Get ready for a shock to your system on Nov. 1 — it’s time to turn back our clocks an hour for the end of daylight-saving time.
At 1:59 a.m. on Sunday morning, our clocks will bump back an hour, to 1:00 a.m. instead of turning to 2:00 a.m. That gives us an extra hour of sleep and means the sun will seem to rise an hour earlier than we are used to.
According to lore, daylight-saving time (yes that’s the right way to say it) was created during World War I to decrease energy use. This John Oliver clip also mentions that it started with the Germans during that time as a fuel-saving measure.
A March 2012 national survey by Rasmussen Reports found that 45% of American adults think daylight-saving time is worth the hassle, but nearly as many — 40% — disagree. Fifteen per cent were undecided. Even John Oliver has taken a stance against it.
An advocacy group, the folks behind Standardtime.com, want to abolish daylight-saving time altogether. Energy-saving claims are “unproven,” they write: “If we are saving energy, let’s go year-round with daylight-saving time. If we are not saving energy, let’s drop daylight-saving time!”
More than 65,000 people have sent letters to Congress through Petition2Congress to end daylight-saving time. Many of the comments on the petition are pretty emphatic: “Please stop this irrational, archaic, and purposeless practice, which has no place in the 21st century,” wrote someone identified as Mark from Virginia. “I don’t care which timezone offset we use: just pick one, stick with it, and leave the clocks alone.”
What’s the problem with DST?
The argument that DST saves energy has been criticised. According to Michael Downing, the author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight-Saving Time,” early studies on the energy savings of daylight-saving time didn’t show that it actually decreases energy use.
Sometimes, DST seems to increase energy use: In Indiana, when daylight-saving time was implemented statewide in 2006, researchers saw that while people used less electricity for light, those gains were canceled out by people who used more air conditioning during the early evenings (for example, 6 p.m. would feel more like 5 p.m., when the sun is still shining brightly in the summer and homes haven’t had the chance to cool off).
DST also increases gasoline consumption, something the petroleum industry has known since 1930. This is probably because evening activities increase — since it stays light out longer — and getting to and from those activities often requires gasoline.
The lack of synchronisation with the European daylight-saving time change costs the airline industry $US147 million a year, according to The Atlantic.
There are also health issues with the change, including possible increases in heart attacks and accidents.
Why keep it?
Despite those early studies, at least one more recent analysis, from 2008, did show 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 $US130 million in savings each year.
More evening light means that people go out and spend money. Downing told NPR that this is in the form of things like shopping and even going out and playing a round of golf: The golf industry told Congress that an extra month of daylight-saving was worth $US200 million in 1986. The BBQ industry said extending DST would boost sales by $US100 million.
Extending daylight-saving time to November also might help the Halloween industry — the longer kids can trick-or-treat, the more candy you need to buy.
A world divided
Other areas of the world have gotten rid of daylight-saving time, or never had it to begin with. The map below shows the breakdown: Blue areas observe DST, red areas never have, and orange areas once did but have since abolished it.
Some parts of the US have taken their own initiative not to observe daylight-saving time, including most of Arizona (excluding the Navajo and Hopi reservations in the northeast), and before 2006, parts of Indiana. A local lawmaker recently introduced legislation to try to abolish DST in Utah, too.
This decision is left up to the individual counties. But choosing not observe DST in a county where nearby cities do can be problematic.
This leads to some funky time zone borders (imagine being in that DST-free island in Arizona!). And daylight-saving just adds to that confusion.
An alternate plan
Compare that to the current state of things in the US, which is broken into four time zones: Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific time, each one hour apart. That means that the time in California is three hours earlier than the time in New York.
These four time zones exist so that areas in the east of each time zone get sunrise at about the same time. With standardtime.com’s system, the coasts would only be two hours apart, facilitating travel and meeting times, but sunrise and sunset times would be drastically different for many areas of the nation.
That’s because the sun hits the eastern side of a time zone first and the western side about an hour later in the day in our approximately hour-long time zones. Extending the eastern time zone into the middle of the country would mean sunrise would happen for some people very late in the morning.
For example, today the sun rose in New York City at about 7:23 a.m. EDT and in Chicago it rose at 7:21 a.m. CDT. If we were in the same time zone, that would have been 8:21 “Eastern Time” in Chicago and even later in more western areas of the country. For example, sunrise in Lubbock, Texas was at about 8:05 CDT. In standardtime.com’s two-time-zone plan, that would mean the sun would rise after 9:00 a.m. “Eastern Time.” This might make it pretty tough to start the working day on time.
Bottom line: This plan won’t fix anything. But that doesn’t mean daylight-saving time is any better. Since DST doesn’t seem to offer major energy-saving benefits, and could even cost money, we should probably get rid of our twice-yearly time change ritual all together.
We shouldn’t drastically change our current time-zone breakdown, but counties should pick one time zone — and stick to it year-round.
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