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World & Nation

Daylight saving time not worth saving, activist says

Scott Yates, right, testifies before the Michigan State Legislature in 2017 alongside Republican State Sen. Peter Lucido on the perils of daylight saving time.
Scott Yates, right, testifies before the Michigan State Legislature in 2017 on the perils of daylight saving time.
(Mike Quillinan / Michigan House of Representatives)

Whether springing forward or falling back, Scott Yates has always hated the ritual changing of the clocks.

In autumn, when the clocks go back an hour, he finds himself depressed and weirdly discombobulated. It’s dark by five o’clock and he sinks into a funk.

One day, while he was in mid-bluster, his wife challenged him to halt his semiannual rants and do something about it.

The former newspaper reporter and tech-startup founder accepted the challenge. After scouring the Internet and coming up dry, he launched #LockTheClock six years ago, dedicated to snuffing out twice-a-year time change. What began as an annoyance became a hobby, a seemingly quixotic battle with time that has prompted a larger conversation about how Americans want to live their lives.

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Yates’ blog documented the history of daylight saving time, studies showing what are deemed as negative health impacts, and his own efforts to persuade lawmakers to end time change.

Recently, on “The Daily Show,” he attacked daylight saving time, while surrounded by clocks and identified as “Activist/Time Wizard.”

“I think I laid the groundwork that has allowed this effort to grow, ” said Yates, 55, while sitting in a Denver bar.

He now spends time on the road testifying before state legislatures, where increasing numbers of bills and resolutions have been introduced to ditch daylight saving time. He was in Wyoming and Georgia recently offering testimony about the public health threat he says the practice poses.

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A number of studies he points to show more heart attacks, workplace accidents, traffic deaths and sleep issues surrounding daylight saving time. Most of them happen, he says, just days after the clocks move forward in March.

Dr. Beth Malow, a sleep disorder expert and neurologist at Vanderbilt University, says, “The literature supports a modest increase in strokes and heart disease.”

“It throws your whole sleep cycle off. We need bright light in the morning to wake ourselves up and be alert. It’s not just an hour change but a change for eight months. Some people adjust easily; some never adjust.”

It may also affect behavior.

Yates cited a 2016 study published in the journal Psychological Science showing that judges gave defendants harsher sentences the day after switching to daylight saving time.

“Someone did the math and found the sentences were 5% to 10% longer,” he said. “There are people in prison now who would be out if they were lucky enough to be sentenced before daylight saving.”

Yates doesn’t care what system a state uses, as long as the clocks don’t change. Arizona and Hawaii are on standard time, meaning it’s lighter in the morning and darker in the evening. The clocks are fixed.

A growing number of states, including California, say they will adopt year- round daylight saving time if the federal government approves.

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“The trend has spiked in the last few years,” said Jim Reed, group director for environment, energy and transportation at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Now nine states have said if the federal government changes the law and allows them to adopt full-time daylight saving time, they will.”

President Trump tweeted last March that year-round daylight saving time was “o.k. with me!”

Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced the Sunshine Protection Act to do just that. On Saturday, Rubio tweeted out a video of Yates voicing support for his bill while the activist posted a petition aimed at getting it a hearing in the Senate.

“There is truly no greater bipartisan issue than this,” Yates said. “I find it very inspiring that California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, is co-sponsoring Rubio’s bill.”

While politicians may unite over time changes, others may be less agreeable.

Yates has discovered that powerful industries often have vested interests in what time it is. For example, year-round standard time with less evening light could be a problem for some.

“Retailers like more light in the evening because it gives customers more time to shop. The golf industry earns millions on those who play golf in the evening, and the barbecue industry would do worse if it got dark earlier in summer,” Yates said. “But the television industry gets more viewers when it gets dark earlier, so they would prefer it.”

Greg Brophy, a former Colorado state senator, tried for years to end daylight saving time but said he was consistently foiled by interest groups like Colorado Ski Country USA, which represents 23 ski and snowboard resorts.

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“They would tell me that they needed the morning light to make sure the lifts were okay,” he said. “They said if it was darker in the morning it would be unsafe. I told them they could open the lift an hour later, but they claimed it would cost them money.”

A representative for Colorado Ski Country USA did not return calls seeking comment.

Brophy said a common misconception about daylight saving time is that it began with farmers.

“I’m a farmer. Farmers don’t care,” he said. “The only impact clocks have on farmers is what time the markets open.”

One of the first proponents of daylight saving time was British builder William Willett, who was troubled by how many people slept past sunrise. He published a pamphlet in 1907 saying clocks should be moved up 80 minutes in April and back 80 minutes in September.

“Willett believed if he could get people up earlier, they would use more daylight,” said David Prerau, author of “Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time.” “It was eventually adopted in World War I to save energy.”

He believes the current system is a good compromise and cautions against year-round daylight saving time.

“I think that has a lot of problems in the middle of winter with four months of later sunrises,” Prerau said. “We tried that nationally for two years during the energy crisis in the ’70s, and it was so unpopular they ended it after the first year.”

Yates is just happy these conversations are now taking place.

When his own time is up, and if he’s successfully locked the clock, he’s pretty sure how his obituary would read.

“Scott Yates, the man who fixed daylight saving time, died at 103 today,” he said, “surrounded by family and friends.”

Kelly is a special correspondent.


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