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You can't save daylight -- but you can help save the planet

The annual back-and-forth about whether to make Daylight Saving Time year-round or the opposite, to drop it altogether, always comes down to who is helped/hurt by too-dark mornings or too-early evenings.

Honestly, in the face of far greater problems, the topic is getting kind of quaint.

Daylight Saving (not "savings") Time ended last Sunday during the darkness after midnight. An extra hour of sleep became available for one day. On Monday morning, school children and commuters who had been going in before the sun came up at least got a lightening eastern sky by which to navigate. True, the early darkness on that first Monday evening of standard time still shocks the sensibilities, no matter how many years we have watched the streetlights go on.

You win and you lose, but you can't save daylight. The name is a pretext. Daylight Saving Time is an Act of Congress, not an Act of God. The number of hours between sunrise and sunset is going to gradually decrease in the Northern Hemisphere for another five weeks until the Winter Solstice — whether we say the time of sunrise is 6 or 7 or any other hour. Then, programmed by the algorithms of the solar system and our own planet, daylight hours will start to increase and hours of darkness decrease. 

It may be diverting in a debate club sort of way to discuss whether noon on the clock should be at solar noon or move forward an hour to allow for longer barbecues, but it's time to let it go. The Daylight Saving Time debate is a parlor game compared to the existential questions facing Earth and its coming generations. Are those Earthlings going to care about standard vs. daylight time when life becomes as perilous as we are warned it will be?

Before we drop it, however, the DST discussion focuses attention on an issue connected to the basics of daily life on this particular planet and sets the table for talk about the heavier issues of living on Earth. We have manipulated daylight time and sleep habits for generations. This encourages the idea that humans can make the same kind of stab at modifying their behavior to control temperature and dangerous emissions.

Put the outrage over the inconvenience of adjusting to a twice-a-year time change into offsetting the far more life-altering threats. A persistent theme around changing the clocks is that it benefits the economy by getting people out earning and spending for an additional hour before dark. That's of little advantage to industries like farming, animal husbandry, commercial fishing or laying asphalt that are keyed to daylight, not a clock. It doesn't help kids getting on a bus in pitch-dark mornings. On the other hand, restaurants and after-school sports benefit from later light. There are always winners and losers.

Economy vs. pollution control, the central discussion in climate-change discussion, will also have winners and losers — unless countries fail to make bold moves, and everyone loses. Right now it appears headed that way.

National economic interests are why China, India and the U.S. haven't signed off on giving up coal. The inability of poor countries to afford pollution reduction measures is why richer nations are being asked for billions in aid to speed things up. So far, the short-term interests of industrial countries are winning over long-term domestic solutions and international aid. The air keeps getting dirtier and the oceans hotter. That bodes badly for the economy of the not-too-distant future.

What good will daylight be if particulates in the atmosphere choke it out? The U.S. Congress, which enacted Daylight Saving Time ostensibly for the good of the American economy, has the wits, resources and national interest to acknowledge the coming economic emergency and resume this country's international leadership in climate change mitigation. Does it have the courage?

We can't save daylight, but we must save the planet.

 Lisa McGinley is a member of The Day Editorial Board.



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