Do you find yourself getting a lot more done in the summer months than in the long and dark months of winter? As the days get longer, do things seem easier, happier and more fulfilling? If your answer to both these questions is a resounding "yes," then the U.K.’s Lighter Later campaign will be music to your ears. The concept could also also bring environmental benefits.
Launched by the 10:10 Climate Change campaign, the main aim of Lighter Later is to extend our days by an hour year-round in an effort to get more sunshine and daylight into our lives. The idea is that by putting the clocks forward throughout the year, we are more likely to be awake when the sun is out, instead of “sleeping through sunlit mornings,” and less likely to use “expensive, polluting electric lights to keep out the dark nights." (Clocks would still go forward in summer and back in winter — that's spring and fall in American English — but overall they would remain one hour forward all year.)
What makes Lighter Later’s proposal for a clock change so appealing, and the reason why it has garnered more than 20,000 supporters in just a few months, is that not only could it make life more pleasurable, it could cut carbon emissions, too.
Research done by Cambridge University’s Centre for Technology Management shows that implementing Single Double Summer Time (or SDST as it is abbreviated) would save about 500,000 tons of CO2 in the winter months alone, which is akin to more than 50,000 cars driving all the way around the world. Demand at peak times also would go down, according to the research, which would result in lower prices for electricity and reduced pollution. (The sources used to cover peak need are the most inefficient and polluting).
Daniel Vockins, Lighter Later’s campaign manager, says the importance of this research shouldn't be underestimated. “This is the first piece of peer-reviewed research into the environmental impacts of clock change and, as such, it carries real weight,” he says.
The campaign to bring our clocks forward on a permanent basis came about after 10:10 commissioned a study of the 20 top climate policies. “Changing the clocks came out as the clear winner because of its instant impact, large number of co-benefits and cheap implementation cost,” says Vockins. The co-benefits as Vockins calls them, are social and economic, too.
According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Accidents, advancing Britain’s clocks forward by an hour throughout the year would avoid at least 80 road deaths every year and 212 serious injuries, especially in Scotland where the winter days are shortest. (A trial of SDST between 1968 and 1971 resulted in 2,500 less road deaths, for instance.) The U.K.’s Department for Transport also has pointed out that reduced road casualties would mean significant savings (of £138 million a year) for the National Health Service.
Lighter Later predicts other social benefits: a reduction in crime and the fear of crime; an increase in quality of life for elderly people, increased participation levels in sports and other outdoor activities that make people healthier, and a reduction in the impacts of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
The economic case for SDST is also strong with industry groups predicting a £3.5 billion boost for the leisure and tourism sector, and 80,000 new jobs.
Changing daylight hours has been tried in the past in the U.K., most notably during World War II (to save energy, boost morale, increase productivity and reduce danger from air raids) and between 1968 and 1971 in the British Standard Time Experiment. But none of the schemes stuck. The British Standard Time Experiment in particular failed largely because of misreporting issues, says Jonathan Brown, Lighter Later’s press manager. “A few newspapers focused on the rise in road deaths — particularly of children — in the early mornings. But what they failed to account for was the fact that the overall number of road deaths fell thanks to a dramatic reduction in accidents in the evening.” This time, Vockins and his many supporters would like the outcome to be different.
With the advantages of a move to SDST and so many high-profile institutions and organizations coming on board, the scheme’s detractors are relatively few, and decreasing all the time. Even traditionally opposed groups, such as farmers who have often argued that most of their essential activities take place in the early hours, have had a change of heart. “The NFU (National Farmers Union) has recently removed its opposition to the issue and a recent poll in Scotland [where opposition has also traditionally been strong] showed the public marginally in favor of the change,” says Vockins.
Supporters of the Lighter Later campaign are calling for a three-year trial of SDST to prove the scheme would work, and that the benefits are genuine. After months of campaigning and lobbying, the Lighter Later campaign has managed to bring about a private members bill, which means the issue is going to parliament Dec. 3 and will be debated in the House of Commons. “It's the biggest sign yet that this could actually happen,” says Vockins enthusiastically.
The campaign to make our evenings lighter is far from over, but Lighter Later has finally given it the platform and a profile it lacked for so many decades.
Giovanna Dunmall is a freelance writer.