With Congress apparently having solved world peace, income inequality, the climate crisis and preparedness for the next pandemic, and with the Colorado legislature fully on top of homelessness, escalating crime and under-performing schools, we can blessedly turn our attention to the really important stuff.
If you have nodded off over recent months, you may have missed the debates, such as they are, as to how we should set our clocks.
Indeed, with flames raging from the Ukraine to our forests to our streets to the very essence of civil discourse, our elected officials, in their wisdom, are deep into discussion of whether we should put our clocks permanently on standard time or daylight savings time.
As if the current system is broken or all that onerous.
Our method of dividing the nation, and the world, into set time zones is a product of the railroad era of the late 19th century. Prior to that, timekeeping was a local matter. Each locale would set its town clock to noon when the sun reached its apex that day. Citizens would set their clocks and pocket watches accordingly.
Of course, that was an age when few people traveled very far from their home base. For those who did move from town to town, they would change their watch upon arrival.
Then, with the onset of railroads moving people more speedily from place to place, the standardization of time became necessary. In 1878, Sir Sandford Fleming of Canada developed the system of worldwide time zones. Six years later, an international conference in Washington, D.C. established Greenwich, England as the prime meridian with 24 times zones each encompassing roughly 15 degrees of longitude across the globe.
Those time zones were considered standard time. Daylight time, basically advancing the clock by one hour, was authorized in 1918, but was a local matter until mandated nationally during World War II. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 set national dates for the springtime move to daylight time and the autumn return to standard time, but allowed for local exemptions to this routine.
There have since been alterations to those dates. But the system has remained largely in place. Though with complaining having become a national pastime, incessant griping about this semiannual setting of the clocks has become the in vogue thing to do.
As if to prove the point that elected officials are more often followers than leaders, legislators of all political stripes have rallied to the notion that “something must be done” and that our very life, liberty and pursuit of happiness depend on picking either standard time or daylight time and sticking with it.
In our nation’s capital, the Senate last month passed without real consideration the Sunshine Protection Act to permanently move the country to daylight time starting in 2023. At least some branding expert earned a check with that title. The bill’s prospects in the House are far less certain.
Here at home, the state House passed a bill to move Colorado to year-round daylight time, subject to four other mountain time zone states doing the same. We will see what the state Senate makes of this. Given Colorado’s predilection for deciding most issues at the ballot box, it is quite possible that we will soon be treated to dueling ballot measures in favor of permanent daylight time or standard time.
I am breathless with anticipation.
While proponents of one course or the other cite health factors and some industries have their preference between the two clocks, the real argument against the current system seems to be its supposedly intolerable inconvenience.
Krista Kafer, a friend and talented columnist in a rival publication, recently wrote of “the dreaded biannual time switch.” Really?
There are many things in life I dread – tax day, prep for a colonoscopy, something bad befalling those I am close to or our puppy. Taking five minutes on a Saturday evening in March and November to adjust a handful of clocks and watches somehow does not make that list.
Washington Democratic Senator Patty Murray — a walking, breathing argument for federal term limits — said, “We got it (the so-called Sunshine Protection Act) past the Senate, and now the clock is ticking to get the job done so we never have to switch our clocks again.”
Oh, the horror.
We are often admonished, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That solid advice would seem applicable. The amount of sunlight in any location is finite. Clock settings do not make more or less of it. They simply dictate which hours will be ones of light as opposed to ones of darkness.
Permanent standard time would mean sunrise during summer months at frightfully early hours. And it would cut short those long, late summer evenings that Coloradans cherish. Hands in the air if you are excited about giving that up.
Conversely, year-round daylight time would mean school-aged kids, including little ones, standing at bus stops and being dropped off in parking lots in total darkness during winter months with the sun not making its appearance until close to 8:30 a.m. It would also punish farmers and ranchers, already facing enough challenges, who are famous for their early morning starts.
Every so often, the status quo is just fine. If and when Coloradans are to be given a choice of year-round standard time or daylight time, a third option should be included. That alternative is to leave well enough alone.
For decades, the changing of the clock twice a year has worked to maximize summer daylight without penalizing those who must get going on cold winter mornings. How is either year-round plan preferable to that?
As to the supposed inconvenience of it all, I wonder just how soft we have become if this chore and a one or two-night readjustment of sleep patterns is now that big a deal.
And I wonder further as to a political system that treats this as an issue of any real priority.
Eric Sondermann is a Colorado-based independent political commentator. He writes regularly for ColoradoPolitics and the Gazette newspapers. Reach him at EWS@EricSondermann.com; follow him at @EricSondermann.