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Seeing the Light

By Dr Marjorie O'Neill, Member for Coogee on November 6, 2019 in Other

Summer sunsets at Clovelly, by Al Fresco.

It’s no wonder that so many of us are feeling just a little chirpier today than we did a month ago. The days are both longer and warmer and soon those October winds will settle down. Already, the football finals are done (and were they not the best ever for most of us in the Eastern Suburbs?), the surf club patrols have begun, the gardeners are out and there are noticeably more people walking and exercising into the evenings. Indeed, this is the magical time of year when our local area comes back to life.
Of course, not everyone across Australia is happy with daylight savings. The difficulties facing rural workers are pretty obvious with the cows waking up at the same time regardless of our clocks. Then there are those who need to rise early to get to work, not only waking to darkness but also having to deal with increased outside activity and noise if they are trying to get an early sleep. Parents with small kids also find it more difficult to get the young ones off to bed early.
On balance though, for most of us at least, daylight savings provides us with the opportunity to enjoy an extra hour of sunlight after work. Combined with a naturally lengthening day through the summer period, this results in some real opportunity for outside activities in the evening. Add to this the warmer weather and we can begin our daily or weekly migration to the beach.
When my mother was a child, and the eldest of five siblings, her mum would grab the older ones from school and, together with the pre-schoolers, head straight to Clovelly Beach. Pre-packed sandwiches and a jug of cordial would provide some evening nourishment. Finally, a cold shower before heading home to bed. Homework could be forgotten for a few months. By the time I was born, with both my parents working, the ritual of eating at the beach no longer seemed viable but my habit of spending every evening outdoors still continues as far as possible.
With all the passionate discussion in recent times about environmental impacts of our everyday lives, a friend recently asked me, “Is daylight savings good for the environment?” On first thought, the answer appears to be overwhelmingly positive: stay outdoors and use less electricity. But what if longer, lighter days were simply used by some to stay indoors but watch more TV or use the PlayStation for longer? Obviously there would not be environmental benefits flowing.
It seems to me that while many of us in the local area do get out and about in these fantastic lighter evenings, we could do more to encourage even more people to get out. The benefits are not just environmental, they are there for all to see in terms of both physical and mental health.
The negative consequences of not seeing enough light are also there to see, so to speak, based on evidence from parts of the world less blessed by sunlight than we are. We hear the stories from places such as the UK or Scandinavia where people go to work and come home in the dark and end up suffering from ‘seasonal affective disorder’, a real condition impacting mental health. We don’t realise how lucky we are.
Daylight savings, combined with our longer and warmer days, provide us with a fabulous opportunity to get outside, get some exercise, enjoy our natural surroundings, get healthy, talk with neighbours and create social capital, turn off the lights and eat healthy cold cuts and salads. There’s no excuse to use the clothes dryer, every reason to eat with your hands, less need to blow-dry that hair and it’s good taste to tie it up in a ponytail. It’s an ideal time to get walking, give the car a break or join an afternoon social sports team. It’s a time to be happy and a time for us to use less of everything so that those who follow us also get to enjoy what we have taken for granted. Daylight savings – saving daylight, saving our health and saving the environment, all in one!