A British summertime change where the clocks went forward by two hours instead of one would cut emissions, save lives and reduce energy costs
Suppose the government could cut energy consumption and carbon emissions without raising consumer prices or spending a single penny of taxpayer's money. Suppose the same measure not only had no undesirable impacts but would also save over 100 lives a year, improve the nation's health and increase the turnover in UK tourism by £1bn.
In Britain's present financial plight shouldn't we jump at it? It doesn't require a magic wand to be waved or even Gordon Brown to make a speech. It could start this Sunday if the clocks were put forward by two hours, not one. A move to Single/Double Summer Time (SDST), proposed by my private members' bills in 2006-0707, would mean that clocks move forward by one hour throughout the year to GMT+1 in winter and GMT+2 in the summer.
Bringing our waking hours more into line with the hours of daylight would reduce energy demand and cut fuel bills. A Cambridge University study in 2007 showed that both peaks in demand for electricity and actual energy consumption would be lower under SDST, particularly throughout the winter. It was estimated that carbon emissions would be cut annually by 1.2m tonnes at no cost to consumers and without reducing GDP. An earlier study by the Policy Studies Institute also concluded the change would reduce energy use and fuel bills and this was confirmed by the National Grid.
In fact during the second world war, GMT+1 was used in the winter months and GMT+2 in the summer precisely in order to reduce fuel consumption. What was good then is still good now. Had a similar experiment from 1969 to 1971 not been abandoned, the Cambridge University study estimated we would have saved in the order of 46.4m tonnes of carbon just from the reduced demand in electricity.
Not only would this measure be a simple, free and painless way of cutting carbon emissions by saving energy, it has many other advantages too.
Putting the clocks forward by one extra hour means we would gain an hour of daylight in the summer evenings. This could be used for work or active leisure, rather than being wasted in the mornings while people may be still asleep.
Lives could be saved as well. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents believes that extra evening daylight protects vulnerable road users like children, the elderly, cyclists and motorcyclists as there are more accidents in the afternoon rush hour during the week than in the morning.
Obviously there is a morning peak in road accidents on dark mornings but there is a much longer one in the evening rush hour. At that time the roads are busier and pedestrians, children in particular, tend not to travel directly between school and home as they do in the morning but mill around more instead. Indeed in 2006, the transport minister accepted that the adoption of SDST would mean that approximately 100 lives would be saved and hundreds more serious injuries prevented.
Imagine the intense scrutiny which a public inquiry would focus on the causes of a road accident which caused a hundred deaths. Isn't it time for just such an inquiry into the shameful inaction of successive governments on this issue?
Age Concern England also supports SDST because lighter evenings would mean that older people could spend more time out of their homes if they choose to do so. Obviously it is not just the elderly who are nervous about being out after dark.
Furthermore as SDST extends the hours of daylight leisure-time, individuals and children will have more time for outdoor pursuits, which would help to combat the UK's growing obesity problem.
Last but not least the British Tourist Authority has estimated that a change to SDST would increase turnover in tourism by over £1bn and extend the tourist season. Tourist attractions and sports facilities, many of which are capable of creating lots of new jobs, could stay open later to boost their business.
The fact that a move to SDST will reduce energy use and carbon emissions is enough of an incentive for its adoption. With such a diverse range of other benefits as well it should be introduced as soon as possible.