Let there be light

Janys and John Warren live in the future, or rather their Weston-Super-Mare home is in a different time zone to the rest of the UK.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/9635214/The-British-couple-who-live-in-the-future.html

When we turned the clocks back at the end of October to Greenwich Mean Time, the Somerset couple continued with British Summer Time.  The Warrens sleep in to avoid dark mornings and enjoy daylight until at least 5.00pm even in the depths of mid-winter.  They claim that the lighter evenings bring health benefits and reduce their household energy consumption.

I’m with the Warrens.  In the winter months daylight and especially sunshine are in short supply.  We need to manage what there is to maximise its effective use.  Brightness from 6.30am – 7.30am is less useful than daylight from 4.00pm – 5.00pm.

School children returning after half term are not able to participate in many after school sports because it is too dark.  From now until late February children become increasingly sedentary, spending their evenings inside watching television or playing computer games.  This has negative effects on health and wellbeing, whilst the lack of games practices compromises sporting achievement.  If this wasn’t bad enough, the darker nights cost lives.  In 2011 pedestrian deaths rose from 25 in September to 48 in November, with deaths more likely on dark evenings when tired motorists fail to spot poorly illuminated pedestrians.   Dark mornings are less dangerous because motorists have higher concentration levels, children tend to go straight to school rather than digressing as they do in the evening, and there are fewer morning social and leisure trips.  The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents suggests that 80 lives and 212 serious injuries could be saved each year if we kept British Summer Time in winter.

There would be other advantages of not turning the clocks back.  Cambridge University research suggests that energy consumption and CO2 emissions would fall significantly with the lighter evenings, whilst many leisure and tourism businesses would gain from the extra hour of usable daylight creating up to 80,000 additional jobs and one billion pounds in extra revenue.

In schools, afternoon lessons never seem as productive as their morning equivalents and this is even more so in winter as dusk falls from 3.00pm.  Somehow a gathering gloom limits learning no matter how brightly lit the classroom or engaging the activity.  Lighter afternoons could improve learning and raise pupil performance.

In the past efforts to keep British Summer Time year round have been blocked by an unlikely combination of Scottish Nationalists, dairy farmers, postmen and Eurosceptics.  Dairy farming in the dark is not easy, but as most postal deliveries now occur later in the day darker mornings will have a limited impact on our postmen and women.  Furthermore far from being a disadvantage, sharing the same winter time zone as continental Europe could bring commercial gains as trading becomes easier.

Recent attempts to stop the clocks going back in winter have been talked out of parliament.  However, if the complete loss of Greenwich Mean Time is unacceptable is there merit in a compromise with the clocks going back at the end of November and forward at the end of January?  This would reduce the period of evening darkness to a time when a proliferation of Christmas lights raises spirits anyway.  Under this model it would be light until after five for ten months of the year, and I suspect we would all be better for it.  Two extra months of evening sport in schools would be a lasting Olympic legacy…


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