We used to say, “Spring Forward, Fall Back” to help us remember which way to change our clocks during our semi-annual, Unnecessary Activity of the Year. But we no longer change clocks in the Spring, we do it a couple of weeks earlier. So now we might as well say, “Forward March, Fall Down.” But why do we even bother to do it? Whose brilliant idea was it? Does it even do what it’s supposed to do? Is there a better way?
The answers are: Supposedly, to save energy. Ben Franklin, sort of. That depends on where you live and what you wanted it to do. Yes, yes there is.
Save Your Energy
According to a great article in National Geographic, it’s supposed to save on energy, but the results are mixed on that. In some states, like California, it’s been successful. In the Northeast (where I live), which usually isn’t subjected to very hot summers (except recently), there can be savings in energy. But keeping in mind that that extra hour of daylight is a hot hour, in the Southeast, where summers tend to be hotter than mine, it means having to run the air conditioner an extra hour, so the savings are lost. There is no federal mandate that each state adopt Daylight Savings Time. Each state can choose how and where within its own borders to implement it. If things go as they appear they will, we may soon have cities in Tennessee and Kentucky, only five or ten miles apart, that will have two-hour time differences. But, there’s ways to make that less of a problem. More on that later.
Ben Franklin, Merry Prankster
After reading this passage, two things struck me:
While serving as U.S. ambassador to France in Paris, Franklin wrote of being awakened at 6 a.m. and realizing, to his surprise, that the sun rose far earlier than he usually did. Imagine the resources that might be saved if he and others rose before noon and burned less midnight oil, Franklin, tongue half in cheek, wrote to a newspaper.
“Franklin seriously realized it would be beneficial to make better use of daylight, but he didn’t really know how to implement it,” Prerau said.
One, man was that Franklin dude one lazy motherfucker, sleeping until noon everyday! And, two, wasn’t this guy some kind of amateur scientist? This principle didn’t occur to him much earlier in life? That the sun rises before 6 AM? Still, he wasn’t really serious about the idea of Daylighte Savinges Tyme (as Poor Richard’s Almanack would have called it) or he would have proposed a solution, such as a mandatory shift in the official time as recognized by the state for a portion of the year (which sounds familiar). He didn’t. And he was smart enough to have come up with such a plan had he really meant to do this. So I wouldn’t be so quick to credit him with the idea, as I used to. But, hey, I’m a Liberal. I like to learn new things, and I happen to enjoy learning that the things I was taught as a child were wrong. Perhaps they were merely meant to be allegorical tales intended to lift our spirits and believe in ourselves, so that we could achieve anything we could dream. But I’m guessing this is the lazy kind of historical research put into school textbooks in large market states (like Texas) that compel the rest of us (who won’t get the option of an accurate textbook) to learn the same untrue stories. But that’s just me.
So why do we do it? Believe it or not, because the Germans were doing it during World War I, to save on coal for the war effort.
It wasn’t until World War I that daylight savings were realized on a grand scale. Germany was the first state to adopt the time changes, to reduce artificial lighting and thereby save coal for the war effort. Friends and foes soon followed suit. In the U.S. a federal law standardized the yearly start and end of daylight saving time in 1918—for the states that chose to observe it.
During World War II the U.S. made daylight saving time mandatory for the whole country, as a way to save wartime resources. Between February 9, 1942, and September 30, 1945, the government took it a step further. During this period DST was observed year-round, essentially making it the new standard time, if only for a few years.
Since the end of World War II, though, daylight saving time has always been optional for U.S. states. But its beginning and end have shifted—and occasionally disappeared.
During the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo, the U.S. once again extended daylight saving time through the winter, resulting in a one percent decrease in the country’s electrical load, according to federal studies cited by Prerau.
Thirty years later the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was enacted, mandating a controversial month-long extension of daylight saving time, starting in 2007.
But Is It Working? (Or, Is It Worth Me Arbitrarily Losing An Hour’s Sleep Once A Year?)
Again, that depends on where you live and what your goal is. Studies done on a recent nation-wide switch to DST in Australia during the Olympics showed that the use of energy shifted from the evenings to the mornings, wiping out any gains. A similar study done in Indiana, in which prior to 2006 only 15 counties observed DST, showed a shift in energy usage that offset any savings from less evening use. That’s because the extra hour that daylight saving time adds in the evening is a hotter hour. “So if people get home an hour earlier in a warmer house, they turn on their air conditioning,” the University of Washington’s Wolff said in 2011. But there are places where it’s working. California, of course.
It’s believe that because of its milder weather, Californians are more apt to stay outdoors during that extra hour of daylight. So they don’t go home and turn up the air conditioners (on hot days, of which there have been many more lately). “The Energy Department report found that DST resulted in an energy savings of one percent daily in the state.” So it’s working there, as far as saving energy goes. It really depends on what the weather is like in your part of the world. But there are scientists who believe that messing with your body’s circadian rhythms isn’t such a good idea.
Till Roenneberg, a chronobiologist at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, said in 2010 his studies show that our circadian body clocks—set by light and darkness—never adjust to gaining an “extra” hour of sunlight at the end of the day during daylight saving time.
“The consequence of that is that the majority of the population has drastically decreased productivity, decreased quality of life, increasing susceptibility to illness, and is just plain tired,” Roenneberg said. (Also see “Jet Lag Cure for Mice Illuminates Inner Workings of Circadian Clocks.”)
One reason so many people in the developed world are chronically overtired, he said, is that they suffer from “social jet lag.” In other words, their optimal circadian sleep periods are out of whack with their actual sleep schedules.
Shifting daylight from morning to evening only increases this lag, he said. “Light doesn’t do the same things to the body in the morning and the evening. More light in the morning would advance the body clock, and that would be good. But more light in the evening would even further delay the body clock.”
And in Sweden, they’re noticing more heart attacks during DST.
Is There A Better Way?
I’m glad you asked. Yes, yes there is. First, adopt a Universal Time, like what used to be called Greenwich Mean Time, the time of day over the Prime Meridian. In the military, we used to call it Zulu Time. They’re typically five hours ahead of us (because the Sun is directly overhead there five hours before it’s directly overhead here in the East Coast), so instead of our typical work day being 9 AM to 5 PM, it will now be whatever the time of day is in London, England. The only thing you have to shift is your thinking about what time it is, and you can adapt to that. Of course, you’ll have to explain to your grandchildren why songs talk about working “nine to five” when we really work “two to ten,” but that’s a small price to pay for the advancement of Society as a whole. No matter how you look at it, it really doesn’t matter where you base your Universal Time reference, so base it on the part of the globe designated by everyone as Zero Degrees Longitude (which is what your computer does, BTW.)
After that, do away with mandating that the time is now one hour different than it is in London. Instead state that from certain times of the year, the Federal Government will shift its hours of operations one hour earlier each way. Instead of working 2-10, they’ll work 1-9 during the hot summer months, to save money on energy costs. State and local governments can then operate (or not) on the same time change to their schedules, not ours. Furthermore, if your Corporate Overlords decide that because they want to operate on the same schedule as the federal government, that they will also shift their work hours for 6-8 months of the year, they will be free to do so. And if your small business’ owner wants to operate on the same schedule as one of his vendors or customers, he or she can also shift your personal work hours, perhaps to help you adjust to your local school’s hours changes.
I’m sure that, by convention, most states will adopt the same time-shifting policies (useful or not) even under one Universal Time Zone, so I don’t think there’s any real linking of the two. But I just like the idea of everyone recognizing that we’re not alone on this planet, and that the best way for all of us to survive is to learn to adapt to each other in some small way. We’ve all got our strange ways. And I do admit that some of y’all out there have some pretty fucked up ways of looking at things. But can’t we at least agree on what time of day it is? Because if we can never do that, can we ever agree on anything of more importance, like World Peace?