Let the sunshine in: Why permanently changing our clocks is good for tourism, road safety and climate

Good morning! Welcome to the first day of British Summer Time. With luck you’ll have remembered last night to set your clocks forward by one hour: one more hour of sunlight to enjoy each day, as we adjust our hours of activity to fit better with the changing seasons.

Today also marks the launch of a campaign to see the UK’s clocks changed permanently – shifting them forward by two hours in summer, and one hour in winter – in order to boost tourism, reduce road accidents, and cut carbon emissions.

The campaign – called Lighter, Later – is being coordinated by 10:10, the civil society movement working for a 10% cut in the UK’s emissions in 2010. It is being backed by a wide range of organisations, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), Age Concern, the Tourism Alliance, and Sport for England.

The practice of changing our clocks twice-yearly goes back nearly 100 years. It was first championed by William Willett, an Edwardian reformer who was scandalised by “the waste of daylight” brought about by keeping the same working day the whole year through, despite lengthening days in the summer. (Willett was, incidentally, the great-great-grandfather of Coldplay’s Chris Martin, and the inspiration behind their track Clocks.) Willett’s ideas were eventually taken up by the British Government during World War One when it was realised to be an excellent efficiency measure.

The Lighter, Later campaign is proposing a further reform to make Willett’s innovation work better still. In a modern, urban, service-based economy such as the UK’s, we no longer rise with the dawn or go to bed at dusk – instead our activities are governed by the time of day, measured by clocks. To better align our working days with hours of daylight, the UK should adopt a reform known as Single Double Summer Time. This would mean moving clocks forward by two hours in summer (GMT + 2), and by one hour in winter (GMT + 1).

One of the benefits of adopting this change would be the savings in electricity resulting from lighter evenings all year round. Studies undertaken by Cambridge University show that this could save almost half a million tonnes of CO2 a year – and that’s just calculating the savings during winter.

And that’s just the start. As RoSPA state, “The change… would make us all healthier, safer, greener, happier and wealthier, at no cost, every day for the rest of our lives.” The evidence is compelling. Introducing the Lighter, Later reforms would:

  • Create 60,000–80,000 new jobs in leisure and tourism, bringing an extra £2.5–3.5 billion into the economy each year, thanks to more people ‘staycationing’ in the UK – according to a report for the Tourism Alliance;
  • Save 100 lives each year and prevent hundreds of serious injuries by making the roads safer;
  • Resultantly, save the NHS £138m every year due to fewer road casualties – according to Department for Transport figures;
  • Benefit the elderly: Greg Lewis, Policy Manager at Help the Aged, states that “lighter evenings would mean that more older people could spend more time out of their homes if they choose to do so”;
  • Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in winter;
  • Give more time outside for sport and exercise – with knock-on benefits of better health and tackling obesity.

In short, the Lighter, Later campaign is further proof that tackling climate change can have a whole host of other positive benefits – as has been previously written about in relation to, for instance, promoting smarter transport options and dimming municipal lighting in the early hours.

Furthermore, this is a progressive move that has support across the political spectrum. Reforming daylight savings has previously been championed by Conservative MP Tim Yeo, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee in the House of Commons, who has repeatedly introduced Private Members’ Bills in Parliament in an effort to get the idea heard. Disgracefully, the last time Yeo introduced such a bill, he was given just 20 minutes to debate it. Until now, the Government has not taken this eminently sensible proposal seriously. But the growing weight of support suggests it will soon have to:

  • The National Farmers’ Union retracted its previous objections to the change and its membership is now neutral or supportive of the idea;
  • Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative shadow tourism minister, has written in favour of reforming daylight savings;
  • RoSPA, the Tourism Alliance, Help the Aged and other organisations have all stepped up their lobbying on the issue.

For Lighter, Later to succeed, it needs your support, too. Visit the website and sign up to the campaign to back a move that will save lives, make people happier and help protect the climate. It is a reform whose time has truly come.

A version of this post originally appeared on Left Foot Forward.

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