Daylight "Saving" Time...What Does It Save, Anyway?
I've always liked long summer evenings, so I look forward to springing forward with daylight saving time every year. But not everyone feels the same way, and I recently learned some things about DST that make me wonder if it's a wise policy or an industry scam.
Daylight saving time arrives earlier this year, so that means that we're going to spring forward on March 11, a full three weeks sooner than we've been springing forward for the last few decades. The latest adjustment to DST (there have been many over the past hundred years or so) is part of an energy bill passed by Congress in 2005.
What's the Rationale?
Essentially, to get more sunlight out of the day. The idea is that the more natural light that we get in the evening, the less energy we use when we get home from work. If it's light out, we won't turn on the lights. Supposedly.
It Saves Energy, Right?
The "official" reason behind Daylight Saving Time (also called Summer Time, in some parts of the world) is energy conservation.
Studies done in the 1970s by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that we trim the entire country's electricity usage by about one percent EACH DAY with Daylight Saving Time. Daylight Saving Time "makes" the sun "set" one hour later and therefore reduces the period between sunset and bedtime by one hour. This means that less electricity would be used for lighting and appliances late in the day.
Researchers and Congress have found all kinds of great things to say about DST. Traffic accidents are supposedly reduced significantly, as are crimes such as vandalism.
It's a really nice idea, too, if it were at all true. In fact, DST is the darling of the retail industry. The quote below, from National Geographic news, is taken from a Congressional report issued in 1986 (emphasis mine):
[M]ore daylight outdoor playtime for the children and youth of our Nation, greater utilization of parks and recreation areas, expanded economic opportunity through extension of daylight hours to peak shopping hours and through extension of domestic office hours to periods of greater overlap with the European Economic Community.
Ah, there it is. It's a nice idea that kids play outside longer and parks get used, but another important point is that we stay out longer and spend more money when the weather is good.
Just ask Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time. According to Downing:
- Because the sun won't rise until between 7:30-8:30 a.m., we have to turn on our lights in the morning, thus squandering any electricity savings.
- An extra hour of daylight after work means that people will be tempted to go out shopping instead of going straight home, thus increasing fuel use.
- The DST extension here in the US will put our time out of sync with Europe's, which is estimated to cost the airline industry $150 million per year.
It's not your average retailer that is pushing for DST:
Halloween Trick-or-Treaters: In the United States, DST always ends a few days before Halloween. A bill to extend DST to Halloween is proposed almost every session of Congress, an effort to provide trick-or-treaters more light and, therefore, more safety from traffic accidents. Also, for decades, candy manufacturers have lobbied for a DST extension to Halloween, as many young trick-or-treaters gathering candy are not allowed out after dark. An added hour of light could mean a big holiday treat for the candy industry.
Fun DST Facts
- Although we all say "daylight savingS time", there's technically not supposed to be an S at the end of "saving", even though it sounds better.
- Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and most of Arizona do not fall back or spring forward.
- Indiana used to be split on the issue - only now is the entire state legislated to observe DST.
- Livestock farmers are generally opposed to DST because they believe that changing schedules is bad for the animals.
- The concept was first introduced by Benjamin Franklin.
- Canada has pretty much been forced to use DST because their economy is so closely tied to ours. The exception would be my Uncle Percy in Saskatchewan. He doesn't observe it.
- Countries near the equator are more or less blissfully oblivious to DST, because it's ALWAYS SUMMER WHERE THEY LIVE.
The change is wreaking havoc on computer techs the world over, who are just now getting around to updating software with patches to adjust the DST date (even though we've known about this for 2 years).
Lots of companies are providing software patches to help you and your little machines adapt to the new DST timing. Click here for some valuable links to vendor patches.