Let God, Not Marco, Decide the Placement of the Sun

Senator Marco Rubio thinks Florida should switch to Nova Scotia time. He also objects to the sun being at its highest point at noon and wants everyone to have to wake up an hour earlier than they do now. Most amazingly, what used to be called “the world’s greatest deliberative body” chose to go along with him, passing his bill to this effect with a mere voice vote and no debate. 

Of course, Rubio doesn’t frame the “Sunshine Protection Act” this way. He doesn’t pitch it as putting Miami and Orlando in the same time zone as Halifax, Nova Scotia and Thule Air Force Base in Greenland, both of which are located in the Atlantic Time Zone, one time zone east of Florida. Rather, he pitches it as permanently adopting daylight saving time. But the result would be the same. 

It’s not just Florida that would be affected if Rubio’s preference prevails. Dallas would effectively shift to New York time (Eastern Standard Time), Boise effectively would shift to Chicago time (Central Standard Time), and Los Angeles then would shift to Denver time (Mountain Standard Time). For all intents and purposes, Pacific Standard Time would cease to exist in the “lower 48,” as no one would be on it.

Rubio’s proposed time shift would mean that everyone would have to get up an hour early in relation to standard time. If the alarm went off at what used to be called 6:30 a.m. (on Eastern Standard Time), the clock would instead say 7:30 a.m. (on Atlantic Standard Time or Eastern Daylight Time). So, one would have to get up at what used to be called 5:30 a.m. to be up by 6:30 a.m., even in the dead of winter. 

This one-hour departure from standard time—from time based on having the sun be overhead at noon—would continue throughout the day. Instead of being most directly overhead at noon, the sun would be most directly overhead at 1:00 p.m. (as is true now during daylight saving time). The American Heritage Dictionary defines “noon” as “midday,” as “The time or point in the sun’s path at which the sun is on the local meridian,” and as “The highest point; the zenith.” 

In a sense, then, Rubio wants to change the definition of “noon.”

By seeking to bar states from keeping time in the manner that most of them have done for decades—observing standard time in the winter and daylight saving time in the summer—Rubio says that the current way of keeping time is “dumb” and that we must end “all this stupidity.” This may not rise to the level of Webster or Clay, but what Rubio lacks in eloquence he makes up for in self-assurance.

Under Rubio’s bill, states would be allowed to choose between standard time and daylight saving time but would be barred from switching back and forth at different times of the year. It’s a strange form of federalism that would deny states the choice of keeping time the way that the federal government has declared that it should be kept for years on end. 

Given that the whole thrust of Rubio’s legislation is to encourage daylight saving time, states that otherwise might choose to go permanently on standard time—a sensible choice—may be reluctant to put themselves on a different time than their neighboring states, especially in places where commuters routinely travel back and forth.

The great alleged evil that Rubio’s legislation seeks to address is our having to change our clocks twice a year. To hear this daunting process described, one would think it was akin to taking a wagon train out west into undeveloped territory while living off the land and fighting for survival. As a nation descended from settlers and pioneers, surely we can handle a one-hour clock change twice every 12 months. 

The reason for the longstanding biannual shift in the clocks isn’t complicated. Normally, it works just fine to have the time be based on when the sun is most overhead, with that time being noon. This allows for a nice, natural balance of sunlight between the morning and the evening. When days get long, however, and there is “extra” sunlight to be had, the equation changes a bit. When there are, say, 15 hours of sunlight, instead of the usual 12, most people don’t desire to see the sun as much at 4:30 a.m. as they do at 7:30 p.m. Daylight saving time allows us to make better use the hour of sunlight that would normally occur between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m., effectively shifting it to between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.

But this isn’t something that one would want to do year-round. If, on a day when there are 10 hours of sunlight, and the sun would naturally rise at 7:00 a.m. and set at 5:00 p.m., few people would want to head to work or school in the dark at 8:00 a.m. just so they could have the sun set at 6:00 p.m. instead. In fact, this has actually been tried—in the Nixon era—and Americans rejected it.

In New York City, the sun would normally rise on January 5 at 7:20 a.m. (according to timeanddate.com). Under permanent daylight saving time, it wouldn’t rise until 8:20 a.m. on that date. The only way New Yorkers could experience sunrise at 7:20 a.m. on January 5, under Rubio’s legislation, would be if they also had it rise at 4:25 a.m. on June 7 and set at 7:25 p.m. that same day. Those New Yorkers who’d rather have sunlight from 5:25 a.m. to 8:25 p.m. on June 7, as will be the case this year, would no longer have that choice available to them. 

In Detroit, perpetual daylight saving time would result in sunrise at 9:01 a.m. on January 5. In Missoula, Montana, the sun would rise at 9:20 a.m.

God made the day and the night, and human beings designated the height of day as noon and the middle of the night as midnight. If senators wish to deviate from this sensible arrangement on a permanent basis, they could at least let others choose to deviate from it only when it actually makes sense—during the long, hot days of summer. 

The Senate’s job is to “refine and enlarge” public opinion, but no refining or enlarging took place on this occasion. The Senate merely proclaimed that Americans should be barred from doing what’s been done for decades, without bothering to deliberate about their ill-conceived notion before making a decision. It’s rare that one can say this, but one hopes that the House will save us from the Senate.

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