Rename Florida’s “Sunshine Protection Act” to the “Energy Consumption Act!”

March 15, 2018

Florida’s recent vote approving the Sunshine Protection Act is clever wording for opting into daylight saving time (DST) all year round. It suggests securing a resource that is limited, which sunshine is not, but who can be against protecting sunshine? From a cognitive behavioral perspective, the Act is really a very clever framing of increased energy consumption that will inevitably follow if it is ever implemented. Protecting sunshine is an easy sell, but do Florida’s citizens understand what they are buying into?

The United States standardized time and scheduled time zones in 1966 through the Uniform Time Act. The same act established daylight saving time where all time zones would advance in hour in the spring and fall back in autumn primarily to experience more sunshine during the summer months. The primary reasoning for this was energy conservation. That all sounds great if it panned it, but studies increasingly have shown that any energy savings have been negligible (e.g., a 2008 Department of Energy report showing .03% in savings) primarily because of the heating and cooling energy needed to compensate for the extra hour of sunlight. People needed extra heat in the mornings and extra air conditioning in the evenings to maintain comfortable indoor conditions rather than go outdoors as intended. Policy fail.

Because of how far we have come in terms of energy efficiency and understanding human behavior, it makes sense to opt out of DST and observe standard time year round.  This is what both Hawaii and Arizona have chosen to do within the continental United States. Federal provisions allow for states and territories to opt out of DST, but not standard time.

Florida’s move to observe DST all year round is a new precedent that would require rewriting federal law. New England states, where observing DST all year round would actually be significantly noticeable as compared to Florida, have tried on several occasions to make the same move Florida just did. Various reasons, but primarily the commuting across states lines for work, have halted any real effort towards any one state adopting DST full year around. It wouldn’t be very neighborly! Florida’s citizens, who primarily work within the state, do not have the same barriers as New England, and the vote passed overwhelmingly. After all, who can vote against the Sunshine Protection Act?

The reality is this framing is exploiting advances in cognitive behavioral science. All advances can have dual-uses—uses that are good and also uses that are nefarious in nature.  Advances in psychology and economics are no different. Suggesting something needs to be “protected” suggests that it is finite, which we of course know that sunshine is not. Short of a supernova, earth will receive sunshine, likely long after humans exist on the planet.

Rather, we have limited energy. And energy consumption will increase upon adoption of DST as we saw with Indiana in 2006. Arizona opted out of DST for exactly this reason. With climate change ensuring increasing numbers of hotter days, it’s more important than ever to be sensible about federal policies around energy consumption, which the Sunshine Protection Act actually is. Opting into year-round DST will consume more energy as people create bearable conditions indoors.

DST began as a policy to conserve fuel. Today it has evolved into doing the opposite of what it intended. Therefore, statewide, we need to do the opposite of what Florida just did. We need to drop DST altogether and observe standard time. We can amend the Uniform Time Act to drop DST and perhaps rename it as the “National Harmony and Order Amendment.” Who can oppose harmony and order? Perhaps there’s something to appropriating advances in cognitive behavioral science to benefit society after all.

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