Shedding light on Daylight Savings Time

March 8, 2007 | By | 6 Replies More

The practice of shifting clocks twice a year is an annoyance to everyone. Its roots go back to the Enlightenment, when such luminaries as Ben Franklin suggested the practice in part to keep urbanites, who lived by the clock, in better summertime sync with the rural majority who lived by the sun.

Back in 1973, the Nixon administration tried out a year-round daylight savings time as an energy conservation measure. To sleep-late senators, it seemed to make sense: You don’t turn on lights until an hour later in the evening. But children (including myself) got up hours before dawn to walk to the school bus stops in the dark. People were turning lights on in the morning, and often forgetting to turn them off because it was still dark when they left for work. The net result was more accidents and no energy savings.

The current administration is showing its usual regard for history and the scientific process as it decided in 2005 to expand daylight savings time by a month in order to see if it saves energy.

That’s this coming Sunday, March 11th, folks! No more April Fools through Halloween, but rather starting and ending a couple of weeks closer to December.

How many farmers do you suppose still can’t afford a clock? I’ve always been in favor of getting rid of this seasonal affectation, this semi-annual cause of universal confusion. Some rural states had done away with it (like Indiana), but now have caved to peer pressure. Every pro-DST argument I’ve seen seems to be based on a vague “it could save energy” basis. The initial idea was that businesses can use natural daylight for an extra hour, saving on lighting (originally candles). When is the last time you noticed lights turned off in an office or factory because the sun was shining?

According to every measurement done every time they change the DST rules, it hasn’t affected energy consumption in any significant way.

Costs are easier to compute than the benefits. In IT, DST costs a minimum of $200,000,000.00 per year (http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=4609) in the U.S. It is probably closer to a billion dollars once untracked labor costs are figured in. This IT-only cost is already comparable to the dollar value of energy savings that the DOE hopes might be realized.

This wiki provides some concise pro- and anti- discussion of the issue.

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Category: Culture, Current Events, Energy, History

About the Author ()

A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

Comments (6)

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  1. Ben says:

    I love the extra hour, even if it's just imaginary. The key is that it only works if everyone agrees to it. Sort of like the 35 hour work week. Everybody just commit to it, like a union, sorta. Unfortunately when winter rolls around, it gets dark so early, and I think it could be unhealthy in terms of my bio-rhythms. (hehe, I guess I believe in bio-rhythms). (As far as I know), health benefits have been reported from moderate sunlight exposure, and likewise ailments can result from lack of adequate sun.

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    I heard on the radio today that an earlier DST is a boon to the golf industry. One more hour of daylight in the evening enables golf courses to open several weeks earlier than they otherwise could, amounting to millions of extra dollars in their pockets. Given that more than a few Washington politicians are golfers, there might be more here than a mere correlation.

  3. Tim Hogan says:

    NPR reported today that the Garner Group estimated that the new rules cost the top 7500 corporations in America between $50,000-$150,000.00 apiece to retool all their operations to the new standard.

    That's between $375,000,000-$1,125,000,000.00. I feel so much better now that the Energy Act of 2005 was passed. Better to have just passed gas.

  4. Bill Christiani says:

    I would like to start a movement to have reverse daylight savings in AZ. We are the only state to not go to daylight savings, and we like that. We like when the sun sets on a hot day and the cool down begins. But, in the winter, when the weather is wonderful, it would be nice to have extra time for a hike or a bike after work, before it gets dark.

  5. Dan Klarmann says:

    As DST Monday passes, how many clocks have not yet been changed? As of 40 hours after the official change, neither the time signal on my local PBS station (that sets my VCR), nor the server clocks on several of my websites have been changed.

  6. Ben says:

    I feel pretty good about the hour. I can walk my dog after work, and still have sunlight. My clocks are all screwed up anyway, so it really doesn't bother me in terms of setting the clocks. I normally have my alarm clock set 30-40 minutes ahead so I don't sleep too late, and thats after hitting the snooze bar 5 times. I end up having to do higher-math in the morning trying to figure out if I can go back to sleep for another "snooze". The remaining clocks being wrong just doesn't seem to be that much of a problem. And I think the economics still favors the extra hour (significantly), even when you include the figures provided by Tim.

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