On Sunday, November 4 at the stroke of 2:00 am, most people in North America rolled their clocks backward one hour to end daylight-saving time, or DST. There’s some reason to celebrate: it gives hundreds of millions of people one extra hour of sleep. But on March 10, 2019, the invisible time vampire will return to suck away that hour of sleep. (Most of Europe ended DST on October 28 and will resume it on March 25.) This is perhaps the modern world’s dumbest ritual a curse upon those who live within its confines, and a practice that needs to be abolished. Daylight-saving time (not “daylight-savings” time) was created during World War I to decrease energy use. The practice was implemented year-round in 1942, during WWII. Not waking up in the dark, the thinking went, would decrease fuel use for lighting and heating. That would help conserve energy supplies to help the war effort. Nearly 100 years later, though, the US is a divided nation on this topic. A 2012 survey of 1,000 American adults found that 45 percent thought daylight-saving was worth it, while more than 40 percent considered it worthless. More than 152,560 people have petitioned Congress to end daylight-saving time. Some of the comments on the petition are practical appeals. “Please stop switching the time! It’s awful driving home in the dark. I’m a woman that drives 30 miles down a 2-lane state hwy to get home!” wrote Lana J. from Gilmer, Texas. Others are warranted and blistering critiques. “Daylight saving time is an antiquated practice and serves no purpose in the modern world,” wrote Dustin M. from Kings Mountain, North Carolina. “It causes undo stress to millions of Americans and does nothing for anyone.” We’re with Dustin, and here’s why.
What’s the problem with DST?
According to advocacy groups like Standardtime.com, which are trying to abolish daylight-saving time, claims about saving energy are unproven. “If we are saving energy, let’s go year-round with daylight-saving time,” the group says. “If we are not saving energy, let’s drop daylight-saving time!” In his book Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight-Saving Time, author Michael Downing says there isn’t much evidence that daylight-saving actually decreases energy use. In fact, sometimes DST seems to increase energy use. For example, in Indiana where daylight-saving time was implemented statewide in 2006 researchers saw that people used less electricity for light, but those gains were cancelled out by people who used more air conditioning during the early evenings. (That’s because 6pm felt more like 5pm, when the sun still shines brightly in the summer and homes haven’t had the chance to cool off.) DST also increases gasoline consumption, something Downing says the petroleum industry has known since the 1930s. This is probably because evening activities and the vehicle use they require increase with that extra daylight. Changing the clocks also causes air travel synchronisation headaches, which sometimes leads to travel delays and lost revenue, airlines have reportedly said. There are also health issues associated with changing the clocks. Similar to the way jet-lag makes you feel all out of whack; daylight-saving time is like scooting one time zone over. This can disrupt our sleep, metabolism, mood, stress levels, and other bodily rhythms. One study suggests recovery can take three weeks. In the days after DST starts or ends, in fact, researchers have observed a spike in heart attacks, increased numbers of work injuries, more automobile accidents, and higher suicide rates.
Why keep it?
Despite those early studies about energy use, one analysis from 2008 did find a small amount of energy savings after we extended DST by four weeks in 2005. According to the Christian Science Monitor: “Most advocates cite a 2008 report to Congress by the Department of Energy which showed that total electricity savings from the extended daylight-saving period amounted to 1.3 terawatt-hours, or 0.03 per cent of electricity consumption over the year. That’s a tiny number. But if electricity costs 10 cents per kilowatt, that means an estimated US$130 million in savings each year.” More evening light also inspires people to go out and spend money. Downing told NPR that this comes in the form of activities like shopping and playing golf the golf industry told Congress that an extra month of daylight-saving was worth US$200 million in 1986. The BBQ industry said extending DST would boost sales by US$100 million. Extending daylight-saving time to November might also help the Halloween industry the longer kids can trick-or-treat, the more candy you need to buy. Changing the law can also be expensive. One legislature representative in Alberta, Canada, suggested that holding a referendum on DST may cost the province US$2 to US$6 million, even if it were put into a standard election ballot, and that holding a no-DST vote on its own might cost US$22 million to organise and execute.
A world divided over time
Other areas of the world have gotten rid of daylight-saving time, or never had it to begin with. Some parts of the US have decided not to observe daylight-saving time, including most of Arizona (excluding the Navajo and Hopi reservations in the northeast), and until 2006, parts of Indiana. A bill to abolish DST was once recommended for passage in Oklahoma, but it was not signed into law. A lawmaker in Utah also introduced legislation to try to abolish DST, but his bill died in committee. The decision is up to individual counties, but choosing not observe DST when other nearby cities and counties do can be problematic.
Standardtime.com has a unique suggestion. Their proposal is to create just two time zones in the continental US that are two hours apart. Compare that to the current state of things in America. Right now, the US is broken into six time zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain, Pacific time, Alaska time, and Hawaii-Aleutian time, each one hour apart from the next. These time zones exist so that areas in the east of each time zone get sunrise at about the same time. Under Standardtime.com’s proposed system, the US’ East and West Coasts would only be two hours apart. This would standardise more travel and meeting times within the country. But the downside would be that sunrise and sunset would happen at wildly different times for many areas of the nation. For example, the sun rose in New York City at about 6:15am EST today and in Chicago at 6:10am CST; but if the two were in the same time zone, sunrise would be at 8:15am “Eastern Time” in Chicago. Johns Hopkins University professors Richard Henry and Steven Hanke have come up with yet another possible fix: adopting a single time zone worldwide. They argue that the internet has eliminated the need for discrete time zones across the globe, so we might as well just do away with them. The proposal also includes a 13-month “permanent calendar”. (The idea, understandably, has encountered some resistance.) No plan will satisfy everyone. But that doesn’t mean daylight-saving time is right. The absence of major energy-saving benefits from DST along with its death toll, health impacts, and economic ramifications are reason enough to get rid of the ritual.
Science Alert, 4 November 2018 ; http://www.sciencealert.com.au