• Dr. João Lipinsky Nunes

US Senate Passes A Bill To Implement Permanent Daylight Saving Time

The US Senate today passed Senator Rubio’s "Sunshine Protection Act of 2021" for permanent Daylight Saving Time, by voice consent, without committee review. Senator Rubio has engaged in a disinformation campaign about the so called "benefits" of DST, in an attempt to legitimize the practice. The bill next transmits to the US House.

United States Capitol Building
How the United States Capitol Building would look like at 8:30am on December 25th if Daylight Saving Time is implemented permanently (picture by Mike Stoll).

As It Happened

On March the 15th 2022, the Senate passed bill S-623, also know as the "Sushine Protection Act", (S.623 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): Sunshine Protection Act of 2021 | Congress.gov | Library of Congress), that would make daylight savings time (DST) permanent around the country, meaning Americans would no longer need to change their clocks twice a year but would permanently lose one hour of sleep.

At 2:15pm ET, Senator Rubio asked for immediate floor vote on the bill. Bills usually are reviewed by committee before receiving consideration on the floor, but it is not required. The Senate approved by voice consent.

Now it is up to the United States House of Representatives to approve or reject it. If approved by the House, the bill would go to the US President for possible signature or veto.

The White House however declines to state the president's position on permanent DST.

How Did Experts React?

Gene D. Block, American biologist, academic, and chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles stated "as a neuroscientist with expertise in this area we should make standard time - winter time - permanent instead".

Eric Herzog, Professor from the Washington University in St. Louis and an expert in circadian rhythms in mammals, opposed the passing of the bill for permanent DST stating "This is against recommendations based on the evidence for health, safety and economic benefits of permanent Standard Time".

Joseph S. Takahashi, Japanese American neurobiologist and geneticist, professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center as well as an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, stated in an article “It leaves us permanently out of sync with the natural environment.

Dr. Karin Johnson, an associate professor of neurology at UMass Chan Medical School-Baystate, clarified that this is much more than just about the time change: "staying on pDST all year round will increase mood and stress problems throughout the winter when we won’t get the morning light our bodies need."

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine warns once again that "making Daylight Saving Time permanent overlooks potential health risks that can be avoided by establishing permanent standard time instead".

This Is About Ending The Time Change, Right?

No. This was never about ending the time change. Individual states have always had the right to exempt themselves from the time change by observing standard time year-round via the "Uniform Time Act". The "Uniform Time Act" has been there since 1966, clearly states that it does not require that all states observe DST, and includes provisions to easily ending the time change by passing a simple state law without approval by any other governmental body.

The "Sushine Protection Act" is an entirely different thing. It forces all states into permanent DST, except Arizona, Hawaii, and all five territories (the commonwealths of the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, and U.S. Virgin Islands), which observe permanent Standard Time.

Were We Given The Correct Information?

No. Senator Rubio has engaged in a disinformation campaign about the so called "benefits" of DST, in an attempt to legitimize the practice.

Senator Marco Rubio's webpage
A snapshot of Senator Marco Rubio's web page as a US Senator for Florida taken on the 17th of March 2022. The page contains misinformation about DST which may have misled the Senate and US citizens in believing that there may be advantages to DST.

These are some of the false claims that Senator Rubio has made.

Claim: it reduces car crashes. Publications on the topic of road safety clearly establish that DST increases the number of car accidents, not the opposite.

Claim: It reduces the risk of cardiac disease. DST is acutely and chronically associated with heart disease in that it increases the risk and not the opposite.

Claim: it reduces seasonal depression. DST is well known for increasing (1) depression (2) chronically (3).

Claim: it reduces seasonal suicide. Aligned with the fact that DST does not reduce seasonal depression, DST actually increases (1) seasonal suicide (2), most likely by exacerbating depression.

Claim: it reduces robberies by 27%. The article cited does not report a 27% reduction in robberies but 7%. This reduction is limited to a single study (it has not been reproduced), it is limited to one kind of crime (robberies only), and it is limited to the days surrounding the clock change (it is overridden by a longer-term trend toward higher crime as the season progresses from winter to summer). That claim has been debunked by researchers given the biased analysis performed.

Claim: it benefits the economy. DST has been continuously found, both acutely and chronically, to harm the economy. Reasons range from lowered productivity and wages to increased health costs.

Claim: it reduces childhood obesity. DST has been associated with obesity and not the opposite. There is no data that substantiates the notion that childhood obesity is reduced with DST but plenty to suggest otherwise. The claim made by Senator Rubio comes from the following publication where the author opinionated DST could be made into a health policy after reporting that, with DST, children would get about 1.7 extra minutes (0.2%) of vigorous exercise per day in England, 1.6 minutes (0.19%) in Europe, and 0.4 minutes (0.05%) in Australia. Ironically for the senator, even this extremely small effect was NOT observed in the US! The opinion expressed by the authors was such that partners and funders, including UK's National Health Service (NHS) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), distanced themselves in the actual paper

A disclaimer in the funding section at the end of the article entitled "Daylight saving time as a potential public health intervention: an observational study of evening daylight and objectively-measured physical activity among 23,000 children from 9 countries"

Claim: it benefits agriculture. This is a myth already debunked way too many times. Farmers have opposed DST for decades. It shortens and darkens the mornings, when their work is most productive.

Claim: it reduces energy. Here senator Rubio did a half-truth, or half-lie if you will. The 2008 Report to Congress entitled "Impact of Extended Daylight Saving Time on National Energy Consumption" stated that electricity savings are estimated to be around 0.02% or 0.03%. Technically he would not be lying by saying that in this study the authors reported savings - it is just that they can be safely rounded down to 0%. However the 2011 article "Does Daylight Saving Time Save Energy? Evidence From A Natural Experiment In Indiana" suggests that DST increases energy consumption between 2% and 4%. As such, making the claim that DST reduces energy is at least rather reckless and at most disingenuous.

What If Standard Time Was Permanent?

Then the USA would be far better off. The acute effects of DST (the spike in accidents, heart attacks, and other circadian misalignment mishaps) would disappear, but with permanent improvements in Health and Education, and coupled with Economic growth. Lawmakers and politicians should also look into the "Sleep Protection Act", advanced by the non-profit Save Standard Time: all the benefits of not having the time change, minus all the nasty effects of DST.

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