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Lighter later

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Should we stay on British Summer Time all year round?

Christine Ottery

20th April, 2010

Will an hour's extra daylight after work make us greener, happier, healthier and safer? A campaign to move the clocks forward by one hour all-year-round says it will...

Are humans too stupid to fight climate change, as James Lovelock recently suggested in a Guardian interview?

Not judging by the recent actions of 10:10 campaigners launching ‘Lighter Later', a drive to push through legislation to move the clocks forward by one hour all-year-round, which has already won around 10,000 supporters.

Daniel Vockins, Lighter Later campaign manager, says that the reason 10:10 is targeting changing the clocks is based on research done by the environmental non-profit the Public Interest Research Centre.

It identified a policy of adopting ‘Single Double Summer Time' (SDST), or Central European Time, as a big hitter for as slicing carbon emissions, as well as having lots of other benefits.

‘It will cut half a million tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to 50,000 cars driving around the entire globe each year,' says Vockins.

Greener light

The current way the clocks are set is actually inefficient as far as energy use is concerned, because more people are awake later in the day than in the early mornings. This means that, comparatively, less people will be turning on the lights if the clocks are shifted forward by one hour as there will be more daylight in the evenings (see graphs).

A big advantage is that SDST has been shown to reduce road deaths. A 2009 Department of Transport consultation paper for safer roads states: ‘...the estimated effect of having lighter evenings would be to reduce road deaths by around 80 per year and serious injuries by around 212 per year.'

This is because road deaths tend to peak in the afternoons around rush hour, and longer daylight hours at this time improve visibility. Lighter Later has now been endorsed by organisations such as Sustrans, RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) and PACTS (Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety).

There is also a significant economic advantage to be had in terms of tourism within the UK and from abroad. A 2008 Policy Studies Institute report suggests that adopting SDST will create 60,000 to 80,000 new jobs in leisure and tourism, harvesting an extra £2.5-3.5 billion each year for the economy. Kurt Janson, Policy Director for the Tourism Alliance explains that ‘it extends the tourism season and people want to make the most of the daylight to actually go out and do activities'.

Other advantages to SDST include the potential health benefits of people playing sports or doing exercise in their 'extra' hour of daylight after work. Walking home would be made safer, and the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder could be reduced.

So why hasn't it been implemented? In some cases it already has...

Timewarp

World War I saw British Summer Time passed as law after a lifelong campaign from William Willet (the great-great-grandfather of Coldplay's Chris Martin) to take advantage of the extra light in summer evenings.

During World War II, the clocks were set forward one hour all year to save energy, increase worker productivity and reduce the chances of air raids.

At the end of the war, the clocks were changed back to their pre-war settings.

Since then, there was a three-year long British Standard Time experiment (1968-71) at the end of the 1960s, which meant the clocks did not go back in the winter, and stayed on GMT+1 hour throughout the year.

Traffic accident myth-busting

The biggest issue with the experiment is that there was a slight increase in pedestrian casualties in Scotland in the mornings, which created a fear that the later sunrise time was dangerous. Public opinion turning against the trial was fuelled by the deaths of schoolchildren on their way to school being splashed on front pages of newspapers.

However, overall the data, which have to be disentangled from the effects of the new drink-driving and 70mph speed limit laws, show that casualties during the trial improved by 3 per cent in England and Wales and 8.6 per cent in Scotland - despite a slight rise in deaths in the mornings.

Daniel Vockins explains: ‘In the afternoons on the way back from schools children make more complicated journeys, visiting the tuck shop, playing sports, whereas in the mornings they are just walking straight to school, so by putting the light when they are walking back from school you are actually lowering the total number of accidents.'

The folklore of increased road traffic accidents in Scotland caused by the trial persists, even now. For example on parenting website Mumsnet ‘AMumInScotland' writes: 'My understanding is that when they tried it before, it increased the number of RTAs etc up here in Scotland because of the darker mornings'.

But not only is this not true, forty years on we are better equipped to prevent the slight rise in casualties in the morning because of the modern computerisation of traffic lights means dark mornings are now illuminated.

Farmers sitting on the fence

The other group that might understandably resist such a change is farmers facing longer darkness on winter mornings, particularly in Scotland where it may not get light until 9.30 or 10am.

However, campaigner argue that dairy farmers, for example, would be up in the dark anyway. ‘In terms of field work, the good thing about moving to Central European Time is that when you actually need to work in the fields the mornings are lighter anyway,' says Andrew Clark, the policy manager of the National Farmers' Union.

He says: ‘We did a survey of our members the last time it was suggested to go to Single Double Summertime and we found that, contrary to popular belief, there wasn't a strong view among farmers against the clock change to European daylight hours.'

Despite this, the National Farmers' Union has chosen a 'neutral' position with regards to SDS, as it has for about ten years now, because of the difference of views between the south and north of Britain.

Geeing up the politicians

The length of dark mornings in Scotland may, therefore go some way to explaining why politicians have come down with a case of cold feet each time SDST has been proposed in Parliament before. A study produced by the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge blames political inertia.

Each time a Private Members Bill has been brought forward over the past 15 years, it has been 'talked out' - meaing that parliamentary time for the debate ran out. This includes the 2006 Energy Saving (Daylight) Bill that would have delivered a three-year trial of SDST.

‘What Lighter Later is doing is galvanising the support of an unprecedented coalition of tourism agencies and road safety organisations, and building a public mobilisation,' says Vockins. It will be this tide of public support that finally gives the mandate to the Government to bring forward the clocks.

From then on in, all that will need to be done will be letting the clocks stay on BST one October to make the smooth transition, and an estimated £5 million on a public awareness campaign. Vockins says: ‘You'd be hard-pushed to find another policy that had such a wide range of effects and co-benefits that delivered such astounding value-for-money.'

The Lighter Later campaign is calling for a three-year trial of a new timekeeping model where Britain's clocks are set to GMT+1 in winter and GMT+2 in summer.

To add your voice to the campaign, sign the online petition here

Christine Ottery is a freelance journalist

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