?
So legislators and Mr. President, I implore you: For less crime and fewer car wrecks, for the benefit of still-struggling small businesses, and for the sake of our expanding waistlines, let the sun shine in.